Prominently absent from these hearings were the individual testimonies of those who suffered as a consequence of the practice and policies of these powerful sectors and institutions. Thus, for example, representatives of business and trade unions made submissions to the business hearings, but there were no direct testimonies from workers, the unemployed or the rural poor. The testimonies of victims appearing at TRC hearings, notwithstanding the erasure of race from its mandate, are narratives rich in the ways in which political and apartheid violence are represented as continuous rather than as discrete.
Indeed, even Belinda Bozzoli, who reads the TRC as overly concerned with reconciliation as well as trying to construe individual victim accounts as part of a national narrative of resistance to apartheid, describes testimonies at the Alexandra hearings as follows:. Yet these critiques themselves make a number of assumptions about the character and outcomes of political violence in the period examined by the TRC. Their criticism assumes a fundamental dualism between state and liberation movement, between black and white. For example, according to Brent Harris: '[While] the TRC "uncovered" a multiplicity of positions as well as a multiplicity of political conflicts of the recent past, it tended to reduce these to two positions: one that resisted apartheid and another that defended apartheid.
This conjures an image of organised political activists, the so-called beneficiaries of the new post-apartheid regime. Yet of the 25 people who are estimated to have died in political conflict inside South Africa between and the TRC's mandate period , only a small number were organised political activists an even smaller fraction armed combatants or state security force members. This was especially so in the s when the TRC reports that 'more gross violations were carried out by members of South African society acting in what they considered to be the pursuit of a political aim than by members of political organisations acting on the express orders of their superiors'.
The assumption that reconciliation involves only the white state as perpetrator and black citizen as victim is therefore built on a very closed and selective depiction of violence. It excludes and silences the vast majority of victims who made statements to the TRC, the majority of whom were ordinary civilians caught up in escalating violence. In these depictions, the IFP, for example, as both victim and perpetrator is obliterated and their experience is silenced. For the bulk of TRC victims, reconciliation would involve their neighbour, the village on the hill opposite, the local warlord.
A further binary said to underlie the TRC's understanding of South Africa's political conflict is that of victim and perpetrator. As expressed by Posel and Simpson, the TRC's '"truth" would be told in terms of simple moral binaries of "victim" and "perpetrator", associated with unambiguous judgments of right and wrong.
There was no place here to explore moral ambiguities born of the politics of complicity or collaboration under apartheid'. The TRC became sharply aware of this issue quite soon after it began receiving statements and conducting hearings. From statement-takers to commissioners, the TRC recognised that the borders between victim and perpetrator were uncertain and far from clear cut. As its Report points out,. Nevertheless, the structuring of the TRC Report largely around perpetrator groupings perhaps obscures this, in the sense that the perpetrators and the victims 'exist' in different modes in different places in the Report in unconnected ways and seals them without correspondence.
An artificial separation results, driven largely by the legal requirement specified in the Act, discussed earlier, to allocate responsibility for gross human rights violations. Even so, there are significant moments in the Report , particularly in the sections dealing with the s, where the blurring of victim and perpetrator identities is far more evident. The phenomenon of Self Defence Units SDUs , where local ANC-aligned youth formed armed 'protection' groups which at times engaged in fratricidal conflicts with opposing political organisations, are an explicit representation of the complexity of fixing a victim or perpetrator label onto an individual or grouping.
Many SDU members had suffered close or personal losses in the conflict and had themselves engaged in brutal attacks. Khanyile was taken to a field outside a nearby school where Mabaso and others took turns shooting him with an AK Mabaso's own parents had previously been killed in conflicts with the IFP. Indeed, critics have barely engaged with the TRC's amnesty hearings, where the blurring of borders between victim and perpetrator was often explicitly apparent, and where the agency of collaborators was most evident.
These grey areas are, perhaps, best represented by the askaris , former liberation movement guerillas who 'turned' and served the security forces. The askaris often practiced great brutality and acts of betrayal after enduring severe torture upon themselves and enduring ongoing threats to their lives by both their new masters and their old. The TRC's work brought the askari to prominent public notice. MK operative Christopher Mosiane, abducted by the Eastern Transvaal Security Police from Swaziland in April and 'turned' to become an askari , told the Amnesty Committee that he was given the choice 'to co-operate or simply disappear'.
