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The TRC – Just or Unjust?

While reading Krog’s “Country of My Skull” and watching the documentary “Long Night’s Journey into Day” I was very focused on the portrayal of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in both. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, prior to watching and reading about South Africa and the violence within its apartheid society, I was completely unaware of it. The TRC especially interested me, because it is very different from the justice system here in the United States. The United States is primarily focused on incarceration (although many say it is also focused on rehabilitation) – while in South Africa it is shown that the TRC’s main focus is reconciliation as a form of justice.

One thing I think is a positive about the TRC is that the victims often get some form of closure. In the documentary, the perpetrators were brought forth in front of the TRC and confessed their crimes to the families and friends of the victims. There were also scenes where the the families got to meet face to face with the perpetrators and gain some sort of explanation and apology for the crimes committed against their loved one. Similarly, in “Country of My Skull” the TRC was in place to offer some sort of reconciliation and to try and move forward from South Africa’s dark and disturbing past.

Krog tells a narrative of her experience reporting on the TRC, and although the purpose of the TRC is supposed to be positive, there are many upsetting and unjust scenes told within her novel. In fact, in the introduction Krog states “And while some victims and survivors of the apartheid government say their agony won’t end so long as perpetrators get amnesty and victims get next to nothing (reparation, for those who qualify, comes to less than $200 per victim), others say that learning how and where their loved ones met their end has provided a certain closure, a measure of peace” (pg 10). This brings up the question if the TRC really does provide justice or if it is inherently unjust. 

2 thoughts on “The TRC – Just or Unjust?”

  1. I would push you here to mull over whether the *kind* of justice that the TRC can help bring about. Like, maybe it’s not about whether it “is” just or unjust, but rather *how* it has a relationship with justice. What’s powerful to me about TRCs, and why I think it’s worth considering them at length in a literature and law class, is their ambivalent relationship to the law: they are both part of the legal apparatus of the state and also crucially *extralegal* in some ways. They push us to consider the limitations of law and the liminal space between law and justice in ways that strike me as distinctly literary.


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