About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

7. Conclusion: Reconciliation, Reparations and the Challenges for the Future

7.1 The ANC's own conduct

We believe that the masses of the people and the liberation movement waged a just struggle against apartheid, designated by the UN as a crime against humanity. This struggle was no different from other decolonisation struggles in other parts of the world, and developed in response to the policies and practices of the apartheid regime - political, social, economic and judicial - which had as their starting point the perpetuation and defence of a system which was in and of itself a violation of human rights. This fact has been accepted by all who pay allegiance to the interim and final constitutions, which represent a collective attempt to move away from such a system.

However, we do acknowledge that the fact that the ANC waged a just war against apartheid does not render us or anyone else immune from judgement on our conduct in the course of the struggle. We have set out the conditions under which violations of policy occurred. But we emphasise that none of these violations reflected official policy, or were in way case sanctioned by the leadership. There are instances where we could have acted more firmly and speedily to prevent or stop abuses; and for this the ANC accepts collective responsibility.

From its inception, the ANC sought to pursue a path of struggle that would persuade the powers-that-be to come to the negotiations table and accord the majority of the people the rights they deserved. Even at the height of repression, it was the ANC that initiated the negotiations process which culminated in the system of non-racial democracy we are building today.

Over the years, the ANC established rules and organisational procedures to ensure disciplined conduct among its members. It also set the foundation for such conduct through systematic education of its members about the objectives of struggle and the fact that these goals were not only just and moral, but required all members to conduct themselves as true custodians of these objectives. This was as much a matter of survival and winning over the majority of South Africans to the ANC's side, as it was simple moral logic.

To the extent that there may be questions on matters of detail, or the need for any elaboration on incidents perceived as gross violations of human rights referred to in this report, the ANC will make such additional input as is necessary. Where applicable, individual members will apply for amnesty.

7.2 An approach to reparations

An important role of the TRC is to ensure that justice prevails to the maximum extent possible. Justice is not only punishment. Justice is not revenge or retribution. Whether there is punishment or not, an important element of justice is restoration, restitution and reparation.

It must be appreciated that the new democratic state does not have the capacity or resources to fully compensate all those who have suffered. There are millions of families who have suffered under apartheid in so many ways who could justifiably say they should be compensated for the harm which apartheid has caused. There are others whose suffering stems from other causes who would be able to make similar claims. There needs to be restoration, restitution and/or reparation within the framework of such resources or capacity that South Africa can afford. And, in the final analysis, the creation of a democratic and prosperous society constitutes the primary form of reconciliation and reparations. The ANC submits that in making its recommendations, the Commission should take this fact into account.

Justice demands that the concerns of victims should take centre stage in the process of reconciliation. In this context all of us need to be creative in identifying ways in which the TRC, the South African government, the South African people and various local communities can together participate in a process of effecting restitution, restoration and/or reparation. Taking international experience and international human rights law as well as our situation into account and also taking into account the constraints imposed upon us, the ANC submits that the TRC should be able to make recommendations which would include the following actions:

     monetary awards, either by way of lump sum or monthly pension;

     other forms of material assistance and support;

     psychological support and provision of comfort and solidarity;

     steps to be taken to restore the dignity and honour as well as the good names of victims;

     efforts to ensure that the communities become involved in the process of reconciliation;

     steps be taken to ensure that South Africa remembers.

This list is not exhaustive and the ANC will seek an opportunity to address the Commission again in greater detail on the forms which restitution, restoration and/or reparation could take.

The ANC is also of the view that the TRC should have the power to intervene on an urgent basis at any time even if such intervention would be on the basis of interim recommendations for requests or even orders in circumstances which the Commission may deem appropriate. They would all be designed to alleviate the plights of victims, help to restore their dignity and honour, end the humiliation and make them feel that reconciliation and justice has not been at their expense.

7.3 Lasting reconciliation

In approaching the issue of reconciliation and nation-building, it is critical to appreciate that human rights violations originated with the system of colonialism and evolved over centuries. The doctrines of racial superiority, the pursuit of narrow interests and privileges for the white minority in general and Afrikaners in particular - all premised on the exclusion of the majority - "naturally" had to be buttressed by a repressive regime. Under any and all circumstances, oppression and exclusion results in the revolt of the slaves at first tentative then open - and the oppressive state thus resorts to force to maintain unjust rule.

The system of apartheid and its violent consequences were not an aberration by a few individuals or a well-intentioned policy that went wrong. It was systematic; it was deliberate; it was a matter of policy. Over the years, a system of government was built in which accountability had been thrown out of the window; where security considerations ruled the roost; and where the individual rights of all South Africans, and particularly the black community, were trampled upon.

Therefore, the basic premise in correcting this historical injustice is for South Africans to pay allegiance to, to consolidate and defend the democratic constitution and the human rights culture that it espouses. It is for all citizens to promote and utilise to maximum effect the rights that we have attained, and ensure that open and accountable government becomes a matter of course in our body politic. It is for us to promote equal individual rights without regard to race, colour, religion, language and other differences; and at the same time ensure that equal collective rights pertaining to these issues are protected. And it is for us to work together to build a better life for all.

Combined with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission - charged with exposing the evil deeds that have been committed; investigating the reasons why they happened; and the restoration of the dignity of the victims and the humanity of the perpetrators - all these efforts will afford us the confidence and resolve to say: Never Again! We appreciate the fact that the TRC is pursuing its work without fear or favour; and we hope that at the end of this process, South Africans will be the wiser, and better able to march into the future with confidence in one another and in their capacity to create a prosperous, peaceful and just society in which any violation of human rights will be fading memories of a past gone by, never to return.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.