He described himself thus: 'Let me put it this way. I was a soldier before I was abducted. At that time I was a soldier of conscience and I was turned into an askari. I still remained a soldier, against my conscience'. The state strategy of 'contra-mobilisation' a central tenet of counter-insurgency theory and strategy that was widely implemented in South Africa from the mid s, is one in which the categories of victim and perpetrator are thrown into disarray.
Through this strategy, segments of the 'oppressed' came to violently oppose each other and entire communities were engulfed in a spiral of violence. The IFP, an organisation that successfully mobilised some of the most impoverished sector of the 'oppressed' - rural black communities and migrant hostel dwellers - was found by the TRC to have committed the greatest number of killings, indeed exceeding those of the state. At the same time, it is true that the victim hearings tended to seal victims in a frame of passive 'innocence' rather than active agency. A notion of unengaged victimhood came to prevail in the HRV hearings that seemingly did not permit active engagement in struggle.
Witnesses tended to obscure any aspect of the violation that may have offset their 'blamelessness' in any respect. Thus, victims were almost always shot while 'going to the shop' or 'walking past a demonstration', and almost never shot while throwing stones, attacking a collaborator, looting a shop, or any of the minor or major acts of protest during the 80 unrest-related incidents recorded by police in the period from September 1, to April 14, Research and investigation would often indicate a scenario where the victim was far more directly involved.
A former staff member from the Peru TRC recognised the phenomenon, referring to it as being 'struck by lightning', 43 where the violation hit the victim as a bolt from the blue, disconnected from context or unrelated to any political activity the victim may have been involved in.
These silences came to prevail right from the first victim hearings. An ANC struggle veteran from the s to the s who testified about enduring severe torture, harassment and many periods of detention, brought Archbishop Desmond Tutu to tears in a much publicised scene. The victim, however, did not talk about his role as leader of the Amabutho youth militants associated with the United Democratic Front, who enforced the consumer boycotts and served as the shock troops in the fratricidal conflicts between the UDF and AZAPO Azanian People's Organisation and later the Ama-Afrika movement.
Similarly a man blinded by police bullets was later found to have chaired a particularly brutal 'peoples court', and was implicated in several criminally motivated murders and assaults, including the burning to death of two elderly people in their shack. These were not mentioned in his testimony. This is not to suggest that a perpetrator lurks within each victim. But it does pertinently challenge the notion that the power to determine victims' self-representations resided purely with the TRC.
Instead, these self-representations put forward by victims and witnesses were not mere mirror reflections of what the TRC wanted to hear. Victims themselves were part of drawing this boundary and circumscribing their role as mere recipients of violations rather than active in any aspect. In some cases even the most militant and 'hardened' operatives chose self-representations that were about vulnerability and suffering rather an account of their active agency in struggle.
There were other sides to self-representation. In some instances witnesses or victims chose to describe themselves as comrades in a youth organisation when they were not, or elevate themselves to activist or even, perhaps, guerilla status. These self-representations could shift and change even within the boundaries of the TRC. For example, families of ANC members killed in a security force raid in Botswana in June described their sons as guerillas in the ANC's armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe MK at the victim hearing, but denied these military links to MK at a later amnesty hearing at which Security Police sought amnesty for their role in identifying targets for the raid.
In short, the power of representation was not that of the TRC alone. From the piercing wail by Nomonde Calata at the first victim hearing in East London to the obfuscatory antics of legal representatives in the later amnesty hearings, participants in these hearings - victims, perpetrators, audience, lawyers and media - were as much part of shaping the landscape of the hearings as commissioners and officials of the TRC. Consensual history and egalitarian violence.
Here we explore the notion that the TRC sought to construct 'a single, national account - an overview, which could serve as the basis for a shared history, a common, collective understanding'. One of the assumptions fostered by academics assessing the work of the TRC, and most particularly by historians, is that the TRC's central task was historical recovery and that its Report should have been an historical account.
