This Unit looks forward to reconciliation. We’ll watch part of a film about the process of reconciliation in South Africa and examine questions such as: What does collective reconciliation involve? Is reconciliation possible in our conflict with the Palestinians? How?
1. Learn about the process of reconciliation in South Africa following the end of apartheid.
2. Propose the idea that confronting the Nakba can serve as a basis for reconciliation.
Keywords: The Future, Art
What do we mean by reconciliation? How do we reconcile? Is reconciliation with the Palestinians possible? How can it be accomplished?
2. Background: The teacher locates South Africa on a map, and provides a brief introduction about the country:
From 1948 to 1994, South Africa was governed by a racist regime based on “apartheid” (“separation”). The period of apartheid was characterized by considerable political violence and systematic human rights violations. In 1995, following the stubborn struggle by South Africa’s blacks and the imposition of an international embargo on the country, the apartheid regime was ended. Following the end of apartheid, South Africa became a democracy and a legitimate member of the United Nations. The South African parliament established Truth and Reconciliation Commissions as part of the process of moving from a repressive regime to a democratic one. The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were intended to uncover the mechanisms that maintained the apartheid, and provide its victims with an opportunity to tell their stories. The Commissions were authorized to pardon those who committed crimes only if they fully confessed and proved their motives were political (cf. Supplementary Material 1 for additional information about the apartheid regime and the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions).
3. Group activity: The teacher will divide the class into four groups.
Each group will follow one of the people in the film and describe the process he or she undergoes. The teacher will choose the person each group will follow and give them the questions they’ll have to answer after they see the film (cf. Supplementary Material 2). Tell the students to write down their thoughts and comments with regard to those questions while they watch the film.
4. Watching part of the film, “Long Night’s Journey into Day” (2000), by Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffmann (25 minutes) (cf. Supplementary Material 3)
5. Discussion in small groups, based on the people in the film that the students followed and the questions they were asked about them (cf. Supplementary Material 2).
6. Presenting the results: Each group will present to the rest of the class the person it followed and what it had to say about them.
7. Class discussion about the Commissions:
Did you notice where were the meetings of the Commissions held? (They were held in public sites in the community, and were usually open to the large public).
What do you think was the significance of holding the meetings this way – with public participation, on a stage, etc. – and at the specific locations chosen (in a gymnasium, a community center, etc.)?
What is the public’s role in these meetings?
What is "Truth" for the various participants? Why are the details so important to them?
What significance do the Commissions have for those participating in them (the victims of violence, and its perpetrators), and for society as a whole?
Could this story, and those who are part of it, tell us anything about ourselves?
8. Concluding discussion
What do you think is the connection between one person forgiving another, and collective reconciliation?
- Reconciliation in South Africa is guided by authentic traditions. Are you familiar with any traditions of reconciliation in Judaism?
- Why is it hard for us to imagine reconciliation? What difficulties do we confront when we think about a future of reconciliation?
[To the teacher: You should expect students will find it hard to imagine reconciliation. It is important that the class discussion provide an opportunity to express this difficulty.]
- What conditions are required for reconciliation to occur here? How could a learning process such as the one we undertook affect the possibility for reconciliation? How did it affect you?
- Could a mechanism such as the one used by the Commissions be appropriate here? Try to imagine such Commissions here: Who would appear before them? What would the Commissions look like? How would they operate? What might they lead to?
Supplementary Materials Index
Supplementary Material 1: Introduction
Introduction to South Africa, the apartheid regime and the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions
Supplementary Material 2: Note cards
A page of note cards with questions for group activity after watching the film
Supplementary Material 3: An excerpt from the film
An excerpt from the film, “Long Night’s Journey into Day”, by Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffmann (25 minutes)
One of the most famous contemporary examples of ending violent conflict and progress toward a solution and reconciliation is the case of South Africa. From 1948 to 1994, South Africa was governed by a racist, apartheid regime (“apartheid” means “separation” in Afrikaans). The apartheid period was characterized by extensive political violence and systematic human rights violations – including torture, murder, mass arrests, and serious economic and social discrimination against the country’s black citizens. Dealing with the transition from an oppressive regime to a democratic society involved, among other things, creating structures and processes for coming to grips with the past, and exposing the injustices and human rights violations that occurred. To accomplish this, the South African parliament decided in 1995, following eighteen months of intensive negotiations among its various committees, to establish Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) that were intended to lead a process of social healing, and individual and collective reconciliation.
