South African role model
on truth and reconciliation
Prof. Alexander Boraine,
President, International Centre for Transitional Justice and
former Deputy Chairperson, Truth & Reconciliation Commission,
South Africa was in Sri Lanka to deliver the third Neelan
Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture on July 29. During his visit
Prof. Boraine also addressed a programme for Judges of the
Magistrate Courts, High Courts and District Courts on 'The
contribution of the Judiciary in upholding human rights in
Alex Boraine, who had been president of the Methodist Church
of South Africa and an elected Member of Parliament for the
Progressive Party, co-founded the Institute for a Democratic
Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) in 1986 and was the founder
of 'Justice in Transition' in 1994. He was appointed Deputy
Chairperson of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC)
by President Nelson Mandela, serving under Archbishop Desmond
Tutu. Since TRC completed its work in 1998, he has travelled
to many countries at the invitation of governments and NGOs
to share the South African Experience.
Sri Lankan audiences, Prof. Boraine spoke on 'Truth and Reconciliation
in Times of Conflict: the South African Model'.
are some excerpts of his address at the Neelan Tiruchelvam
The best and
most fitting way to remember Neelan Tiruchelvam and to honour his
memory is to reject violence, embrace dialogue, negotiations and
peace so that he and others will not have lived in vain.
It is impossible
to understand and appreciate the search for truth and reconciliation
in South Africa unless we see it in historical context. For decades,
the dominant theme in social and political life was the politics
of oppression and the politics of resistance. After years of escalating
violence, this finally gave way to the politics of negotiation.
The logic of war was replaced by the logic of peace.
After 300 years
of colonialism and racism, there were many perpetrators and there
were many victims. There is an ever-growing body of literature dealing
with society in transition from an authoritarian or dictatorial
regime to a new form of democratic government. Countries in transition
share a number of similarities. Briefly, these are:
A shift from
totalitarianism to a form of democracy
A legacy of
oppression and serious violations of human rights
A fragile government
and a precarious unity
to the attainment of a culture of human rights and a respect for
the rule of law
to make it impossible for past violations to be repeated.
these newly emerging democracies, including South Africa, include
How do they
deal with past violations of human rights? How do they deal with
leaders and other individuals responsible for disappearances, death
squads and psychological and physical torture? Where must the line
be drawn between those who gave orders and those who carried them
out or both? How do they deal with the fact that some perpetrators
may remain part of the new government or security forces or hold
important positions in public life? Does this hold the new democracy
advanced to take the nations past seriously are moral, psychological
and political. The political argument is summed up in the famous
statement by George Santanyana, "Those who forget the past
are doomed to repeat it". Another side to this is highlighted
by Prof. Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School, who strongly criticised
those who "squander moral capital in an ineffective effort
to right past wrongs - creating martyrs and fostering political
alienation rather than contributing to a genuine sense of vindication".
Timothy Garton Ashe reminds us in his book, The File, that there
is a defensible position, which calls for moving on into the new
future and not allowing the past to destroy or inhibit the new democracy.
There were those in the leadership in the new South Africa
who sided with those who believed that some serious accounting for
the past is not only right and moral but is also wise in terms of
developing a stable and peaceful future. Our argument can be summed
up as follows: To ignore the past is to perpetuate myth and error
- It is to build a future on lies and half truths. Finally a conscious
act of memory frees us from being paralyzed by the past.
I want to refer
briefly to what I describe as favourable conditions which contributed
to the establishment of and the work of the TRC.
call and support for the Commission was made by the African National
Congress, which was the major opposition and which ultimately won
the first ever democratic election in South Africa.
The role of
Nelson Mandela - He is the embodiment of truth and reconciliation
in his own life and person. From the day of his release , he has
focussed on the need to come to terms with the past, but always
with a readiness to forgive and to move on.
A third favourable
condition was that the Commission was building on the successful
political negotiations which had led to peaceful elections and the
appointment of a democratic government.
A fourth feature
was the existence of a very strong civil society.
A further factor
which assisted the Commission was the interest of the international
community in its initiative. Not only were many governments, institutions,
organizations and individuals willing to offer advice, but several
governments responded to our request for assistance, with direct
financial contributions to the President's Fund set up to help victims
with reparation and rehabilitation.
A final factor
which I think assisted the Commission enormously was the Archbishop
Desmond Tutu. I don't think the commission could have survived without
the presence and leadership of Desmond Tutu.
