n South African Journal on Human Rights - Sorry seems to be the hardest word : apology as a form of symbolic reparation

Volume 24, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



Almost none of the leaders of the apartheid government apologised during the TRC process. This article argues that it is not too late for these leaders to apologise, and that one should be open to the transcendent value of apologies. Although apology does not fit easily into our individualistic, adversarial legal culture, it does fit into the paradigm of restorative justice. As a form of symbolic reparation, apology can be part of a package of restorative measures. Symbolic reparations (such as apology) have been ordered by courts both in South Africa and internationally. Because of the essentially performative nature of apologies, even incomplete or insincere apologies have restorative value. Incomplete apologies can have value if the apologist exhibits shame or if the apology involves public humiliation. The foot washing gesture of Adriaan Vlok is an example of an incomplete apology with restorative results.

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