The goal of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions was to uncover the truth and have participants accept responsibility for it. Their primary tasks were to expose the mechanisms that maintained apartheid, give the victims an opportunity to tell their stories and determine how they would be compensated. The Commissions had the authority to pardon perpetrators of violent acts, if they made a full confession and proved that their motives were political (rather than criminal). Perpetrators of crimes who chose not to appear before the Commissions were subject to criminal trials if sufficient evidence could be gathered against them. The Commissions operated as quasi-judicial hearings, in which the victims had the opportunity to tell in their own words what happened to them. Since during apartheid the judicial system was part of the regime, the victims were unable to use it to testify, or to complain about the injustices they suffered. The Commissions attempted to create a framework in which the language spoken was that of the victims, and deliberations were conducted in a number of languages.
The community played two important roles during the Commission hearings: it comprised the public audience for the victims’ accounts and for the perpetrators’ confessions; at the same time, the community provided support to the victims. The Commissions’ public hearings were held at central locations in the community, such as the community center or the neighborhood school, and they received considerable exposure through frequent media reports. There are those who argued that the work of the Commissions echoed so broadly throughout South African society because it could be related to an African tribal principle called ubuntu, an ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other. The tension between truth, justice and reconciliation was a central focus of the Commissions’ work. Persons hearing the confessions had to be convinced those seeking pardon were being entirely truthful. For justice to be done, it was necessary for the perpetrator to publicly confess the crime in the presence of the victims and of the community. The goal of the Commissions was to facilitate a process of collective reconciliation in South African society.
Learning about the Nakba made us think about the future, and ask ourselves how processes of collective reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis could be undertaken. Speaking the truth about injustice is a first and very important step in a reconciliation process, so learning about the Nakba is important not only in order to know its history, but necessary in order to work toward a solution to the conflict. The learning process in this Study Guide ends with this Unit, which addresses the possibility of reconciliation. We believe that practices of reconciliation are also applicable to our situation, in which the reality is one of conflict, and can be employed to think about how we would like to see our future here.
As part of this Unit, we’ll watch part of the film “Long Night’s Journey into Day” (2000) directed by Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffmann. The film shows the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, focusing on four stories. We selected one of these accounts to show how the Commissions operate. The story presents the case of four black political activist opponents of apartheid who were murdered by the police in 1985 in the town of Craddock. This section of the film focuses on Eric Taylor, one of the white policemen who committed the murders, who is asking for pardon from the Commission and for forgiveness from the widows of two of the murdered men, Matthew Goniwe and Fort Calata. The film shows the process which the murderer and the victims’ families undergo, and deals with the concepts of personal forgiveness, collective reconciliation, and pardon. The film allows us to understand the purpose of the Commissions, the roles played by the victim and by the perpetrator in the course of the hearing, the public nature of the deliberations, the search for truth, and the relationship between truth and justice.
We’ll examine these issues by following some of the figures who appear in the film: the policeman, the widows of the murdered men, two of the Commission members, and journalists covering the deliberations. Each of the figures describes personal and collective processes, and presents various aspects of the Commissions’ work and their goals. The purpose of the discussions in the small groups as well as the initial discussion with the entire class is to learn about South Africa and to deal with the concepts of “forgiveness” and “reconciliation,” using this example. In the concluding discussion, we’ll examine whether, and how, we can learn from the example of South Africa about our own situation. We also recommend using this discussion to examine the connection between learning about the Nakba as we did, possible processes of reconciliation, and the future we see, and would like to see, here.
Report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
The film “Long Night’s Journey into Day” online
Van Zyl, P. (1999), “Dilemmas of Transitional Justice: The Case of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, Journal of International Affairs, Spring, p. 654
Information about “transitional justice” is available from the International Center for Transitional Justice
1. Despite their authority to grant pardons, and the threat of criminal prosecution, only about 7,000 perpetrators of crimes appeared before the Commissions; most of them were blacks who had participated in violence against the apartheid regime rather than whites who had perpetrated crimes on behalf of the regime.
2 .Cf. Lyotard, Le Diffe'rend (1983), and also Unit 5 of the Study Guide.
3 .Under apartheid, Afrikaans and English – the languages of the white minority – were the two official languages in South Africa. After apartheid was abolished, nine African languages were added to the list of official tongues.