The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and Canada

Truth and Reconciliation

South Africa and Canada both have complex histories of colonization, including the appropriation of land, the displacement of peoples, genocide and cultural genocide, histories that they must now face. A team at UWC is working on the ongoing relation between structural and political violence, their afterlives and social power, questions that are urgent in Canada as well. Beyond transitional justice which imagines ways societies address histories of state oppression as they move to a more just dispensation, the question of what has been occluded remains a pressing need in South Africa, but also necessary in Canada. Justice raises questions of land, sovereignty, citizenship and law, which are only beginning to be posed in Canada. But it also raises questions of subjectivity and time, of memory and imagination.

The section launched its activities with a workshop comparing the experience of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1994-98) with Canada’s own TRC (2008-15), which recently concluded that the Canadian state, with its policy of residential schools, had committed cultural genocide against First Nations people. Canadians have much to learn from the legacy of the South African TRC now 20 years behind us, both where it worked well and how its impact could have been expanded.

Both the South African and the Canadian TRCs have, in very different ways, posed a challenge to Western epistemologies and rationalities, creating space for oral testimony, for visual artifacts and more expansive forms of witnessing. Knowledges that had been rendered invisible and inaudible require newer and older forms of aesthetic expression to be thought again, which is where the question of aesthetic education arises.