Learning Truth And Reconciliations Of South Africa Politics

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The story of South Africa's transition from repression to democracy is extraordinary to say the least. In the foreword to the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the most revered Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarks, "Ours is a remarkable country. Let us celebrate our diversity, our differences. God wants us as we are. South Africa wants and needs the Afrikaner, the English, the coloured, the Indian, the black. We are sisters and brothers in one family - God's family, the human family. Having looked the beast of the past in the eye, having asked and received forgiveness and having made amends, let us shut the door on the past - not in order to forget it but in order not to allow it to imprison us. Let us move into the glorious future of a new kind of society where people count, not because of biological irrelevancies or other extraneous attributes, but because they are persons of infinite worth created in the image of God. Let that society be a new society - more compassionate, more caring, more gentle, more given to sharing - because we have left "the past of a deeply divided society characterised by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice" and are moving to a future "founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence and development opportunities for all South Africans, irrespective of colour, race, class, belief or sex."(Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, Vol I)

Apartheid was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority non-white inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and minority rule by white people was maintained. Racial segregation in South Africa began in colonial times, but apartheid as an official policy was introduced following the general election of 1948. New legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups ("black", "white", "colored", and "Indian"), and residential areas were segregated, sometimes by means of forced removals. From 1958, black people were deprived of their citizenship; legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based self-governing homelands called Bantustans, four of which became nominally independent states. The government segregated education, medical care, and other public services, and provided black people with services inferior to those of white people.

Apartheid sparked significant internal resistance and violence as well as a long trade embargo against South Africa. A series of popular uprisings and protests were met with the banning of opposition and imprisoning of anti-apartheid leaders. As unrest spread and became more violent, state organizations responded with increasing repression and state-sponsored violence. The system of apartheid sparked significant internal resistance. The government responded to a series of popular uprisings and protests with police brutality, which in turn increased local support for the armed resistance struggle. Internal resistance to the apartheid system in South Africa came from several sectors of society and saw the creation of organizations dedicated variously to peaceful protests, passive resistance and armed insurrection.

In 1949 the youth wing of the African National Congress (ANC) took control of the organization and started advocating a radical black nationalist programme. The new young leaders proposed that white authority could only be overthrown through mass campaigns. In 1950 that philosophy saw the launch of the Programme of Action, a series of strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience actions that led to occasionally violent clashes with the authorities. Reforms to apartheid in the 1980s failed to quell the mounting opposition, and in 1990 President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end apartheid, culminating in multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, which were won by the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela.

It is common knowledge that there was widespread strife and civil unrest in the apartheid era South Africa. Apartheid South Africa was the richest country on its continent, and one of the most unequal societies on earth. Under apartheid, mass removals of millions of blacks made room for white cities, white suburbs, and white farms. In the building of modern South Africa, black labor was utterly indispensable and black lives utterly expendable: 69,000 workers were killed, and over a million injured, in South African mines from 1900-1994.Public violence, intimidation, detention deaths, misappropriation of public moneys, rioting, discrimination, restrictions on political activity, segregation of residences and public spaces, removal of blacks from squattings, arbitrary and oppressive preventive detention laws, etc were the defining features of South African society. Nelson Mandela along with hundreds of other anti-apartheid activists was incarcerated for long. In short there was widespread and blatant violation of human rights in the treatment of the black population by the establishment.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. The hearings made international news and many sessions were broadcast on national television. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was born of a spirit of public participation, as the new government solicited the opinions of South Africans and the international community regarding the issue of granting amnesty as well as the issue of accountability in respect to past violations and reparations for victims. Civil society, including human rights lawyers, the religious community, and victims, formed a coalition of more than 50 organizations that participated in a public dialogue on the merits of a truth commission. This consultative process lasted a year and culminated in the legislation, the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act 34 of 1995 (the Act), that established the TRC.

The TRC was a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa and, despite some flaws, is generally regarded as very successful. The South African TRC represented a major departure from the approach taken at the Nuremberg trials. It was hailed as an innovative model for building peace and justice and for holding accountable those guilty of human rights violations. At the same time, it laid the foundation for building reconciliation among all South Africans. Many other countries dealing with postconflict issues have instituted similar methodologies for such commissions, although not always with the same mandate. The South African TRC has provided the world with another tool in the struggle against impunity and the search for justice and peace (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010)

Principles followed by the T&RC:

Two distinct strands of thought can be seen in the working of the TRC. One was by Desmond Tutu, asserting that there was no future without forgiveness, and that "once we know the truth, we can enter the way to reconciliation" (Tutu, 1999). The other was by Charles Villa-Vicencio who said that TRC was a preliminary space to create "talk about talk." From their viewpoint, reconciliation could be posed as a practical metaphor for allowing negotiations (Villa-Vicencio, 2002)

However painful the experience has been, we remain convinced that there can be no healing without truth. My appeal to South Africans as they read this report is not to use it to attack others, but to add to it, correct it and ultimately to share in the process that will lead to national unity through truth and reconciliation.

