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The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa
Legitimizing the Post-Apartheid State

Part of Cambridge Studies in Law and Society

  • Date Published: May 2001
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521802192


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About the Authors
  • The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up to deal with the human rights violations of apartheid during the years 1960–1994. However, as Wilson shows, the TRC's restorative justice approach to healing the nation did not always serve the needs of communities at a local level. Based on extended anthropological fieldwork, this book illustrates the impact of the TRC in urban African communities in the Johannesburg area. While a religious constituency largely embraced the commission's religious-redemptive language of reconciliation, Wilson argues that the TRC had little effect on popular ideas of justice as retribution. This provocative study deepens our understanding of post-apartheid South Africa and the use of human rights discourse. It ends on a call for more cautious and realistic expectations about what human rights institutions can achieve in democratizing countries.

    • Based on extensive anthropological fieldwork
    • Presents a fresh assessment of the work of the South African TRC
    • Evaluates the use of human rights discourse and the limits of human rights institutions in democratizing countries
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Wilson's careful analysis of the commission's work is instructive for all those who seek to assist nations and peoples in the transition from dictatorship to democracy.' Law Society Journal

    'This book is a thoughtful and in depth study of post-apartheid South Africa which pulls no punches in its description of that society and the workings of the TRC.' Dr Srechko Konteli, Law Institute Journal

    '… compelling … Wilson offers anthropological fieldwork carried out among black township populations. This research provides an illuminating account of how the TRC's work failed to take into account the wishes and worldviews of this important and large sector of the population …'. Karima Bennoune, European Journal of International Law

    'Just about the best thing written on the TRC so far, it is deeply analytical yet broad in scope. Wilson offers us engaging chapters of the TRC's political life, the way in which it gathered information, and popular understandings of vengeance and retribution in urban African communities around Johannesburg … This is a remarkable book. it should be read by anyone wishing to cut through much of the flotsam which has come to characterize talk of forgiveness and reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa. It will be of use to historians as a trenchant contemporary evaluation of the TRC's work.' Journal of African History

    'This book is an important and careful analysis of the workings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) … stringently and persuasively argued …'. The Round Table

    'Throughout this carefully considered book, he combines cool scholarly analysis with passionately held humane opinions. It is a fine piece of work.' The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

    'Wilson's study makes a strong and convincing argument.' Journal of Southern African Studies

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2001
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521802192
    • length: 296 pages
    • dimensions: 237 x 163 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.573kg
    • contains: 3 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of acronyms and glossary
    Preface and acknowledgements
    1. Human rights and nation-building
    Part I. Human Rights and Truth:
    2. Technologies of truth: the TRC's truth-making machine
    3. The politics of truth and human rights
    Part II. Reconciliation
    Retribution and Revenge:
    4. Reconciliation through truth?
    5. Reconciliation in society: religious values and procedural pragmatism
    6. Vengeance, revenge and retribution
    7. Reconciliation with a vengeance
    8. Conclusions: human rights, reconciliation and retribution

  • Author

    Richard A. Wilson, University of Sussex

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