Unfinished Business: South Africa, Apartheid, and Truth

In This Review

Unfinished Business: South Africa, Apartheid, and Truth

By Terry Bell with Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza
Verso, 2003
352 pp. $26.00
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There will always be room for another postmortem on apartheid and one more well-informed assessment of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Much of this book covers familiar ground -- Pretoria's death squads, the sordid spying career of Craig Williamson -- but it also includes many revealing lesser-known historical details. Bell's main message is the inadequacy of the TRC's efforts to confront the country's past: born out of a political compromise, the commission let off thousands of apartheid's main culprits and allowed big business to escape its moral obligation to pay reparations for decades of gross racist exploitation. Ntsebeza, who headed the TRC's investigative unit, sidesteps this indictment of the commission (for merely treating "a few symptomatic boils on a totally diseased body politic") and incongruously calls Bell's account "a critical eulogy" to the TRC's achievements. Even he, however, has been working to make up for the commission's shortcomings -- as lead counsel in the class action lawsuits against multinational corporations currently being launched in the United States under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789.