The TRRC has probably the most difficult work in our transition process, much more than the Constitutional Review Commission. In fact I think the TRRC is the one to set the stage for both the CRC and the NHRC. What society we are able to create, what people we become, what future we are able to bequeath to posterity, what sectors of governance we build, will be determined by the TRRC, its outcomes and how we deal with them in the present.
The TRRC, like other Commissions set up around the world, is expected to “navigate the fault-line between the possible and the ideal, politics and human rights, between their own soft power and the hard(er) power of the state, and between their twin tasks of documenting the past and transforming the future”. Thus, if the TRRC were a thing, on its box would have been written “Am brittle; please handle with care”.
Apart from establishing as complete a picture as possible of the gross violations of human rights in the past through investigations and hearings, I find the TRRC’s job of providing victims the platform to relate their accounts and thereby restore their dignity very important and edifying. I also hope that when the perpetrators come before the Commission, to narrate their part, own responsibility and seek forgiveness, the Commission will be able to establish the fate or whereabouts of victims who paid the ultimate price. That may be the “closure” for some families, knowing who killed their own and where the remains can be found.
A difficult job of our TRRC, I think, would be ensuring justice is served while recommending forgiveness or amnesty. Which individual act would deserve forgiveness or amnesty I don’t know but I think such option should be conditional on full disclosure of motive. More difficult, however, would be to ensure that the past is always informing our present, and that in building the future we do not forget the past. The relationship between the past and present, continuity and change continuum must be understood and adeptly managed.
In his book “The Era of Transitional Justice” Paul Gready indicated that the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission had fourfold categorisation of truth: factual or forensic truth; personal and narrative truth; social or “dialogue” truth; and healing and restorative truth. The mandate of our TRRC also tells me it too would pursue all fourfold “truths”. They are all critical to the establishment of justice and reconciliation.
Whether we end up pursuing justice and peace, as mutually inclusive commodities, or establishing accountability and truth, the testimonies at the TRRC so far reveal that two reforms are critical to our pursuit of a better society: security sector reform and judicial service reform. The greatest, unimaginable betrayal of our democratic mandate in our 22 years dictatorship came from our security forces and last bastion of hope, our judiciary.
“Never Again” must not be a cliché or a moth eaten slogan. We must live it.