The legislative brief contained in the TRC Act 48 to provide 'as complete a picture as possible' in a comprehensive report has been interpreted as an injunction to write history. Thus, for example, Colin Bundy asserts that '[it] goes without saying that the TRC was charged with writing an official history A range of other scholars echo the view that the TRC's Report provides a weak historical analysis and fails to provide a coherent and integrated history of South Africa's past.
Richard Wilson suggests that the TRC Report lacks 'any overarching and unified historical narrative, [providing] only a moralising narrative predicated upon a notion of "evil"'. Instead, severing "motive" from "cause" and disconnecting both from the narration of individual cases, the report deprives itself of one of the essential tools of historical analysis'.
Reading some of these responses to the TRC and its Report , one could be forgiven for believing that there was an expectation that the TRC would produce a materialist, social history of South Africa. A closer reading of the TRC Act and its staffing would show that a far more limited, less scholarly excavation of the past was intended by the legislators. The notion that the primary task of the TRC was a historical one reduces its project to an intellectual enterprise, a profound misapprehension of its undertaking and institutional character.
This international context is often ignored by local academics who scrutinise the TRC solely as an instrument of the new state. These prior truth commission reports are marked by significant differences in size, scope, language, and orientation, reflecting the fact that no international consensus exists on their methodology and content. Many reports include similar features, sections and methodologies. All of these reports battle with institutional, political and legal constraints; the dimensions of time, space and voice; and how to give both chronological and regional concerns adequate attention.
Some move more decisively into the terrain of contextual analysis, others remain firmly within an empirical narrative. Some are effusively descriptive, others more circumspect and restrained. Indeed an argument that had some influence on the TRC was that the report of a truth commission should position itself outside of the field of historiographical and political debate, so as to avoid being pegged as merely another voice, associated with long-standing contests.
A great deal of criticism, we suspect, stems from the disregard of the TRC's imperative of establishing responsibility for gross human rights violations. Not only was the task explicitly stated in the Act 58 yet persistently ignored by academics , but it was also one of the most common pleas from victims: 'Who was responsible? This concern with responsibility propelled a great deal of the focus on 'victims' and 'perpetrators', and was accentuated by the refusal of key parties and institutions to accept direct or indirect accountability.
As the TRC moved from its public hearings to its findings and Report , it became far more dominant than any concern with reconciliation or constructing historical narratives. Indeed the accountability lens forced a different reckoning and often drove against concerns with reconciliation. Yet Posel, for instance, conflates these findings of responsibility and accountability with moral judgments, rather than locating these findings within the discourse of international human rights and most specifically, concerns to end impunity.
This is not to suggest that the TRC Report did not provide an opportunity for a different engagement with the past, and that it could have interpreted its mandate's injunction to present 'as complete a picture as possible' or identifying the 'antecedents' to gross violations of human rights' more powerfully.
Indeed, to some degree, this thinking was reflected within the TRC in the early days of its existence and even in initial discussions on the Report. Yet the institutional character of the TRC, the political party submissions, the 'accountability hearings' 60 and evidence emerging from HRV and amnesty hearings, research and investigation, centred the Report around different concerns. Of course, for those who work within a framework that is interested in the multiple ways and sites in which history is represented, patently the TRC did engage in 'the production of history'.
Yet, while truth commissions offer a rare and direct public engagement with the past by a range of different actors, public historians have by and large tended to overlook the multiple and competing images of pastness, in favour of a representation of the TRC that is singular and inert. This we contend has had the effect of writing off non-academic representations rather than expanding the domain of public scholarship.
An exception to this is the work of American historian David Thelen, who argues that both historians and the TRC foreclosed and blunted the power of testimonies at the public hearings by attempting to 'impose narrative order and larger contexts' either in order to explore larger historical narratives or to explain human rights abuses.
Instead Thelen is interested in the ways people make use of the past, and how specifically testifying at a public hearing provided a moment of re-enactment that enabled testifiers and via them, the broader public, to explore ' the horizons of possibility and constraint from which they made - or deferred - choices about what to say or do'.
