Tuesday 6 December 2016

Liz O'Donnell: A reconciliation commission in North would leave many facing harsh truths

Published 10/12/2013 | 23:32

Nelson Mandela with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in Johannesburg in 2001. Mr Adams met
with Mr Mandela to brief him on the Northern Ireland peace process.
Nelson Mandela with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in Johannesburg in 2001. Mr Adams met with Mr Mandela to brief him on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Inevitably the passing of Nelson Mandela evoked a wave of accolades for a truly unique statesman. There has been an avalanche of media archive footage covering his long and eventful life. Much of it was repetitive, capturing the iconic highlights: his part in the struggle against apartheid, his release from prison and historic election as president of the new republic. The indelible image of Madiba in the green Springbok jersey as South Africa won the Rugby World Cup was just one example of his genius for reconciliation and national unity as father of the new nation.

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But of all the hours of television I watched, one segment stood out. I was gripped by actual live footage of the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a court-like body which sat from 1995 to 2002 as part of the transition to democracy. Its mandate was to bear witness to, record and in some cases to grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations.

In the foreword to the report, Tutu appealed for tolerance and reconciliation: "Having looked the beast of the past in the eye, having asked and received forgiveness and having made amends, let us shut the door on the past, not in order to forget it but in order not to allow it to imprison us.

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