Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Mark Amstutz

A Professor at Wheaton College

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

The bargain in South Africa, in the truth commission, was that they would search not for the long-term truth, but the sort-term truth as to what had happened to people who had disappeared or been killed. The aim of the truth commission was to urge people who had lost loved ones -- and it focused not on torture but focused on the killing, the disappearance of people -- to have them come forward and to testify and to tell their stories with the hope that they would receive some kind of reparation and recognition. What the South Africa model does, is it focuses on the victim, for them to tell their stories, and gives some symbolic recognition that the state is culpable for the disappearance of these people. Those who had participated in the wrong-doing, either within the context of the state or who had done so in more semi-official ways (there were people who acted as agents of the state, but not in an official capacity), these people who were involved in these wrongs, if they told the truth and if they confessed fully, completely and accurately, they had the possibility of amnesty. So the fundamental bargain in South Africa is that you trade truth-telling in the hope of receiving -- but not necessarily guaranteed -- in the hope of receiving freedom from prosecution.

Q: Not necessarily? What is the condition under which you would be guaranteed amnesty?

A: It wasn't guaranteed. In other words, once you did that you went before a panel, the amnesty panel, very distinguished judges that would decide whether in fact So out of the 7,000 people who applied for amnesty, many of them were disallowed simply on procedural grounds, because you had to have committed a crime during a certain period of time, and the other thing was that you had to disclose fully and completely. But some 1,000 people, over a thousand people were given amnesty.

Q: So the vast majority were not? The vast majority were prosecuted?

A: No, they were not prosecuted, they were eligible for prosecution. In other words, part of it is that South Africa is still in a period of transition and Mandela and more recently the Mbeki government has not been eager to use its scarce capital, scarce resources, to do that.