However, in general, both public and social historians agree that the TRC tried to construct a consensual view of the past that would allow the nation to 'close the door on the past'. Thus, in Posel's words, 'the idea of reconciliation was also explicitly tied to the project of nation-building, "imagining" a new form of national community based on a "collective memory", a "shared" history'.
On the one hand, the violence of apartheid must be represented as unconscionable; resistance against it noble. On the other hand, the nation would be induced to recognise that in the struggle to end apartheid, all sides had committed human rights abuses, but through the contrition of perpetrators and the willingness of victims to be reconciled, a new moral order would be constructed. Indeed, this view was mirrored in some statements by TRC officials. In October , TRC Commissioner Richard Lyster caused something of a public controversy when he suggested that one of the tasks of the TRC was to establish a 'publicly sanctioned history that could be taught in schools'.
This was important so that 'the nation is not left with a number of contradictory versions of our history which "serve narrow and regional nationalism, factional interests and legitimise the ideologies of those who wish to wage civil war"'. The notion of contributing to the emergence of an inclusive heritage on which the nation can draw in its pursuit of a human rights culture is a crucial part of the work of the Commission At the same time he cautioned that creating such a memory 'decidedly does not include the imposition of a "master narrative".
Indeed, there is a case to be made for what has been called a story of an 'unreconciled past'. There is a need to recognise the depth of past differences as an incentive to rise above them'. Again, these are not the only voices of the TRC. The same article which quoted Lyster noted that his view had been 'unequivocally repudiated' by Commissioner Mary Burton who argued that. In the end, the Report made little attempt to provide such an official or consensual history, considerably reducing its ambitions to the much quoted view of Michael Ignatieff that '[a]ll that a truth commission can achieve is to reduce the number of lies that can be circulated unchallenged in public discourse'.
It can, of course, be argued that Archbishop Tutu construes a kind of 'egalitarian violence' 'our country is soaked in the blood of her children of all races and of all political persuasions' 68 in his opening paragraph in his 'Foreword' that precisely attempts to create a consensual and inclusive view based on a universality of suffering.
However, the rest of the Report , especially the findings chapter where the TRC decisively held the former state to be overwhelmingly accountable, is at decided odds with these lines. The notion of a consensual history linked to the nation-building project assumes a commonality between the TRC and the ANC dominated government. Yet neither in its hearings, its internal workings nor in its Report did the TRC uncritically espouse the views of the ANC or government.
Contrary to expectations in official circles that the views of political parties would be aired first, the TRC determined that the first of the public hearings would be victim hearings. By making the first public voice a victim voice, the TRC sought to place violations, rather than party narratives centre-stage.
Beyond this, the TRC and the ANC shared something of a fractious relationship, disagreeing on key issues, not least the ANC's initial position that its members would not be required to apply for amnesty as they had fought for a just cause. Further, the expectations that the TRC would present a view that glorified and sanitised the struggle against apartheid did not come to fruition.
The critical eye cast by the TRC over various dimensions of the liberation struggle was bitterly opposed by the ANC, who declared that the TRC was 'criminalising' the liberation struggle: 'The net effect of these [TRC] findings is to delegitimise or criminalise a significant part of the struggle of our people for liberation and to subtract from the commitment made in our Constitution to honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land'. The TRC's efforts to attach a strict human rights framework onto a past liberation struggle inevitably transgressed heroic conceptions of that struggle.
A human rights' discourse, was, after all, a relatively late import to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The notions of justice and morality that informed the liberation struggle drew upon multiple threads, and only more recently connected with the approach of international human rights. Far more potent infusions were those of African nationalism, of anti-colonial struggle, imbued with a socialist rhetoric.
In this network of articulations that made up the 'broad church' of the ANC, the transformation of social and economic power relations marched alongside the imperative of formal political democratisation. It was only the s era of political transition and negotiations in South Africa, coinciding with the collapse of the Eastern bloc, that saw the rise to prominence of the language of human rights in the blueprints for the 'new South Africa'.
Yet these legal skirmishes remain invisible in critiques of the TRC: they are ignored by critics determined to 'fix' a consensual history upon the TRC. A conclusion from the margins. The question must be asked: who is fixing whom? This article has sought to point to various ways and there are others not covered here that certain critiques of the TRC themselves fix the TRC in stasis. Against this we have argued that there are multiple voices and representations emanating from the TRC.
