Debate about the TRC has become necessary in South Africa today, 20 years since the final Report was handed over to government on 29 October 1998. Assessment of its efficacy and longer-term value is being undertaken, unfortunately, within an environment of intense disillusionment about the promise of constitutional democracy. This paper sets out the environment in which the TRC was established in 1996, its legal and constitutional frameworks, its achievements for creating a climate of reconciliation, for granting amnesty to perpetrators of human rights violations, and for setting a reparations framework. South Africans are conscious of grinding poverty and inequality, pervasive racism, and unfulfilled aspirations of the democratic settlement of 1994. What value, then was the TRC? This paper attempts a fair assessment, seeks to be honest about its grandiose claims, and undertakes a philosophical, political and ethical analysis of its achievements. Drawing on many studies on the TRC it seeks to chart a more rational course than some, noting that circumstances in Africa are such that the TRC is being revisited, The Gambia, for example, being the latest country that has introduced the TRC. Others may follow suit: Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, to name a few.
Comment: This article engages with the concept of transitional justice and reconciliation in truth commissions around Africa by reflecting specifically on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its impact on South Africa. Suitable for courses on South African history, conflict resolution, transitional justice.