There are six
unique features which distinguish the South African model from any
other truth commission that has taken place anywhere in the world
and I would like to briefly outline some of these.
feature was the democratic process that was followed throughout.
The role of civil society, the churches, opposition parties and
the government in drawing up the act ensured maximum participation.
proceedings of the TRC, unlike the Argentinean, Chilean and the
Salvodorian commissions, or any others, were not held behind closed
doors, but were open to the public. This resulted in maximum transparency
as well as remarkable participation by many. On the whole, the media
were very cooperative and the commission was able to reach an agreement
on guidelines for the presence of cameras at hearings. Overall,
these guidelines met the criteria for good media coverage, but at
the same time ensured dignity and sensitivity.
A third unique
feature was the powers granted to it by the Act. These included
search and seizure as well as subpoena powers.
A fourth unique
feature was the extensive mandate, which the Commission chose to
adopt. Instead of confining itself to hearing individual victims
of human rights violations and perpetrators applying for amnesty,
the Commission decided to hold special hearings and institutional
hearings, because of apartheid's impact on every area of life.
A fifth point
to stress is that after considerable discussion, it was decided
that the Commission would make public the names of the perpetrators.
The main point was that we gave people who were named an opportunity
to make their own response.
The most unique
feature of the South African Commission was undoubtedly the inclusion
of conditional amnesty. It rose directly from the South African
context where the military and security forces remained very powerful
and threatened to make a peaceful election impossible.
It is important
to stress that limited amnesty under stringent conditions is very
different from general amnesty, which encourages amnesia and impunity.
In South Africa amnesty was made possible in exchange for truth
and there were certain very clear demands. There were 8000 perpetrators
who applied for amnesty and it is interesting to note that of these,
a very small percentage actually received amnesty. In its determination
to avoid impunity, the Commission in its recommendations to the
government, emphasised the need for accountability.
Despite the understandable reservation regarding the search
for truth, it is a fact that a commitment to history involves a
search for an objective truth. The Commission therefore unapologetically
set out to try to reach a public and official acknowledgement of
what happened during the apartheid era. If only to counter the distorted
and partial recording of history in South Africa, it was necessary
that there should be an accurate record of the period under review.
In its final
report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission distinguishes between
four kinds of truth. The first is objective or factual or forensic
truth. The Act which governed the work of the TRC, required it to
'Prepare a comprehensive report which sets out its activities and
findings based on factual and objective information and evidence
collected or received by it or placed at its disposal'.
kind of truth is personal or narrative truth. Through the telling
of their own stories, both victims and perpetrators have given meaning
to their multi-layered experiences of the South African story. Through
the media these personal truths have been communicated to the broader
public. Oral tradition has been a central feature of the Commission's
process. Explicit in the Act is an affirmation of the healing potential
of truth-telling. One of the objectives of the TRC was to "restore
the human and civil dignity of victims by granting them an opportunity
to relate their own accounts of the violations of which they were
It is important
to underline that the stories we listened to didn't come as 'arguments'
or claims as if in a court of law. They were often heart-wrenching,
conveying unique insights into the pain of our past.
The third kind
of truth is social or 'dialogical' truth. Albie Sachs, even before
the Commission began its work, talked about 'microscopic truth'
and 'dialogical truth': "The first is factual and verifiable
and can be documented and proved. Dialogical truth, on the other
hand, is social truth, truth of experience that is established through
interation, discussion and debate."
all walks of life were involved in the TRC process. What I am emphasising
here is that almost as important as the process establishing truth
was the process of acquiring it. The process of dialogue involved
transparency, democracy, and participation as the basis of affirming
human dignity and integrity.
fourth kind of truth is healing and restorative truth. The Act required
the TRC to look back to the past and to look to the future. The
truth which the Commission was required to establish had to contribute
to the reparation of the damage inflicted in the past and to the
prevention of it ever happening again in the future.
one of the major advantages of a truth commission committed to discovering
the truth is that it involves what could be termed inclusive truth-telling.