There is a noticeable disjuncture between the voices of Archbishop Tutu or other theological figures in the TRC and the body of the organisation as constituted and represented in the totality of its work. This work took place over a period of more than five years. Moreover, these critiques were installed at the very outset of the TRC process and, despite significant shifts within the TRC as well as in its relationship with the government of the day, remained constant throughout the period of its operation and beyond.
Consequently, while the TRC may have been conceived as a nation-building exercise, the actual trajectory it followed was far more disputed and its academic dismissal inside South Africa was paralleled by a process of political marginalisation. The TRC, it seems, was largely discarded by the state. This peripheral status poses the question as to whether the TRC, far from legitimating the new state, represents from the state's perspective a failed project of nation-building. In part, however - and here the critics are right - this marginalisation points to the manner in which the TRC's human rights focus on torture, killings and abductions to the exclusion of the wider landscape of apartheid violence condemned it to national oblivion, while the dominant legacy of that violence - the nexus of race and economic exploitation - took centre stage as the key site of debate on transformation from onwards.
Indeed, human rights ironically provided a different lens through which to interrogate violence, and, in so doing, enabled a critical distance. In the aftermath of the TRC, key commissioners, including Archbishop Tutu, have repeatedly found themselves at loggerheads with the ruling party over a number of issues such as HIV AIDS, Zimbabwe and the reparations law case being conducted on behalf of victims and victim organisations against multinational companies who provided support to the apartheid government.
More broadly, as Posel herself has more recently suggested, the TRC has left a more radical imprint in providing a mode of testifying, disclosure and 'speaking out' that is widely visible in public life. Yet these developments have seemingly not shaken the notion of the TRC as creating the foundational myth of the new nation, whose trajectory is seen as unremittingly nationalist. While we contend that such an analysis of South Africa's transition is not helped by an account that silences the disruptions and contestations that have accompanied that transition, there is another point to be made and this relates to historians and the production of history.
SO Political Reconciliation
The Future of the Past conference to which we referred at the outset aimed to chart new directions for South African history. In the intervening years these new directions have considerably energised debates both within the academy and, more broadly, in a variety of public institutions. Yet while the new modes of history writing offer great power, the engagement with the TRC raises troubling questions. If in the end, their engagement and that of the social historians offers the same depiction and conclusion, then what has been enabled? How is it that despite the critique of the academy's ownership of 'the craft of history' by public historians, the weight of their judgment is so similar?
And how is that the shape and content of a key object of enquiry, namely nationalism, remains so unchanged? It is probable that every truth commission receives the most comprehensive and systematic criticism from its home intellectuals, and this is certainly the case in South Africa. This is as it should be. Yet it seems that this 'first wave' of critical review by historians barely skimmed the surface of the TRC.
Nevertheless, the verdicts were pronounced, and the TRC has since become unfashionable as an object of historical enquiry in South Africa. Aside from disabling the kind of consensual history that the ruling party apparently had in mind, there are numerous other instances where the TRC unsettled public and political mythologies. These range from the specific to the more general representations of the ANC's armed struggle or the nature of violence in the s.
Indeed, the 'reading' of its work provided by the 'first wave' of criticism barely touches the ways in which the TRC, at every turn, disrupted longstanding accounts of the nature of its recent violent past. This article has indirectly pointed to these disruptions. The TRC offers multiple opportunities to re-examine and re-cast representations of violence.
This type of deeper engagement - a 'second wave' - is long overdue. The authors worked in a formal capacity for the TRC from to early when the TRC officially closed, and continued to be involved in the production of the final two volumes of the TRCReport. Written at the end of this lengthy engagement, the paper was intended as an intervention.
It retains something of its original somewhat polemical, tone. Minkley, C. Rassool and L. Witz, 'Thresholds, gateways and spectacles: Journeying through South African hidden pasts and histories in the last decade of the Twentieth Century', paper presented to The Future of the Past conference, University of the Western Cape, July , 5.
