The Cost of Forgiveness: After South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Date & time

Apr 4, 2007, 4:00-5:30 pm EDT


Weill Hall

Yazier Henry, Director, Direct Action Centre for Peace and Memory, Capetown, South Africa; Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Yazier Henry is a former anti-Apartheid activist who, as a teenager, became an officer in Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress. He is a poet, writer, and peace activist. He currently works with former combatants, political prisoners, and torture survivors and is the founding Director of the Direct Action Centre for Peace and Memory.

South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is often described as a successful model for how countries can address human rights violations and move toward peace following extensive political upheaval. The TRC was designed to foster forgiveness by enabling victims of Apartheid violence to testify publicly and allowing perpetrators of crimes to confess and apply for amnesty. The TRC's mandate, however, did not extend to investigations of the systemic impacts of Apartheid's racial policies of socio-economic engineering, such as land dispossession and forced removals, restrictions on movement, and denial of the right to vote. Implemented, then, in a context that precluded widespread prosecutions or reparations -- precluded meaningful change in the institutions that benefited from the Apartheid system -- the TRC may instead have served to cement the existing imbalances of power and to silence the witnesses to Apartheid's atrocities.

How does the persistence of poverty and inequality work to hinder the ability of South Africans individually and collectively to mourn, speak, and recover? How is the experience of silence and silencing intimately connected to institutional mechanisms of political transition such as the TRC? What complex sets of coordinates do survivors in South Africa have to mediate in order to articulate publicly in the post-TRC context about their stories, memories, and lives?

Henry will address these issues by drawing from his work with survivors of Apartheid violence, his own engagement with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and his personal experience as a combatant survivor.