Decades after the truth and reconciliation process, South Africans are still seeking justice.
Twenty years ago the first public hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa was heard and tomorrow marks eighteen years since the handing over of that commission’s findings to President Nelson Mandela. The Truth Commission, which has since been replicated in dozens of other countries, was an integral component of South Africa’s post-apartheid transition to what many hoped would be a more open, freer society. Now, two decades after its founding, a whole generation of young people has grown up in South Africa since this first hearing, and the commission has become a part of the new nation’s founding myth but South African officials rarely stop to ponder its success and limitations. If apartheid is mentioned in speeches today, it merely serves to provide reasons for problems the government has not been able to solve. Preoccupied with the present, with party-political scheming, elections, and scandals like the one surrounding renovations to President Zuma’s private home (financed with taxpayer money), the African National Congress—a former liberation movement and now the incumbent ruling party at the national level—is slowly losing its grip on its electorate.
The apartheid past lingers on in today’s South Africa.
While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was intended to be a powerful tool for restorative justice, the apartheid past lingers on in today’s South Africa. The notion of “the past in the present” suddenly pops up everywhere—a fairly new, but pervasive, feature in public discourse. The recent rise of South African students—from privileged universities like the University of Cape Town to the underfunded University of Limpopo in Polokwane—exemplifies this new cry for justice. Increases in tuition fees sparked student protests across the country last year (inspiring the hashtag, #FeesMustFall); but the protests, still ongoing, are equally directed against the non-transformation of the entire education system, the bias in the curricula, and the financial exclusion of the majority of the so-called “formally disadvantaged” groups. Students have not protested so loudly and decidedly since the 1976 Soweto uprising. Indeed, this and other apartheid-era protests against minority rule are today drawn on as models for current protests.