Coming to Terms: South Africa's Search for Truth

Martin Meredith, Author, Tina Rosenberg, Author, Tina Rosenberg, Essay by PublicAffairs $27.5 (380p) ISBN 978-1-891620-33-1
South Africa's ambitious process of excavating the violence committed by the forces of apartheid, as well as by its opponents, was conducted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which offered amnesty only to those willing to confess their crimes and be subject to cross-examination. The TRC, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, inspired Afrikaner journalist Antje Krog's fascinatingly feverish witness, Country of My Skull (Forecasts, Jan. 11). By contrast, Meredith (Nelson Mandela) takes a surprisingly subdued approach, eschewing first-person narrative in a dispassionate journalistic account that draws heavily on transcripts of testimony. While Meredith's account lacks the dramatic immediacy of Krog's, this book offers narratives that need to be recounted: the confessions of heinous killers who served the state, the confrontation between torturer and victim, the statements by black radicals who considered all whites targets. But beyond individual testimony, Meredith aims at larger points: amnesty, he concludes, frustrated many victims and the public at large; political leaders like F.W. de Klerk shirked moral responsibility; and the African National Congress--liberation movement turned ruler--sought its own exoneration rather than truth. Meredith observes that reconciliation was not achieved; still, he concludes, the TRC ""uncovered far more about South Africa's violent past than had been thought possible."" In her foreword, Rosenberg (The Haunted Land) shows herself more optimistic than Meredith, declaring the TRC ""a huge achievement,"" and in her lengthy afterword she backs up that claim by placing the TRC in the context of other new democracies' attempts to reckon with the past. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/29/1999
Release date: 12/01/1999
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