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Overcoming Apartheid

Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation?

James L. Gibson
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    Overcoming Apartheid
    Book Description:

    Perhaps no country in history has so directly and thoroughly confronted its past in an effort to shape its future as has South Africa. Working from the belief that understanding the past will help build a more peaceful and democratic future, South Africa has made a concerted, institutionalized effort to come to grips with its history of apartheid through its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In Overcoming Apartheid, James L. Gibson provides the first systematic assessment of whether South Africa's truth and reconciliation process has been successful. Has the process allowed South Africa to let go of its painful past and move on? Or has it exacerbated racial tensions by revisiting painful human rights violations and granting amnesty to their perpetrators. Overcoming Apartheid reports on the largest and most comprehensive study of post-apartheid attitudes in South Africa to date, involving a representative sample of all major racial, ethnic, and linguistic groups. Grounding his analysis of truth in theories of collective memory, Gibson discovers that the process has been most successful in creating a common understanding of the nature of apartheid. His analysis then demonstrates how this common understanding is helping to foster reconciliation, as defined by the acceptance of basic principles of human rights and political tolerance, rejection of racial prejudice, and acceptance of the institutions of a new political order. Gibson identifies key elements in the process—such as acknowledging shared responsibility for atrocities of the past—that are essential if reconciliation is to move forward. He concludes that without the truth and reconciliation process, the prospects for a reconciled, democratic South Africa would diminish considerably. Gibson also speculates about whether the South African experience provides any lessons for other countries around the globe trying to overcome their repressive pasts. A groundbreaking work of social science research, Overcoming Apartheid is also a primer for utilizing innovative conceptual and methodological tools in analyzing truth processes throughout the world. It is sure to be a valuable resource for political scientists, social scientists, group relations theorists, and students of transitional justice and human rights.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-247-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About The Author
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface And Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    James L. Gibson
  5. Chapter 1 Does Truth Lead to Reconciliation?
    (pp. 1-27)

    Perhaps no country in history has so directly and thoroughly confronted its past in an effort to shape its future as has South Africa. Working from the explicit assumption that understanding the past will contribute to a more peaceful and democratic future, South Africa has attempted to come to grips with its apartheid history through its truth and reconciliation process. This bold undertaking to mold the country’s fate consumed much of the energy and many of the resources of South Africa during the initial days of its attempted transition to democracy.

    The gargantuan task of addressing the past has been...

  6. Chapter 2 Apartheid’s Legacy in Contemporary South Africa: Experiences, Attributes, and Attitudes of the Sample
    (pp. 28-67)

    The research on truth and reconciliation in South Africa reported in this book is based on a public opinion survey that I conducted in that country at the close of 2000 and beginning of 2001 (for technical details, see appendix A). The sample of over 3,700 South Africans we interviewed represents the entire South African population, with representative subsamples of each major racial, ethnic, and linguistic group in the country. Thus, it is entirely legitimate to draw inferences from the sample to the larger South African population of more than 43 million people. Few surveys have ever been conducted in...

  7. Chapter 3 South African Collective Memories
    (pp. 68-116)

    A formidable literature on so-called collective memories exists that is of some direct relevance to this research. A collective memory is a “set of ideas, images, feelings about the past” (Irwin-Zarecka 1994, 4). Such memories are often socially constructed to meet contemporary social, psychological, and political needs. A collective memory thus represents a society’s understanding of itself, especially its past. Generally, this body of research attempts to identify the central elements of the beliefs that people hold about the past, often with a focus on generational differences in memories.¹

    For instance, Howard Schuman and Amy Corning (2000) have investigated the...

  8. Chapter 4 Interracial Reconciliation
    (pp. 117-175)

    Perhaps no meaning of “reconciliation” is as intuitively obvious as that people of different races in South Africa must be able to get along with each other. Without interracial reconciliation, South Africa cannot survive as a multicultural polity. Reconciliation may mean more than people of different races putting up with each other, but interracial reconciliation is perhaps the bedrock without which all other forms of reconciliation are devoid of meaning.

    In this chapter, I therefore examine the nature of the attitudes that South Africans hold toward their fellow citizens of different races. I refer to this as “interracial reconciliation”—by...

  9. Chapter 5 Truth, Reconciliation, and the Creation of a Human Rights Culture
    (pp. 176-212)

    South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process was surely the most ambitious the world has ever seen. Not only was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission charged with investigating human rights abuses and granting amnesty to miscreants, but the process was expected as well to contribute to a broader “reconciliation” in South Africa (the “reconciliation” half of the truth and reconciliation equation).In a country racked by a history of racism and racial subjugation, and one just emerging from fifty years of domination by an evil apartheid regime, doing anything to enhance reconciliation between the masters and slaves of the past is a...

  10. Chapter 6 Tolerance: The Minimalist View of Reconciliation
    (pp. 213-257)

    I argued in chapter 1 that “reconciliation” is a word capable of taking on many different meanings. One understanding of reconciliation is that people come to accept and perhaps even embrace each other. Desmond Tutu, for instance, often seems to subscribe to this theory of reconciliation, which he has been quite active in promoting. In response, some have criticized this approach to reconciliation, arguing that it undermines the liberal portions of liberal democracy by tending to delegitimize strong conflict and disagreement (Marx 2002), and even that to ask victims to reconcile with perpetrators in this way is yet another crime...

  11. Chapter 7 Judging the Fairness of Amnesty
    (pp. 258-288)

    Reconciliation is certainly about coming to terms with the past. I have stressed in earlier chapters the individual’s own response to the past—as in the willingness, for instance, of individual South Africans to accept the collective memory created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Social and political reactions are important as well, as in the way the state deals with misdeeds done prior to or as part of the transition. How the state addresses the past, and how citizens evaluate the efforts of the state, are of crucial importance to attempts at democratization.

    One institutional mechanism for dealing with...

  12. Chapter 8 The Legitimacy of the Political Institutions of the New South Africa
    (pp. 289-327)

    In a new political system, few resources are more coveted than political legitimacy. Legitimacy is the endorphin of the democratic body politic; it is the substance that oils the machinery of democracy, reducing the friction that inevitably arises when people are not able to get everything they want from politics. Legitimacy is loyalty; it is a reservoir of goodwill that allows the institutions of government to go against what people may want at the moment without suffering debilitating consequences. Without legitimacy, the institutions of South Africa’s new democracy will be fragile and tentative indeed.¹

    The purpose of this chapter is...

  13. Chapter 9 Lessons for South Africa’s Future and for the World
    (pp. 328-346)

    This book provides evidence on three important sets of questions. The first addresses the issue of whether the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa succeeded in any meaningful way. The second set of questions concerns more theoretical issues, including the processes of interpersonal and intergroup relations. And the final group of questions revolves around the likelihood that South Africa’s democratic transition will be successfully consolidated. In this final chapter, I address each of these in turn.

    Few would quibble with the assertion that I have attempted a most difficult task in this book in trying to draw conclusions about...

  14. Appendix A: The Design Of The Survey
    (pp. 347-352)
  15. Appendix B: The Questionnaire
    (pp. 353-408)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 409-440)
  17. References
    (pp. 441-456)
  18. Index
    (pp. 457-472)