The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Community Reconciliation: An Analysis of Competing Strategies and Conceptualizations.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Community Reconciliation: An Analysis of Competing Strategies and Conceptualizations.

van der Merwe, H. (1999). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Community Reconciliation: An Analysis of Competing Strategies and Conceptualizations.

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Ph.D. at George Mason University.


Chair of Dissertation Committee:
Dr. Chris R. Mitchell,
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution

Summer Semester 1999
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

This dissertation was made possible thanks to funding provided by the Jennings Randolph Program of the United States Institute of Peace as well as scholarships provided by George Mason University.

Hugo van der Merwe is a Project Manager in the Transition and Reconciliation Programme at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.


List of Abbreviations


Prelim Pages (pdf 30KB)

1. Introduction (pdf 58 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Competing Conceptions of Reconciliation
  • Reconciliation as a Component of Peace-Building
  • International Interest in Transitional Justice and Reconciliation
  • The South African Context
  • The Research Process
  • The Structure of the Dissertation
  • Conclusion

2. Reconciliation: The Theoretical Context (pdf 194 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution/Peace Building
  • The Meaning of Relationship: Spheres of Reconciliation
  • Dimensions of Reconciliation
  • Components of Reconciliation: Substantive Issues of the Process
  • Components of Reconciliation: An Overview
  • Reconciliation as Interactive Process
  • Levels of Reconciliation
  • Competing Approaches and Ideological Frames of Reconciliation
  • Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Approaches
  • Conclusion

3. Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Approaches to Justice (pdf 94 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Functions of Justice
  • Competing Perspectives of Justice: Paradigm, Culture and Ideology
  • Justice as Situational or Individual Response
  • Rectificatory Justice and Reconciliation
  • Conclusion

4. International Experience: Tensions Inherent in National Reconciliation and Transitional Justice Initiatives (pdf 78 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Context for Formulating National Reconciliation Policies
  • Justice
  • Conclusion

5. South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Development, Structure and Goals (pdf 130 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Establishment of the TRC in South Africa
  • TRC: Resolution of Key Controversies
  • Structures and Procedures of the TRC
  • TRC's Mandate: How Did it Understand its Goals and Mission
  • Conclusion

6. Context of Community Reconciliation: Two Case Studies (pdf 60 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Political Conflict at the Local Level in South Africa
  • Community Studies
  • Conclusion

7. Research Methodology (pdf 138 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Conceptual Framework for the Research
  • Operationalization of the Research Framework
  • Operationalization of the Research Questions
  • The Research Subject and Methodology
  • Limitations of Interviewee Categorizations
  • Researcher Identity and Bias
  • Conclusion

8. Contestation of Reconciliation Strategies: Individual Case Management (pdf 145 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Interviewee Categorization
  • Contested Issues in Relation to Case Management Strategy
  • Stakeholder Divisions over Case Management Strategy

9. Contestation of Reconciliation Strategies: Community Engagement (pdf 191 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Contested Issues in Relation to Community Engagement
  • Stakeholder Divisions over Community Engagement Strategy
  • Conclusion: Contestation and Agreement regarding Strategies

10. Principles of Reconciliation (pdf 153 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Competing Principles of Reconciliation: The Conceptual Framework
  • Principles of Reconciliation Identified in the Data
  • Stakeholder Divisions around Principles
  • Linking Principles to Dimensions of Reconciliation
  • Conclusion

11. Ideological Frames of Reconciliation (pdf 104 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Ideological Frames of Reconciliation: The Conceptual Framework
  • Ideological Frames Identified in the Data
  • Linkages between Ideological Frames and Principles
  • Stakeholder Divisions over Ideological Frames
  • Conclusion

12. The TRC and the Community: Competing Conceptions of Justice (pdf 87 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Competing Perspectives on Justice
  • Individual Differences
  • Restorative Justice and the TRC
  • The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice in Promoting Reconciliation
  • Conclusion

13. Conclusions (pdf 72 KB)

  • Introduction
  • Competing Ideological Frames
  • The TRC as a Mechanism for Promoting Reconciliation
  • TRC's Contribution to Community Reconciliation
  • Problematizing Reconciliation as a Theoretical Consideration 553
  • Relevance of Findings to Commissions in Other Countries
  • Conclusion

Appendices (pdf116 KB)

  • Appendix A – Overview of Interview Data
  • Appendix B – Interview Schedules

Bibliography (pdf 57 KB)


ANC– African National Congress
ANCYL– ANC Youth League
AWB– Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement)
COSAS– Congress of South African Students
CPF– Community Police Forum
CSVR– Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation
IFP– Inkatha Freedom Party
KP (CP)– Conservative Party
MK– Umkhonto we Sizwe (military wing of the ANC)
NGO– Non-Governmental Organization
NP– National Party
RDP– Reconstruction and Development Programme (official government policy paper outlining development priorities)
SACC– South African Council of Churches
SACP– South African Communist Party
SANCO– South African National Civic Association
SDU– Self Defense Unit (ANC aligned structure)
SPU– Self Protection Unit (IFP aligned structure)

South African Terms

Askaris– ex-MK members who became state operatives
civic– local community organization that mobilized residents around local political issues in the 1980s, generally with claims of not being affiliated to particular political parties but generally seen as ANC-aligned
Comrades– young political activists affiliated to the ANC
Induna– Zulu word for traditional leaders – held political power in the IFP
township(or location, or community) terms which all refer to African residential neighborhood (sometimes it is used simply as a geographic term, but often also with the connotation of a sense of community among its residents)
African, white, coloured, Indian are used in the text to refer to the various population groups differentiated by the apartheid government. The term "black" is used to refer collectively to Africans, coloureds and Indians – those subjected to racial discrimination by the state.


The central thesis of this dissertation is that reconciliation is a process that is subject to competing agendas, and that this contentiousness has implications for the legitimacy of community reconciliation initiatives. Rather than treating reconciliation as a process that can be impartially pursued by third parties in a conflict situation, this study problematizes the term through exploring how the concept of reconciliation is given different meanings by different stakeholders. The key tension examined in this study is between top-down and bottom-up conceptualizations of community reconciliation.

Through empirical research, it is argued that the different conceptualizations of reconciliation are based on a range of different experiences, interests and cultures, but are most effectively understood as competing ideological frameworks. Rather than acting as a force for greater social stability, the pursuit of reconciliation in the South African context is revealed as a process that highlights fundamental differences regarding values and goals of social order and inter-group relations held by different parties. By focusing on the issue of justice as a component of the reconciliation process, the study explores the competing justice strategies that arise from the varying ideological frames that characterized the debate about transitional justice and the TRC.

The empirical research focuses on the intervention role of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the reconciliation processes of two communities in South Africa: Duduza and Katorus. The engagement of communities with the TRC's intervention processes highlights how different stakeholders understand and envision the reconstruction of cooperative relationships in society. Using semi-structured interviews with TRC staff and members from a range of community stakeholders, the research employed a comparative study approach to examine various factors impacting on the different conceptualizations of reconciliation. Key independent factors considered were: local community context, political identity and stakeholder identity (victim, ex-combatant, community leader and TRC staff).

The research demonstrates that the approach of the TRC was one that was heavily weighted towards a top-down orientation to reconciliation at the national level which contrasted with the conceptualization of reconciliation by community members who view it as a process that should be oriented around local community dynamics.


Copyright 1999 Hugo van der Merwe
All Rights Reserved

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