Nina, 'Panel-beating for the smashed nation? Lalu and B. Harris, 'Journeys from the horizons of history: Text, trial and tales in the construction of narratives of pain', paper presented to The Future of the Past conference, University of the Western Cape, July , 1. These papers are richly suggestive of the directions these scholars would explore and develop in subsequent years.
Concerned as it is only with the characterisation of the TRC, this article fails to capture these new directions. No written version of the paper by Daniel Nina could be located and the quote is taken from the abstract of his paper circulated at the conference. Posel and G. Simspon , eds. Mamdani, cited in P. At the time the ANC suggested that such a truth commission would examine abuses on all sides of the political conflict, thus committing itself to a commission that would include human rights abuse by both state and liberation movement forces - the first time a liberation movement willingly initiated a process that would subject its own practices to scrutiny.
Undoubtedly, in making this suggestion, the ANC was of the view that any abuses committed by liberation movements would be dwarfed by those committed by the apartheid state and would thus be exonerated. Although the TRC did find that the ANC showed remarkable restraint and that the state was the primary perpetrator of human rights abuse, it did not exonerate the ANC or other liberation movements. James and L. Minkley et al, 'Thresholds, gateways and spectacles,' 5- 7. Simpson, eds. Grandin and T. Although perpetrators certainly appeared in the 'accountability' and 'sector' hearings, the main perpetrator hearings were those held by the Amnesty Committee to process all applications for amnesty that involved a gross human rights violation.
The Amnesty Committee, headed by a judge and consisting of judges, advocates and other legal personnel, existed entirely separately from the rest of the Commission in order to ensure an independent and impartial process. The third committee within the TRC, the Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee also held a handful of hearings to focus on issues of reparation, but most of their work occurred outside of the public spotlight - as indeed did much of the work of the HRV and Amnesty Committees.
See also Audrey R. Chapman and Hugo van der Merwe,eds. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, At the same time Chapman does raise significant concerns - e. This version is transcribed from the film, La Commission de la Verite. Wilson, The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation , Note that the victims of a perpetrator or their relatives were entitled to be present at amnesty hearings.
They were also entitled to legal representation and could testify. Mamdani, 'A diminshed truth,' Siyaya, 3, Spring, , Bundy, 'The beast of the past', Goldblatt and S. Aside from Belinda Bozzoli, few have examined the implications of the ways in which female agency rescripted narratives of violence. See B. Fullard and N. Rousseau,'Identities, truth-telling and power: South Africa and Guatemala', forthcoming.
Although its mandate was considerably more extensive than either of these, it duplicated their concern with individual rather than social violations. At the same time, it should be noted that some human rights scholars have argued that within international human rights law, violations such as forced removals could and should have been seen as forms of 'ethnic cleansing' - and thus a legitimate domain for truth commissions. Bozzoli, 'Public ritual and private transition', Hamilton, V. Harris, J. Taylor, M. Pickover, G. Reid and R. Saleh, eds. Mamdani, 'Diminished truth' , Siyaya , In contrast to these assertions, some observers have argued that truth telling may actually produce more harm than good.
In fact, some empirical studies have pointed out that testifying in truth-telling had harmful consequences. The interviewed women described the experience as more retraumatazing than healing. Moreover, traumatisation, ill-health, isolation and insecurity prevailed in their daily lives after taking part in the process. In short, the psychological effect of truth commissions is a burning subject in the post-conflict and peacebuilding literature Mendeloff, Assumptions and arguments about the psychological and emotional consequences of truth-telling are part of the causal logic of these peace-promoting mechanisms ibid.
Furthermore, this causal logic hypothesizes a link between individual and social healing. It is assumed that by providing a sense of justice and psychological healing to the victims, truth telling prevents renewed war ibid. This essay argues that testifying before truth-telling mechanisms such as truth commissions and gacaca implies a psychological harm for the participants. The three sections below will expand the argument as followed; the first section will review the development of this redemptive verbal remembering Shaw, , p.