Reconciliation requires former enemies to reject revenge, and in many cases, to forego justice. Reconciliation will mean that many of those responsible for past atrocities will not be punished. The notion of ubuntu an indigenous South African notion is that a person is a person through other persons. Ubuntu refers to the person who is welcoming, who is hospitable, who is warm and generous, who is affirming of others…. Ubuntu was taken to be a presupposition of TRC's values on healing and forgiveness. Tutu explained his notion of forgiveness as follows: "forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It involves trying to understand the perpetrators and so have empathy, to try to stand in their shoes, and to appreciate the sort of pressures and influences that might have brought them to do what they did." And, "Forgiveness is not being sentimental…. Forgiving means abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but it is a loss which liberates the victim" (Tutu, 1999: 219)

In issues related to resolution of conflicts, particularly ethnic conflicts, the issues of justice and revenge loomed large. South Africa had taken steps to prevent just that by, first of all, individualizing responsibility, and secondly, emphasizing the possibility of forgiveness. To identify particular persons as responsible rather than "whites" or "Afrikaners" was meant to defuse inter-communal hostility. Whether this is "just" or not, it is obviously the only path to eventual reconciliation, because when one community visits retribution on another, this only leads to continuing or renewed warfare. Satisfying abstract notions of justice, even by demanding that a particularly responsible community pay significant reparations, invites the very opposite of reconciliation. However, for victims of past abuse, this may seem unfair, and psychologically unsatisfying. It is clear that the course being followed by South Africa, to try to overcome past abuses with a minimum of punishment and through strict attempts to blame individuals rather than whole communities is the only possible road to reconciliation.

Under what circumstances can wronged individuals learn to forgive, and to abandon a quest for revenge? It is because Nelson Mandela has done this that he is recognized as a great man. Forgiveness, especially by those who have been so victimized, is rare, and it should be the task of future psychological research to identify what motivates such exceptional cases. Much more common, both among leaders and ordinary people, are those who harbor deep grudges for past wrongs, and even extend them historically to include whole communities for many generations.

The TRC and Positive Psychology: Psychology has long been enamored of the dark side of human existence, rarely exploring a more positive view of the mind. What has psychology contributed, for example, to our understanding of the various human virtues? Regrettably, not much. The last decade, however, has witnessed a growing movement to abandon the exclusive focus on the negative. Psychologists from several subdisciplines are now asking an intriguing question: "What strengths does a person employ to deal effectively with life?"

A science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless. The exclusive focus on pathology that has dominated so much of our discipline results in a model of the human being lacking the positive features that make life worth living. Hope, wisdom, creativity, future mindedness, courage, spirituality, responsibility, and perseverance are ignored or explained as transformations of more authentic negative impulses (Seligman ME, Csikszentmihalyi M, 2000)

Positivity opens us, changing our perceptual horizons. Recent brain imaging research shows that the perception of people in a neutral or negative state is focused in on one area, whereas people in a positive state have a broadened focus. The implications of this are as follows:

We can see many possibilities.

We're more creative.

We're more resilient.

We perform better.

Medics make better decisions.

There is more "oneness" i.e. racial and cultural differences disappear.

Trust increases.

We make more 'win/win' negotiations (See Fredrickson, B 2010)

As we are well aware, Positive Psychology has three central concerns:

Positive emotions

Positive individual traits

Positive institutions

Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits consists of the study of the strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities with justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethics and tolerance (Sumana Sri, 2010).

In the case of the working of the TRC, South Africa, we have seen the above three- positive emotions, positive individual traits and positive institutions at work. By participating in the public hearings and depositions before the TRC, confronting the perpetuators , the victims of apartheid and its attendant evils have been able to transform their negative Nurembergian emotions of retribution into positive emotions of reconciliation, abjuring revenge and being at peace with one self. Similarly, the process of reconciliation requires tremendous individual strength of character. It requires a host of individual traits like hope, wisdom, creativity, future mindedness, courage, spirituality, responsibility, and perseverance to be able to reconcile with your tormentor, particularly at a time, when you are in a position to take revenge, a revenge that could have been justified at all levels. Also, the TRC itself, a positive institution, that set out to release positive emotions among people, both the oppressors and oppressed, saw a large number of oppressors (earlier in higher positions) apologizing and being shameful of their deeds and the oppressed reaching out positively to their oppressors and accepting the apology and forgiving the oppressor. The TRC as an institution has demonstrated through its philosophy and techniques, the strength of positive psychology. Above all, the mechanism of establishing the TRC and its philosophy has been tremendously influenced by one man-Bishop Desmond Tutu, acting as a counselor to the aggrieved nation. Quite obviously there has been criticism of the whole approach, yet the success of South Africa in not falling for retribution and vengeance and looking ahead is an ample demonstration of the success of positive psychology.

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