(UNESCO / Japan Young Researchers' fellowships programme)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its links with democratic transition in South Africa

Summary of research carried out: 
Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its links with democratic transition in South Africa

The methodology employed in conducting fieldwork on the topic of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and its link with democratic transition in South Africa involved three approaches: library research, searches for publications to be found in bookshops in South Africa, and interviews.

The library work was mainly conducted in libraries based in Pretoria, notably the library of the Africa Institute of South Africa, the University of South Africa (UNISA) and the University of Pretoria. My quest for South African publications led me to visit a number of bookshops across the country, notably in Pretoria and Cape Town. Useful books and references on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the historical background were acquired in this way.

The last, and probably the most rewarding, aspect of my fieldwork were the interviews conducted with different South African personalities familiar with human rights, the democratic transition and the TRC process. I had the chance to interview Helen Suzman, a former opposition parliamentarian and a pioneer of the White anti-Apartheid movement within the country; Dr Albie Sachs Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, who took part in negotiations for the new constitution of the country; Professor Deborah Posel, who has written several books on the historical and sociological aspect of South Africa; and Dr Hugo Van der Merwe, who is a Project Manager and one of South Africa’s specialists in the Transition and Reconciliation Unit at the Centre for the Study of Violence (CSVR). I would particularly like to extend my thanks to the Mexican embassy in Pretoria for facilitating and making possible these interviews.

My fieldwork has enabled me to come up with findings that will subsequently reinforce my thesis. Although the TRC has played a key role in uncovering the truth in a number of cases and in rewriting part of the official history of the country, it failed - probably due to various limitations, including its own mandate - to cover other issues that continue to plague South African society, notably community displacements. We should however acknowledge the role of the TRC in sowing the seeds of reconciliation and equality between races in the country, recognizing that the process is ongoing and will necessitate policy commitments as well as sustained efforts by society as a whole. This conclusion is the result of my presence on the ground and of having the opportunity to observe social interaction in the country. In this connection, I wish to express my gratitude to the Africa Institute of South Africa for allowing me to use their premises and resources as an operational base.


25 July 2005