Leading article: A reconciliation without vengeance

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The Independent Culture
A reconciliation

without vengeance

SOUTH AFRICA'S Truth and Reconciliation Commission is finally reaching its close, after two and a half years moving around the country. The last investigation has been completed and the last evidence taken. A draft report has been written. By October the Commission will consider a final draft to be given to the President.

It has been an extraordinary experiment by President Nelson Mandela and the Commission's chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to salve the wounds and end the divisions of half a century of apartheid. Cynics might say it has achieved neither truth nor reconciliation. It has lacked the evidence and co-operation of the chief architects of repression such as PW Botha to expose the whole truth.

It has revealed too much to allow easy reconciliation. Indeed there are many who would argue that by exposing the horrors, it has deepened the wounds. The Afrikaners have seen it as a prolonged and ritual humiliation. The ANC has thought of it primarily as a pursuit of guilt. Neither they nor their foes amongst the Zulus have ever accepted the idea that the Commission should be as much the means of healing tribal and party conflict among the blacks as between black and white.

Yet reconciliation, as Archbishop Tutu says, is a process, not an event. It may be that good can only come out of a history as poisoned as South Africa's in the particular, not the general. If even a little bit of understanding can result from the scenes of pain that were witnessed in meeting after meeting of the Commission, it will have achieved something that all the fine speeches of politicians could not.

When the report is finally published and the work of the associated amnesty committee ceases to hear pleas for forgiveness, then it could well be seen as something more than a brave but imperfect effort at the impossible. As we grope towards the end of a terrible century, the world has found no real way of drawing a line under the horrendous events that have marked it. We still struggle with the Holocaust and the search for justice in Bosnia and Rwanda.

Archbishop Tutu has tried something genuinely historic for which no one else has had the vision and only he and President Mandela could have tried - reconciliation without vengeance. They deserve our respect and the prayer that their efforts will not be fruitless.