The TRC had a specific and limited mandate, but its attempt to restore
the moral order must be seen in the context of social and economic
transformation. It was when listening to ordinary people relating
their experiences under apartheid that one was able to understand
the magnitude and horror of a system which damaged and destroyed
so many over so long a period. It also reminded the Commission forcibly
of the maldistribution of assets and the legacy of oppression, which
makes transformation so difficult. Therefore the work of the Commission
was not a one-off event, a kind of cure-all. The process has only
started and has to continue, and the public and the private sectors
have to accept leadership in this regard. In particular, those who
benefited from the long years of discrimination and inequality have
a particular responsibility.
A central part of the Commission's work was to establish a
policy and set off recommendations for reparation, which the State
wanted to implement.
had no budget, so we were not in a position to pay reparations to
any of the victims.
I have outlined
the South African model and of course it is impossible to impose
this model on any other country. Nevertheless it may be possible
for comparative models, including the South African experience,
to be of assistance to those countries which wish to deal with a
conflictive past, to build an enduring peace and establish a human
To do this
requires a comprehensive strategy, a holistic approach which will
include accountability, truth, reconciliation, institutional reform
and reparation. It's a difficult and challenging process, but essential,
if the logic of war is to be replaced with the logic of peace.
member of the Royal Group of '63 takes a stroll down memory lane
By Oh Gee
The members of the sixty-three group are celebrating their
fiftieth birthdays. We are reputed for looking for any excuse to
When the Hon.
Secretary of the Group, Gemba (very respectfully known as Kumar
Mayadunne in the world outside ours), asked me to contribute my
unforgettable memories of Royal College, I did not know where to
begin. The entire period of my life, 1957 to 1962 at the then Royal
Primary School, and then from 1963 to 1970 at Royal College proper
was one long experience that I will never forget. It was like a
dream with the occasional nightmare.
My fellow members
of the 63 Group of Royal College are the first outsiders I came
to know. Considering how mischievous and naughty we were then, I
think we have done remarkably well to be what we are today. Today
we are established professionals and career people in widely diverse
areas of the Sri Lankan society. We have faithfully kept in touch
and continued our friendship of nearly four decades.
of Royal Primary mainly centre around Headmasters Mr. Dissa Bandaranayake
and later Mr. H.D. Sugathapala, and our masters, the tough disciplinarians
like Messrs. H.P. Jayawardena (known as 'horse power' due to his
initials) Pingamage, William, Bannaheka and John Silva. While Mr.
Bannaheka was known as 'Hapaya', (he used to chew betel) Mr. John
Silva was known as 'Suruttuwa' (because of his fondness for suruttu).
Mr. Rupasingha was our class master in Form 1 and taught us art.
I remember once he took us to the shade of the well-known landmark
of Royal, the 'Siyambala' tree and asked us to paint the landscape.
After giving us these instructions he left saying that he would
be back soon. The shade and gentle wind was so comforting that I
dozed off. I hate to be reminded of what happened after I was rudely
awakened by Ruperty's stentorian voice.
I had another
memorable experience while in Form 2. Mr. Wickramasena or 'Wicky'
as we called him appointed me as the monitor. I maintained strict
discipline as Wicky said that he would have my hide if there was
any misbehaviour in class. Naturally this did not meet with the
approval of the mischievous lot in class. Led by Gemba, they signed
a petition and handed it over to Wicky insisting on my removal as
monitor. The petition was signed by most students in the class and
was the first ever such document known in my life though it is a
common issue today. 'Meka salaka balanna mama komisamak pathkarannam'
(I will appoint a commission to consider your request), Wicky said.
Perhaps that was the origin of that utterence.
and Arithmetic became more and more complicated in Form Three. We
were preparing for the Junior School Certificate (JSC) Examination
at Grade 8 level under the guidance of Mr. A.N. Perera. This was
the time when we became interested in the glamour of playing rugger.
Freda (Dr. Fred Perera) and Maiyya (Dr. Maithri Gunasekera) took
to rugger. We did play 'touch rugger' during the lunch interval.
However, one match went a little too far and left me with painful
memories. I was in possession of the ball and trying to make a break
when I heard Freda who was on the opposite side say, 'kill him'.
The next moment he was on me like a ton of bricks. I was flat on
the ground and lost the ball. I tried to get up but could not. There
was a severe pain in my left hip. After the usual medical investigations
I was advised to rest for two weeks.
