An Acknowledged Failure: Women, Voice, Violence, and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Authored by: Fiona Ross

Categories: Statebuilding
Sub-Categories: Political Transitions, Transitional Justice
Country: South Africa
Region: Sub-Saharan Africa
Year: 2010
Citation: Ross, Fiona. "An Acknowledged Failure: Women, Voice, Violence, and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission." In Localizing Transitional Justice: Interventions and Priorities after Mass Violence, edited by Rosalind Shaw, Lars Waldorf, and Pierre Hazan, 69-91. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2010.

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Executive Summary

This article discusses differences in the way men and women interacted with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. "Women's testimonies before the Commission were generally broader in scope than men's; they were more likely than men to describe the effects of violence on family and community life, and, according to Mark Sanders (2007), to make demands on custom. They were also more likely to testify to the reverberations of suffering through generations and through times. But, much to the Commission's alarm, and despite encouragement, women gave scant account of their own suffering or experiences of violence, least of all sexual violation (see Goldblatt and Meintjes 1997; Ross 2003a; and Report 1998). This was after the Commission, concerned that it was not gathering 'the whole truth' of women's experiences, instituted several mechanisms to ensure that women testified about their own experiences of harm, including reminding deponents to address their own hurts and hosting special 'Women's hearings' (see Report 1998 vol. 4, ch. 10; Ross 2003a). The Commission's model of truth was such that it assumed that women bore a special responsibility for talking about sexual violence. It expected that women could and should testify about it, and that they would do so under certain condition, notable the provision of a 'safe space' within which to speak."