March 5, 2001
So. Africa's future
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
Reconciliation, an idea that has dominated Emorys consciousness
this year, is a concept made prominent during South Africas quest
for healing after the elimination of apartheid in the late 1990s.
Villa-Vicencio spoke for 45 minutes on Church, State and Restorative
Justice: Did the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Succeed in South
The answer? Sort of.
The commission did what it could when faced with an almost impossible
taskdeconstruct more than 30 years of apartheid, heal the deep wounds
left in its wake, and set the stage for a new, harmonious South Africa.
It has been said, Villa-Vicencio noted, that perhaps the TRC did
not fail South Africa, but South Africa failed the TRC. Those who benefited
from apartheid are not exactly leaping out of their chairs to contribute
to the reconciliation process.
Villa-Vicencio, who was the commissions research director, said
the commissions final success will be judged on how South Africas
individual communities, churches, schools and other organizations deal
While the commission could not solve all of South Africas post-apartheid
problems, it did succeed on several fronts. Villa-Vicencio, now executive
director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town,
said it created a victim-friendly environment where survivors could tell
their stories, broadened public understanding and perception of the past,
identified victims and perpetrators, andwhile it did not offer retributionit
created the possibility of restorative justice.
It is that restorative justice, with its focus on amnesty, truth-telling
and building a future, that will serve as the countrys 21st century
The list of what the commission couldnt accomplish, though, is
at least as long as its successes, Villa-Vicencio said. It could not confer
on victims anything more than a moral or symbolic satisfaction; it couldnt
punish or generate remorse in perpetrators; it couldnt ensure victims
would feel closure; it couldnt ensure perpetrators would mend their
ways; it couldnt eliminate the wide gap between the countrys
rich and poor.
In short, Villa-Vicencio said, it can never reconcile
the whole nation.
When Villa-Vicencio got down to specifics, his words touched on two primary
points: What are South Africas most pressing concerns in a post-apartheid
world? And where does reconciliation go from here?
He further broke down his discussion on South Africas unfinished
business into two issues. The first was the prosecution of people who
committed human rights violations, and the second was reparations payments
He said South Africa must walk a fine line that offers neither too much
justice nor too little. This wont be easy. When Nelson Mandela was
elected president, he granted amnesty to many people who had committed
human rights violationsprovided they said what they did. Several
perpetrators, however, did not ask for amnesty, and still others were
denied it. What to do with these open cases is a problem.
The nation cannot spend the next 50 years hunting down criminals,
he said. The issue of prosecutions is a matter that has not yet
been fully addressed. It will continue to challenge the nation politically,
legally and morally for the foreseeable future.
Villa-Vicencio said there would not be systematic prosecutions, but there
would be no general amnesty, either. Basically, some cases would be brought
to trial and some
The issue of reparations is thorny one as well, and one to which the
government, Villa-Vicencio said, has yet responded.
These are pertinent questions to which there is no immediate answer,
but an answer must be found, he said.
Villa-Vicencio was joined on the stage by Elizabeth Bounds, associate professor of Christian ethics, who responded to his remarks, and John Witte, director of the Law and Religion Program, who served as moderator. Witte called Villa-Vicencio one of the great intellectuals in South Africa and one of that nations leaders in the reconciliation movement.