Letter: Legacy of apartheid's crimes

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I HAVE every sympathy with Steve Biko's widow, and the other victims of apartheid, in their campaign against the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ("Justice before forgiveness, say families of apartheid victims", 31 March). I can understand the commission's aims to create a non-punitive environment that will allow full confessions from wrongdoers, and to apply the Christian principle of forgiveness for all regardless of their sins. Yet these aims, though laudable, do not go far enough to heal the wounds of the past.

As well as admitting their crimes to themselves and to others, the perpetrators must appreciate the effects of their actions on their victims. They must be prosecuted, and publicly atone for their crimes in the same way as any other criminal.

The victims have a right to justice. It is up to them whether or not they can forgive the perpetrators. Forgiveness is the most noble of human feelings; but to force it from someone who has been so grievously wronged is one of the cruellest things that one person can do to another. As Cyril Morolo said: "You cannot legislate forgiveness."

Lasting peace will only come about when South African politicians have the courage to be just as well as merciful.

Katriona John

London SE21