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Authority, Expertise and Race in the South African TRC

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In the literature on transitional justice, much attention has been focused on its repertoires of ‘reconciliation’, as opposed to more punitive versions of justice: what reconciliation entails, and its articulation with the effort to authorize a truthful version of a brutal and divisive past. Less interest has been accorded to the modes of expertise appropriate to the task. Who is appropriately qualified to pass judgement on a bitterly contested past, and on what grounds? Who is appropriately situated to effect reconciliation? What are the appropriate criteria and procedures whereby those tasked with effecting transitional justice are selected and appointed? In this paper, I reflect on the determination and production of expertise in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looms large in the field of transitional justice as one of the most closely scrutinized and globally influential truth commissions. This reveals, I argue, an incipient identity politics at play in the TRC – tensely articulated with its normative touchstone of non-racialism.

Deborah Posel is professor of sociology at the University of Cape Town and founding director of the Institute for Humanities in Africa. Prior to that she spent many years at the University of Witwatersrand as a professor of sociology and director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), which she founded in 2000. She has written and published widely on aspects of South African politics and society during and beyond the apartheid years – including The Making of Apartheid (1991); Apartheid’s Genesis (1994) with Phil Bonner and Peter Delius; and Commissioning the Past: Understanding South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2002) with Graeme Simpson.

This talk is part of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights Events series.

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