In this edition of Reparation Conversation, a collaborative initiative between The Gleaner and the Center for Research on Reparation (CRR) at the University of the West Indies, we pay tribute to the late anti-apartheid leader, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu and let us underline his role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), a role supported by some, criticized by others.

On Sunday, December 26, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, 90, passed away. He was born on October 7, 1931 to a poor family in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, South Africa. Along with Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Desmond Tutu was arguably one of South Africa’s best-known human rights activists.

He was a major anti-apartheid voice in the 1970s and 1980s and used his pulpit and fiery oratory to help bring down this oppressive regime. As head of the South African Council of Churches and the first black Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Johannesburg, Archbishop Tutu has led the Church to the forefront of black South Africans’ decades-long struggle for freedom. , giving meaning to the biblical view that faith without works is dead. On the contrary, politics was inherent in his religious teachings.

He is famous for saying, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in his tribute: “Archbishop Tutu was an imposing global figure for peace and an inspiration to generations across the world. During the darkest days of apartheid, he was a beacon for social justice, freedom and non-violent resistance.

Not only was Desmond Tutu a proponent of non-violence during the anti-apartheid struggle, but after its end he became the main advocate of peaceful reconciliation under the black majority regime. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and a place among champions of justice and the dignity of human rights.

It’s no surprise that when Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa’s first black president, he appointed Desmond Tutu chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), created by the then national unity government. to examine the atrocities committed during the apartheid years. Cited as one of the most important national agencies created during Mandela’s presidency, the TRC was based on Law No. 34 of 1995 on the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation.

Under the leadership of Archbishop Tutu, the TRC fulfilled its mandate through its three committees: the Committee on Human Rights Violations, which dealt directly with victims and victim impact statements; the Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee, which was responsible for making recommendations to the President to allocate funds to victims; and the controversial Amnesty Committee, which dealt with perpetrators of apartheid crimes.


In return for an honest account of past crimes, the TRC, among other actions, offered amnesty, establishing what Archbishop Tutu called the principle of restorative justice – rather than punitive – and strived , to the dissatisfaction of some families of victims, to balance the responsibility. with forgiveness for those who are ready to confess their crimes. In his book Between revenge and forgiveness, Martha Minow describes restorative justice as the pursuit of “repairing social bonds and peace rather than retaliation against offenders.” She describes it as “bonding and improving communication between abusers and those they have victimized, and bonding within the community.”

Choosing restorative justice as Tutu’s preferred route to justice was not surprising. He was, after all, a religious man, but this preference is still one of the most controversial topics in post-apartheid South Africa today.

At the time, Tutu admitted that his path to truth and reconciliation “was a difficult pill for many observers and victims to swallow, but only if one thought of justice” as being punitive and punitive in nature. ” “, but he further insisted that” there is a different kind of justice – restorative justice that is not so much about punishment as it is about correcting imbalances, restoring broken relationships – with healing. , harmony and reconciliation. ”

Some critics have argued that the TRC’s model of justice was too driven by a “forgive and forget” approach and was in fact an inadequate means of ensuring reconciliation. Others have expressed the view that Tutu’s path to “truth and reconciliation” has led to “the appropriation of justice from – instead of its deliverance to – some of the victims of the era. apartheid and left little room for real restorative justice. There is evidence of widespread screaming of bitterness among the victims as they watched “confessed murderers set themselves free” and did not receive promised compensation as stated in the recommendations of the Reparation and Rehabilitation Policy. CVR (Volume 5, Chapter 5). Former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki also recognized imperfections both in amnesty processes and in the trend towards restorative justice for victims.


Although there have been compelling proposals for reparation and rehabilitation in five categories – urgent interim reparation, individual reparation grants, symbolic reparation, community rehabilitation and institutional reform – the promise of reparation and rehabilitation is still not fulfilled. . In a 2014 special report by The GuardianTutu lamented that Mandela’s successors left the TRC’s business “shockingly unfinished”. He said:

“By unfinished business I am referring specifically to the fact that the level of redress recommended by the committee has not been adopted; the proposal for a single wealth tax as a mechanism to effect the transfer of resources was ignored, and those denied amnesty were not prosecuted.

From the perspective of the CRR, there is no incompatibility between restorative justice as defined in the CARICOM Ten Point Plan and reconciliation. Indeed, reparation is a form of restorative justice. It is not meant to be punitive or “punitive”.

The regional momentum towards restorative justice for indigenous peoples, victims and descendants of the transatlantic African slave trade, movable slavery and deceptive pledge must continue to stick to the six Rs that are the imperatives of the reparation movement: remember, recover, restore, reparation, rights and reconciliation.

The objective of compensatory justice or reparation is to restore the dignity of victims, to bring them as far as possible to a situation of socio-economic equity and to achieve peace and reconciliation. Even Minow agrees that the “central idea” behind reparations is compensatory justice, the view that “wrongdoers should pay victims for losses in order to wipe the slate clean. Whether or not the slate can be erased is a conversation for another time.

Professor Verene Shepherd is the Director of CRR. Send your comments to [email protected]