Issue 3 Editorial


Several weeks ago, the justice department released a list of 149 convicted prisoners recommended for special pardon. This list includes many familiar names that immediately remind us of the violent conflict, political turbulence and crimes against humanity in South Africa’s not-too-distant history. Among those recommended for pardons are Adriaan Vlok, notorious apartheid minister of law and order, as well as former police chief Johannes van der Merwe. It also includes the names of four members of the right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) convicted of the 1995 Kuruman attacks, as well as Worcester bombers Cliffie Barnard and Daniel Coetzee.

The relatively quiet release of this list, and the procedural prescriptions related to making representations, belied the emotive response it elicited from victims, their families and communities, irrevocably affected by the crimes perpetrated by those recommended for pardon.

Many of the authors in this edition of the SA Reconciliation Barometer newsletter explore, in the words of Dr Cherrel Africa, the extent to which South Africans have – or have not – ‘moved on’ from the past. With October marking the 12th anniversary of the release of the TRC report, this is indeed a timely and important question. They also ask whether enough is being done to define and pursue a shared national identity and a more inclusive society, raising difficult challenges related to where this work should be located, and with whom.

Over the course of the IJR’s tenth year, we at the Institute have done a lot of thinking about the meaning of  reconciliation in South Africa today. In August, the Reconciliation Barometer project hosted a day-long dialogue in Cape Town that brought together civil society organisations, researchers, academics and students, and members of the public to debate the question of whether or not it is still possible to measure reconciliation, and indeed, whether this task remains relevant and important for our society. At the dialogue, we also presented the preliminary results of a qualitative survey conducted earlier this year, which focused on identifying and confirming indicators of reconciliation.

Diverse voices from both the dialogue and expert survey showed consensus around several key issues: the concept of reconciliation is complex, and its meaning has evolved and changed since the negotiated transition of the early 1990s, the first democratic elections, and the establishment of the TRC. Participants also agreed that while a great deal of progress has been made, much work remains to be done.

Cherrel Africa’s article touches on the pulse of these issues in South Africa when, following an emotive debate with first-year politics students, she asks whether or not South Africans have truly come to terms with the country’s negotiated settlement and democratic transition.

Also exploring the ties that bind our national collective, author William Gumede suggests that – in the search for a ‘shared South Africanness’ – grounds for our common identity can be found in the country’s political narrative and history, and the values enshrined in the Constitution. Further, in relation to the ruling party, IJR programme manager Tim Murithi writes that non-racialism within the ANC will require new and more inclusive traditions and political priorities.

In this edition we also bring you an interview with retired constitutional court judge and 2009 Reconciliation Award recipient Albie Sachs, who shares his experiences of anti-apartheid activism from within and outside the country, his understanding of ‘soft vengeance’, and his views on progress in the ‘sharing of the country’. Rorisang Lekalake reviews the recently released collection of essays, In the Balance: South Africans debate reconciliation, co-edited by IJR executive director Fanie du Toit and senior research fellow Erik Doxtader.

Finally, IJR project leader Friederike Bubenzer analyses prospects for peace, reconstruction and reconciliation in Sudan in the lead-up to the 2011 referendum that will determine whether or not the South secedes from the North in that country.

As always, I hope that you find this edition of the SA Reconciliation Barometer both interesting and thought-provoking, and readers are encouraged to submit comments on our blog online, at


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