The (un)finished business of transitional justice in South Africa
: 'the past is in the present'

  • Peter Maregere

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    In the last four decades, transitional justice processes and mechanisms that confront the legacies of historical injustices have become ubiquitous. Criminal trials, truth commissions, amnesties, hybrid tribunals, reparations, restitution and reconciliation have been the dominant approaches in that encounter with the past. These mechanisms and processes have largely remained within narrow Western and Euro-centric, top-down, donor-driven and state-centric frameworks. However, these processes and mechanisms have struggled to respond to the multi-faceted dimensions of justice after conflict to the extent that they have failed to be relevant and responsive to the justice needs and expectations of victims. These mechanisms and processes have continued to be completely decontextualized from the circumstances of those that endured the impact of mass atrocities. While victims have become central to transitional justice scholarship and practice, their perceptions and expectations of justice have rarely been placed at the heart of mechanisms and processes that seek to address the injustices they endured.

    Using a grounded theory methodology undertaken in Cape Town and East Rand, South Africa between January and July 2016, 52 participants were interviewed through semi-structured and unstructured interviews. Cape Town was chosen because it is an emblem of the journey that South Africa has traversed as a country. It is where the first European settlers arrived in 1652, later becoming the seat of the colonial and apartheid regimes in which racial segregation policies were promulgated and executed. The large black townships of the East Rand were chosen because they represent a different dimension of the black-on-black violence between supporters of the ANC and the IFP—induced by apartheid—that continued right to the end of minority rule. The major findings of this research demonstrate that transitional justice is understood and interpreted by victims of apartheid in varied and dissimilar ways. Most significantly their perceptions of justice premised on restoring their humanity must be incorporated into the design and implementation of transitional justice processes and mechanisms in order to be responsive to their needs and interests. The study further underscores that what victims of apartheid expected from the transitional justice processes and mechanisms remains unmet, 23 years after the TRC concluded its work.
    Perhaps by integrating these expectations in the design and implementation of its processes and mechanisms, transitional justice could have better responded to their needs and interests. To that end, the thesis advocates for a wider conception of transitional justice-one that is relevant and responsive to the needs and expectations of apartheid’s victims. The thesis proposes that this broader conception must ensure that victims are part of the design and implementation of transitional justice processes and mechanisms.
    Date of AwardJan 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorAlpaslan Ozerdem (Supervisor), Michaelina Jakala (Supervisor) & Miho Taka (Supervisor)

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