1887

n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Ná die Waarheids- en Versoeningskommissie : uitdagings aan die historikus in 'n demokratiese Suid-Afrika

Volume 47, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0041-4751

Abstract

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Waarheids- en Versoeningskommissie (WVK) het 'n mandaat ontvang om die "waarheid" oor die oorsake, aard en omvang van growwe menseregteskendings in die land tussen 1960 en 1994 vas te stel. Hierdie artikel beoordeel die betekenis van die WVK vir historici en geskiedskrywing in Suid-Afrika. Sonder twyfel het die WVK gebreke gehad. Verder is Derrida se aanvoeling dat dit 'n oefening in vergeet kan word, skynbaar bevestig deur die wyse waarop die regering die uitkomste van die WVK hanteer het. Ondanks hierdie tekortkominge kan die betekenisvolle bydraes van die WVK in die skep van 'n nuwe argief van voorheen verswygde geskiedenisse, waaruit 'n meer volledige waarheid oor die verlede na vore kan tree, nie ontken word nie. Dit is die hoofdoel van hierdie artikel om te besin oor die take van historici ná die WVK. Historici, verbind tot die nimmereindigende debat oor die geskiedenis, in teenstelling met priesters en politici, wat afsluiting oor 'n era van onreg soek, het 'n belangrike taak om te sorg dat die onvoltooide werk van die WVK verder gevoer word en om ontkenning en uitwissing teen te staan. Deur die kritiese bestudering, vertolking en verhaling van die feite uit die WVK-argief, moet hulle vasstel wat werklik gebeur het en waarom dit gebeur het en daardeur hulle diens aan die wetenskap en die nasie lewer.


The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was mandated to establish "the truth" about the causes, nature and extent of gross violations of human rights in the country between 1960 and 1994. This article assesses the significance of the TRC for historians and the writing of history in South Africa. The first section focuses on the task of assessing the TRC evidence and providing guidelines on how this evidence may be used in the quest for historic truth. The strengths and weaknesses of the TRC evidence are pointed out. A discussion of the role of the TRC in narrowing the gap between academic and public history follows in the second section. As a spectacular public history exercise the TRC brought the discourses about evidence, truth and the production of history in the public domain, made people aware of issues around dealing with the past, and revived interest in the possibilities of history. To some extent the suspicion of ordinary people with regard to formal history was overcome. The public work of the TRC democratised memory and traced multiple histories. An important contribution of the TRC was that it showed the way for individuals (perpetrators, victims and observers) to dedicate themselves to the new civic culture of human rights and democracy by reliving and re-evaluating their own behaviour in the past. The third section deals with the significance of the TRC in the reinterpretation of a period in South African history. Several historians raised objections about the shortcomings in the TRC reports with regard to the interpretation of history and other historians simply chose to ignore the TRC because they regarded the method of the TRC as not being in accordance with the basic principles of good historical research and analysis. These objections imply that historians are obliged to properly verify the TRC evidence, and to use professional methods to carefully reconstruct the events and processes of the past and put them in the larger historical context, in order to reach a truthful and valid reinterpretation of the past. In meeting their moral obligation to make "responsible" judgements about the past, historians encounter the danger of creating new national myths which are in line with the values of the new regime. Two approaches in the reinterpretation of the past, a conventional "history of the past" and a genealogical "history of the present", are compared.
Options for Afrikaans historians in dealing with the facts revealed by the TRC, ranging from traditional ethnocentric approaches to more accommodating approaches, are reflected upon in the final section of the article. The conclusion is reached that it is not in the interest of minority groups to forget the TRC with its leitmotiv of reconciliation and unity in diversity. There is no doubt that the TRC had shortcomings. Furthermore, the way in which the outcomes of the TRC have been handled by the government seems to endorse Derrida's suggestion that it might become an exercise in forgetting. Despite these shortcomings the significant contributions of the TRC towards producing a new archive of previously repressed histories, from which a fuller truth about the past could emerge, cannot be denied.
It is the main objective of the article to reflect upon the tasks of historians after the TRC. Historians, committed to the never-ending debate of history and not to the type of closure sought by priests and politicians, have an important task to attend to the unfinished business of the TRC and to resist denial and erasure. Through the critical study, interpretation and narration of the facts from the TRC archive they have to establish what really happened and why it happened, thus rendering a service to science and the nation.

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/content/akgees/47/1/EJC20023
2007-03-01
2019-08-23

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