When a transition from minority rule to democracy takes place through negotiation rather than outright victory for the new rulers, dealing with the political crimes committed under the old order becomes a delicate exercise. Members of the old security forces try to indemnify themselves against prosecution for acts of torture, murder, and assault, while the new democratic legitimate government must seek justice for victims.
This book is a highly focused discussion of the ethical and political decisions that face South Africa's government of national unity in establishing a long overdue truth commission, due to begin its work in 1995. Is it enough for the perpetrators of past crimes to acknowledge wrongdoing, or should they be prosecuted and punished? How far up or down the power hierarchies of the old order are individuals responsible? If perpetrators of past abuses acknowledge their wrongdoing, should their names be made public, or only their deeds and the names of their victims? Object lessons from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the former Yugoslavia abound and are well scrutinized here. According to Boraine, who organized a February 1994 meeting on which the book is based, the message for South Africa is sobering: acknowledgment of past crimes is essential, but full justice for apartheid's victims is politically impossible.