Competing Truths in South Africa

Kyle Delbyck, SIT Study Abroad

South Africa: Multiculturalism and Social Change


This project aims to explore Afrikaner perceptions of the historical narrative issued by the Truth and Reconciliation commission. Many more conservative Afrikaners feel that the commission's account of history did not in any way reflect their own experiences and perspectives. The researcher was able to obtain information about the viewpoints of more conservative Afrikaners through conducting seven interviews with a variety of people who fall into this category. The paper accordingly examines important issues and topics that interviewees believe should not have been disregarded by the commission. Through the use of these interviews, the project establishes a concrete link between more conservative Afrikaners' sentiments that their voices were disregarded by the commission and notions that they are currently a marginalized group in South Africa. As such, the author aims to analyze the manner in which more conservative Afrikaners' alienation from the commission's historical narrative continues to shape their perceptions of the past, present and future.

The findings and conclusions of the project center around the question of whether truth commissions should aim to include the voices of all segments of society in their historical narrative, whether it be those of the former government or other dissenting opinions. Should a commission disregard certain perspectives? Does the inclusion of more conservative voices hinder the objectives of a commission? Does incorporating such voices into the historical “truth” add credibility to opinions that defend the former government? Is there room for competing truths within a historical narrative? The researcher concludes that it is imperative that truth commissions make space for all voices. Doing so provides society with a window into the structural forces and societal conditions that facilitate conflict and enable unjust systems to thrive. This approach is important in that it better equips society to prevent any future conflicts that may arise. Furthermore, an all-inclusive commission also more effectively precludes the fragmentation of society along racial and ethnic lines that defined the period of conflict. More narrow historical narratives that silence certain voices only strengthen societal divisions, enhance tensions between different groups, and exacerbate already existent feelings of bitterness and mistrust. Such narratives are consequently dangerous in that they merely perpetuate the cycle of exclusion and marginalization within which conflicts are born. The project therefore concludes that the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission should have made a better effort to include the voices of more conservative Afrikaners in its historical narrative.