The Truth and Reconciliation Committee Hearings

The word apartheid in an old-style dicionary.

As explained in the previous chapters, in the late 1970s, an already rough and violent situation in South Africa began to escalate. Now, opposition to apartheid mounted and the country’s overall murder rate began to rise. This lead to the state adopting increasingly repressive measures to keep the country under control and, ultimately, try to stay in power.

To control and suppress presumed criminals and political enemies, the apartheid government’s security apparatus used spying, torture and assassination tactics. This, as uncomfortable as it was to admit, became evident in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee hearings taking place in the 1990s. These were hearings organized to reconcile with a painful past and try to heal the country after the apartheid era ended.

Grim experiences uncovered

Before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, numerous victims of torture recounted experiences of beatings, electric shocks, stress positions and other horrors. Grief-stricken relatives of murder victims, furthermore, told of equally painful memories of what they and their dead family members had been through. Before the same committee, perpetrators of many violent acts also spoke. Sincerely sorry and wanting to clear their conscience, or perhaps only interested in being granted amnesty for their crimes, they admitted to having carried out violence against supposed criminals and political enemies. They also said that their actions had been sanctioned by people within the government bureaucracy.

White people’s fear

Considering the high human cost many non-white people had to pay in the name of keeping the white apartheid government in power, it is pertinent to ask why the apartheid regime allowed abuses for as long as it did. The answer to this question, obviously, is not simple, but part of the answer has to do with white people living in fear. This fear was based on the fact that non-whites outnumbered whites many times over in South Africa, as well as on the understanding that loyalty in the country usually followed ethnic and racial lines. Making deductions from these two points, whites assumed that their properties and their physical safety could be in jeopardy if the apartheid regime lost power and non-whites sought revenge.

Another motivation to try to lock positions in at almost any price, drawing on tenure and heritage, was the fact that whites considered themselves Africans. Their land, their businesses and their power positions, often times, had been handed down for several generations, which meant that many whites saw these things as rightfully theirs.