In 1966 we
graduated to the 4th Form and the middle school. The GCE Ordinary
Level exam, the first ever-serious public exam we faced was looming
up next year and we had to be prepared. Some of us had graduated
to long trousers. It was from this hard point that we came to direct
contact with Mr. E.C. Gunasekera (Kataya) and Cos Dias. While Kataya
was the Master-in-Charge of discipline, Cos Dias was the Vice Principal.
Cos Dias was so named as he taught Advanced Maths dealing with cos,
sin and beta. Cos Dias always used to tour the corridors after intervals
and shooed the boys into their respective classrooms. Any student
found 'loafing' was doomed. Cos Dias carried a cane. He pulled the
cane out from his waist like a medieval warrior pulling out his
sword from the scabbard and thrashed the unsuspecting student.
Cos Dias also
had a method of caning that was unique to him. He called it the
"Six on the back". The candidate for this type of punishment
had to place the palms of his outstretched arms on the wall and
have his bum protruding well away from his upper body. You could
imagine what the feeling is like when the cane makes contact with
the fleshiest part of the body, not once, not twice, but six times.
Oh yes, I had that experience. I could not sit on that chair in
the classroom for half a day!!
three years, till late 1969 were very eventful. It would run to
hundreds of pages if I were to write all my memories at Royal College.
Some of the highlights briefly:
o The Royal
Thomian of 1969, which went down in the history of the series as
one of the best victories by Royal in which two of my classmates,
Sunimal Yapa (now a successful entrepreneur in Canada) and Shantha
Upali Samarage (Sam, now a VOG in London) played.
o How we 'scooted'
from the hostel in the night by removing one of the bars of the
window in the common room.
o How we thought
what was a dead body (and ran for our dear lives) turned out to
be a drunk, very much alive, but fast asleep on Galle Road, one
o How we used
to scoot early morning and drink the milk delivered to residences
in the neighbourhood.
o How we changed
house numbers and names of occupants on such outings so that the
postman was confused the following morning.
o How fifteen
of us used to visit the Maliban Creme House during 1st eleven cricket
matches, have milk shakes and at least five slip away without paying
during the commotion the others created.
o How I used
to go by bicycle to SBC, Bishops and Ladies during the lunch interval
with certain mates who would prefer to remain anonymous, to 'cap'
girls and then furiously pedal to get back to class on time.
o How Kota
Silva (Mr. G.W.D.De Silva), if he was on the floor, used to climb
back on the master's platform in the centre of the classroom to
slap us. He was very short.
o How we used
to align and tie three pens together, and write hundred lines as
a punishment after school, in one third of the time otherwise taken.
o How we excelled
in rugby during the late '60s. Three of my classmates played rugger
during school days, and later for All Ceylon. They are Freda in
the pack with his weight, Maiyya excelling in the line-out with
his height and Butter because he was like butter, so slippery! (C.
Jagath Fernando, MD., Keells Holdings). It is uncanny how both Freda
and Maiyya eventually became surgeons.
o How fifty
of us cleared a thorny jungle area full of snakes during one August
vacation, at Mr. R.I.T. Alles's request, so that he could start
the construction of the school now known as D.S. Senanayake Maha
o And I will
never forget those who guided us during the latter years at Royal
College, Messrs. Samararatna (known as Pol Tokka) Earnest Amarasekera
(Fitness Fanatic and Cadet Master known as Horlicks), R.I.T. Alles
(Rita), Sivapathasundaram (Siva), Thavaneetharajah (Thavam), Jayasekera,
Wariyapola (Polla - master-in-charge of swimming), Upali Attanayake
(who later became a popular dramatist/actor), Dissanayake (Gamaya),
P. Nonis (I would not like to state his nickname here. Some ingenious
fellow had coined it from his real name, but back to front) Viji
(Mr. Vijitha Weerasingha who maintained a low profile then) and
many more. Among the lady teachers Mrs. Weerabaddana and later in
the senior classes Mrs. Rajapakse were popular among us. Thank you,
masters and teachers of Royal during my time, for all your efforts
to make us "good men". We are what we are today due to
all your untiring efforts of then. I am sure you can be proud of
I could go
on. Oh, yes, I could go on and on and on....!! Such are the memories
of our schooldays at Royal. And they never become stale. They remain
so fresh and enjoyable even if they are repeated over and over again,
and we laugh at these memories as if we heard them the first time.
And when someone starts to say, "Machang, umbalata mathakada..."
("Do you remember the time when...") it strengthens the
bond between us.