South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission
After nearly 50 years of brutal apartheid in South Africa, it is almost impossible to imagine how people could coexist peacefully. However, the new, post-apartheid government demonstrated the power of reconciliation, which eventually served as a blueprint for similar initiatives throughout the world.
Apartheid, the racial segregation system in South Africa, lasted from 1948 to 1994. During this time, black individuals in South Africa were deprived of citizenship and virtually every aspect of life in South Africa was segregated by race including education, neighborhoods, medical care, and public spaces.
As a way to heal the deep wounds among people, the new Government of National Unity in 1995 established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which invited perpetrators of violence to speak about their past transgressions. The idea was that if people spoke to one another as fellow human beings, it would provide an opportunity to heal and forgive and thereby allow reconciliation to occur. The TRC lasted until 2002 and, despite some flaws, was widely viewed as a success and served as a model for similar systems around the world in post-conflict communities.
In one famous case, American Fulbright Scholar and anti-apartheid activist Amy Biehl was brutally stabbed to death by four black men in 1993 while driving in Cape Town. The four were convicted of murder but were eventually released as part of the TRC process. Biehl’s parents not only forgave her murderers, they established the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust, an organization that leads community programs designed to prevent future violence in Cape Town.
Monica Joyi worked for the TRC Media Office from 1996-1997 during its inaugural years. In her interview with Dan Whitman in 2009, she talks about her job at the TRC in 1996, her reflections on the Amy Biehl incident, and what it was like to work for a leader of the TRC, the “Arch”, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
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