Furthermore, it will demonstrate that, according to clinical theory, testifying before truth commissions is likely to be harmful. Truth commissions have proliferated throughout the world during the last 30 years in the wake of political oppression and intrastate violence Hayne, The name of the game since its inception back in the s was that of transition from violent state repression to democracy Shaw, In this vein, at the time when more often than not Cold War allies would hamper the prosecution of predecessor regimes, truth commissions enabled victims to speak out about the violent past and challenge the official version of the state ibid.
In this sense, giving testimony about past suffering would become one of the most compelling instruments against human rights abuses.
Wilson Book Summary - Book Summary of The Politics of Truth...
Truth commissions would be used initially in Latin America, where the regimes developed a strong political repression. In this sense, the political accountability of leaders would be the milestone of truth commissions during the period of Latin America. The narration of personal memories would become the means to make leaders morally and politically accountable, presenting abuses that state may have tried to deny Shaw, In this sense, truth commissions would shift their spotlight lightly from the past to the future, from atrocities committed to attempt of avoiding these atrocities in the future.
According to this view, truth commission would make it possible to have a record of what really happened to help later generations distinguish between facts and myths that may be created among survivors otherwise, warning future generations to avoid the same mistakes Hayner, At the same time, to promote future co-existence among survivors, a process of reconciliation between opposing parties at both individual and national level would be encouraged. They must be opened. They must be cleansed.
And balm must be poured on them so they can heal. The metaphor of the festering wound is not surprising given the strong Christian religious character in the personalities that headed the South African TRC Humphrey, ; Wilson, Christian confessional, juridical and other disciplinary practices have often been expressed through medical terms. Using the medical metaphor the spiritual sickness is understood in term of a wounded body that needs healing through pain and purging Asad, , as cited in Shaw, In this sense, further theological thinking in the area of reconciliation and peacebuilding mechanism has emphasized how truth leads to forgiveness, healing and reconciliation Lederach, The South African example provided a global template and presented truth commissions as a fundamental pillar in transitional justice.
In post-genocide Rwanda, gacaca courts were introduced to cope with past atrocities.
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Although it differs in many aspects, gacaca courts share many similarities with TRC. The idea that cathartic testimonies facilitate the transition from a wounded to a healed psyche owes much to the psychoanalytic language. Psychoanalytic discourse involves repressed memories, initial pain and cathartic release when these memories are consciously confronted, and the threat of entrenchment when they are not Patterson, On the other hand, claims have been based upon cognitive behavioural techniques. Some have observed some similarities between the therapeutic interventions in psychological trauma and the individual experiences of truth commissions.
These claims regarding psychodynamic and cognitive behavioural therapies will be critically analyzed in the third section of this essay, especially with reference to the psychological damage produced by an inadequate use of them. In truth commissions it is thought that by testifying survivors create empathy. The testimony and interview process enhanced perceived control and self-esteem.
The study focused a Maya community that had suffered at the hands of the army.
After the massacre an emotional climate of fear and symptoms of post traumatic stress were reported. Some victims gave testimony three years after the events while their psychological state was evaluated through interviews. This study shows that participation by testifying has positive effects in self esteem. Nevertheless, although promising, these studies have to be assessed cautiously. The study showed that shame decreased in those who participated in gacaca courts in Rwanda in comparison with those who did not take part.
However, after some time they suffered a return and intensification of symptoms associated with the original trauma. Furthermore, new symptoms of retraumatization were reported, caused by retelling the story de Ridder, The women described the experience as more retraumatizing than healing. Furthermore, testifying isolated them and it evoked feeling of hatred, anger and revenge towards the participants from other parts of the community.
In the same manner, a survey in South Africa carried out with participants of the TRC showed that most of them felt disappointed with the procedure and many described being isolated and threatened by their community having had participated in the commission Backer, , as cited in Mendeloff, Indeed, disappointment has been reported as a common outcome after testifying before truth commissions. In conclusion, how should we address the data collected above?
Neither advocates and detractors of the claims have sufficient studies to support their arguments. Although some examples show some marginal psychological benefits of truth commissions, most of the studies that specifically target mental health have shown otherwise. These studies, however, make it difficult to generalize and draw strong conclusions.
