Political scientist Mahmood Mamdani disagrees with RW Johnson (remember him?) about the South African TRC; Johnson now writes letters to the London Review of Books (he used to write for them):

Because the TRC focused on perpetrators and overlooked the beneficiaries of mass violations of rights abuses – such as the pass laws and forced expulsions – it allowed the vast majority of white South Africans to go away thinking that they had little to do with these atrocities. Indeed, most did learn nothing new. The alternative would have been for the TRC to show white South Africans that no matter what their political views – whether they were for, against or indifferent to apartheid – they were all its beneficiaries, whether it was a matter of the residential areas where they lived, the jobs they held, the schools they went to, the taxes they did or did not pay, or the cheap labour they employed. Because the TRC was not a legislative organ, because its decisions – except on amnesty – did not have the force of law, it did not face the same political restrictions as the negotiators at Kempton Park. At the same time, the TRC had access to state resources and was beamed into South African living rooms in prime time. It should have educated ordinary citizens, black and white, about everyday apartheid and its impact on the life chances and circumstances of generations of South Africans. This would have brought home to one and all the rightness and necessity of social justice. In the end, the TRC addressed itself to a tiny minority of South Africans, perpetrators and their victims, the former state operatives and the latter political activists. It ignored the experience of the vast majority of South Africans.


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Sean Jacobs

Otherwise known as Hasan Wasan.

6 thoughts on “File Under: Mahmood Mamdani on South Africa’s much vaunted Truth and Reconciliation Commission

  1. As a South African this is exactly how I feel; that the majority of white SA’s don’t really get the impact of apartheid on blacks.

  2. If you are interested in all these issues, why don’t you approach the Organisation called Khulumani Support Group. We were formed in 1995 to assist victims through the TRC, and today we focus on the unfinished business of the TRC. We have a great website and you can find the name of our Director Dr Marjory Jobson.

  3. R.W. Johnson continues to write for the *LRB*, despite your hysterical attempts to get him sacked.

    For instance, his superb deeply informed review of Bianchini’s *Suret-Canale: de la Résistance a l’anticolonialisme* in the *LRB* should be compared to the superficial coverage the same received on AIAC.

    • No, you are, as usual, wrong. It’s anything but red-baiting. It’s a fine review by a man who knew Suret-Canale and his work. But in order for you to understand that you’d be required to read his article. That would require actual work, and would be out of character for you.

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