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Mandela’s Presidency, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Reconciliation Commission, reparations, apartheid regime, rights violations

Another challenge Mandela’s government faced was how to handle the widespread allegations of human-rights violations and other atrocities committed by the former government during apartheid. In a move toward uncovering past events without further polarizing the society, the government created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

On April 15, 1996, this 17-member commission began conducting hearings, presided by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The purpose of the commission was to collect and investigate victims’ accounts from the period of 1960 through 1994, to consider amnesty for those who confess their participation in atrocities, and to make recommendations for reparations. The commission was established in the hope that it would foster healing and prevent such crimes from happening again.

Many people in South Africa, however, wanted punishment for those responsible for the crimes, and the commission’s compromises involving amnesty and confession have been a source of controversy. Exposures of atrocities point to the highest levels of the apartheid regime. A former chief of the South African police force admitted that he had ordered acts of terror with the knowledge and approval of then President P. W. Botha and the cabinet. Activities of the ANC as well as the apartheid regime came under the scrutiny of the commission. In 1998 the commission released its final report, which condemned actions of all the major political organizations during the apartheid period.

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