Address by President Nelson Mandela to the Interfaith Commissioning for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Cape Town

13 Feburary 1996

The Right Honourable Rev. Desmond Tutu, Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
Members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to congratulate the Chairperson and other members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on your appointment, and to wish you well.

Yours is a task of extreme difficulty and of great consequence to the future of our nation.

All South Africans face the challenge of coming to terms with the past in ways which will enable us to face the future as a united nation at peace with itself. To you has been entrusted the particular task of dealing with gross violations of human rights in a manner that ensures that the painful truth is laid bare and that justice is done to the victims within the capacity of our society and within the framework of the constitution and the law. By doing so, and by means of amnesty, your goal is to ensure lasting reconciliation.

South Africa's transition from apartheid has seen the accomplishment of one step after another that sceptics judged impossible. The once-mighty apartheid state machine is no more. Forces locked in apparently irreconcilable conflict found a negotiated path to a democratic constitution. The first democratic elections took place on the appointed day, April 27, despite formidable challenges. Just eighteen months later the local government elections put in place yet another critical element of our democratic system of government. The spectre of civil war has receded from South Africa's vision of its future. After years of stagnation and economic decline, we are experiencing growth beyond expectation.

Time and again, the prophets of doom have been confounded by the capacity and determination of South Africans to solve their problems and to realise their shared vision of a united, pea And I am confident that the members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, together with whole nation, will in the same way succeed in building National Unity and Reconciliation through confronting one of the most complex and sensitive aspects of our past.

There is a view that the past is best forgotten. Some criticise us when we say that whilst we can forgive, we can never forget. They do not agree that perpetrators of human rights violations should make full disclosure and acknowledge what they have done before they can be granted amnesty. There are also those who urge interference in prosecutions in progress.

Even if politicians could agree to suppress the past in these ways, they would be mistaken in doing so. Ordinary South Africans are determined that the past be known, the better to ensure that it is not repeated. They seek this, not out of vengeance, but so that we can move into the future together. The choice of our nation is not whether the past should be revealed, but rather to ensure that it comes to be known in a way which promotes reconciliation and peace. This will also impact on our ability to end violent crime and establish the rule of law, today.

Essential to the work of the Commission is its independence. It must, and it will, operate free from interference by political authority. And I call on all South Africans to respect its independence and impartiality. The importance of the Commission's work demands that it should have the co-operation of all of us.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission affords all South Africans an opportunity to participate in reconciliation and nation building. There is a role for community- based organisation and non-governmental organisations to play their part. There is a role, too, for individuals to make a contribution.

Perhaps the most important role player is not the politician or the commission, but the victim. Too often, victims have been neglected in our society. It is necessary that we identify the individuals who have suffered and their families, as well as communities.

But the whole South African nation has been a victim, and it is in that context that we should address the restoration of dignity and the issue of reparation. The healing process is meant for the individual, the family and the community. However, above all the healing process involves the nation, because it is the nation itself that needs to redeem and reconstruct itself.

In conclusion, may I say that I have come here today not to prescribe to the commission, but to reiterate our commitment to respect your independence; and to wish you well.

We hope that our words of encouragement, but particularly the blessings of the religious leaders who have graced this occasion, will ensure that your work is crowned with success.

Thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website