This due to several reasons. Firstly, motives of reliability in the method used do they measure what they actually seek to measure. When a large group is analyzed, disappointment is reported as the most common feeling but effects in psychological distress are ambivalent and retraumatization had not a measurable impact.
In the light of this lack of empirical support, the next section addresses the effect of truth commissions by critically analyzing their psychological assumptions. As mentioned earlier in this essay, several psychological assumptions underline most of the claims in favour of the therapeutic benefits of truth commissions. These assumptions emerge in a psychoanalytic and clinical language.
The researches use psychoanalytic theory to advocate for a cathartic release of the suffering past by truth-telling practices, thus leading to psychological recovering. This section critically addresses both assumptions and shows that both psychoanalytic and cognitive behavioural theories are misunderstood. Furthermore, it demonstrates that, precisely according with these theories, truth commissions have negative effects in the psychological health of those who testify.
Psychoanalysis has regularly adorned the language on truth commissions.enter
RECONCILIATION IN SOUTH AFRICA
Many of the people who testified before the truth commission have reported to experience a cathartic release of emotions Orr, The catharsis is understood as the cleansing of the mind, the unburdening of a psychological and emotional strain. Crucially, Freud especially encourages the cathartic release of hidden thoughts. Under pressure, the patient is able to recognize the inner cause of the agony. In this sense, the thought does not remain hidden in the subconscious, but appear to the patient as insignificant events.
In this sense catharsis implies the sudden outpouring of emotions that occurs when the trauma is resurrected. This situation in any case is elicited by testifying before truth commissions, as survivors do not enjoy a therapeutic accompaniment that would drive and give sense to the memories and make the emotions come to light. It goes without saying that truth commissions do not provide this condition. Here is important to note is that catharsis in considered potentially dangerous from modern psychoanalysis as it implies a risk of retraumatization.
In this sense, therapists should use it carefully and after a proper evaluation. Furthermore, the cathartic method is only effective under the umbrella of a much broader therapeutic intervention. As stated above the beneficial claims of psychological healing are based in flawed assumptions. Furthermore, the lack of empirical studies supporting these claims remains as a pending subject.
Given the lack of research, turning to similar situations in which similar psychological conditions are concerned would shed some light on the issue.
Truth commissions usually involve survivors to give a single session testimony that is supposed to help psychological health. In this sense, it shares similarities with one-session debriefing techniques to treat trauma. One-session debriefing involve a single session that last between one and three hours. The one-session debriefing did not decrease psychological distress neither prevented PTSD. Furthermore, one-session debriefing did not help reduce the risk of general psychological morbidity, i.
One-session debriefing and testifying before truth commission share a common denominator: both involve short and intensive trauma exposure. There is a broad practical and theoretical field supporting the assumption of behavioural techniques of exposition, based on psychology of learning. The procedure consists of exposing the patient to the source of the trauma or cause of anxiety. The exposition is an intensive confrontation with the stimulus or idea that creates the trauma, and the patient cannot escape or resort to avoidance behaviour, i. This avoidance behaviour can range from physically avoid the stimulus or resort to thought unrelated when the source of the trauma appears in the thought line.
In some cases this relearning is also called desensitization, as the patient become less sensitive to the negative emotions that the traumatic stimulus would trigger. In this sense, one could think that truth commissions share a high similarity with implosive therapy, as it is such a great technique for psychological heath.
However, this consideration is far from the truth. Implosive therapy, as cases previously mentioned, requires a therapeutic environment led by a clinical professional. Furthermore, a key feature in implosive therapy is that previous to the exposition the patient is taught a set of relaxation exercises. As mentioned above, in order to be therapeutically helpful, exposition to trauma has to be carried out under certain conditions.
Testifying before truth commissions increases anxiety. Additionally, the individual is forced to confront the trauma. Treatment of PTSD is highly individualized, as are responses to trauma itself. Based on this experience, testifying before a truth commission is far from having the benefits that proponents have claimed, and it may actually do more harm. Lastly, the information above is not completely negative. The treatment involves refugees telling their trauma story in detail.
This approach explores the trauma in a way that encourage new collective understating of history and communal identity as for some refugees the trauma is collective as well as an individual experience ibid.