South Africa: Truth and Reconciliation Commission

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South Africa: Truth And Reconciliation Commission

From 1948-1994, South Africa experienced one of the darkest periods in the country’s history. During this time, racial discrimination and horrific human rights violations were rampant across South Africa. There were beatings and tortures, massacres and police murders. The cruel injustices experienced during these years were due to a political system known as apartheid. In 1994, South Africa was given a way to free themselves from the vice grip of apartheid by using their nation’s first democratic elections to elect a man with a vision and desire for freedom and equality stronger than South Africa had ever seen before; this man was Nelson Mandela. Mandela and his democratically elected South African government were handed the onerous task of rebuilding a nation devastated by the cruelties of apartheid. By navigating a course that ran between the violent, punitive Nuremburg Trials and the impossible folly of completely forgetting their troubled past, the new government brought forth the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a commission that was ultimately beneficial to both the victims and the perpetrators of the crimes committed under apartheid. By addressing both sides of the equation and ignoring neither, the TRC paved a new road for South Africa and for the world.

Apartheid as an official system dates to 1948 and the election of Afrikaner Daniel Francois Malan and the National Party. The purpose of apartheid (from the Afrikaans apart apart + heid – hood) was to maintain white superiority in South Africa while continually widening the racial gap between the whites and the non-whites in terms of education, economy, and rights. Unfortunately this tactic was very successful for many years. The South African Parliament, dominated by wealthy, white South Africans, would pass law after law, further diminishing the rights of non-whites every time. One of the most influential laws passed by D.F. Malan and his government was the Bantu Education Act of 1953. (South Africa Overcoming) This law forced all schools in black or colored communities to teach their students not the traditional form of education, the education the white children were receiving, but rather a form of education that parliament thought would be more fit for the non-white children of South Africa. With this Act, these children were taught only the skills they would need to know to do the labor work society funneled them into doing. The government wanted to ensure that they were prepared to work after their “education” was done and they had nowhere else to turn but the labor work the government prepared them to do. The Minister of Native Affairs at the time, Dr. Hendrik F. Verwoerd, described the “benefits” of the Act as follows: “Until now, he (the “Native”) has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his community and misled him by showing him the greener pastures of European Society where he is not allowed to graze.” (South Africa Overcoming) This style of education the blacks and colored children received was one of the many reasons they could never get out of the vicious poverty cycle so many of them were stuck in. Although the Truth and Reconciliation Committee did not directly deal with improving the inadequate education provided to the blacks and colored people in South Africa, it did work to amend the relationship between the whites and the blacks, which in turn has given the blacks more opportunity to pursue a higher form of education.

Another area of society where blacks and colored South Africans found themselves facing cruel injustices was in justice itself. The police force was to blame for many of the worst offenses during the apartheid era. Parliament also contributed to the grave injustices of apartheid, not by physically abusing non-white South Africans, but by seriously limiting their rights and their opportunities. In 1953, parliament passed...
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