/ 27 February 2008

SAHRC: Reconciliation was overemphasised

South Africa’s early democracy after 1994 reached out too far with a policy of reconciliation at the expense of transformation, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Wednesday.

”We focused too much on reconciliation in the first years of our democracy,” said SAHRC chairperson Jody Kollapen.

This has led to difficulties in advancing a transformation agenda, because beneficiaries of apartheid resisted transformation as they saw it as undermining reconciliation, he said.

Kollapen said criticising early democracy’s overemphasis on reconciliation was not a personal attack on Nelson Mandela.

At the time, perhaps it was necessary to have such reconciliatory policies. However, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps reconciliation was pushed too far, he said.

The response of the white community in post-apartheid South Africa was disappointing, said Kollapen.

”They did not come to the party and contribute to the transformation of the country.”

He said the recent apology by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for the past mistreatment and suffering of aboriginal people was an example to which South Africa should look.

This apology was ”not grudging or limited” but ”sincere” and showed the beginning of an understanding of the hurt and pain caused to people.

In South Africa these kinds of apologies did not happen.

In fact, white people were reluctant to apologise for apartheid and the horrors that came with it, often saying it was not intended or they did not know what happened, he said.

Kollapen said no conversation about the past beyond the limits of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission took place in South Africa.

This meant South Africans did not start a new democracy on the common understanding of what went wrong and how to fix it.

Kollapen said there was still hope in South Africa that these issues could be resolved.

”There is sufficient goodwill for it to change.”

However, he said South Africans needed to stop being glib about being a Rainbow Nation or a miracle country.

”We are an ordinary country having to deal with normal problems,” he said. — Sapa