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Anti-Apartheid Activists Call for Apology

In Apologetic rhetoric on August 12, 2007 at 12:57 am


Thirteen former anti-Apartheid activists sought an apology today for their unjust imprisonment by returning to the same South African courtroom where they were tried and sentenced twenty years ago.

In the early 1990s, Apartheid was finally dismantled–and the dream of democracy became a reality for anti-Apartheid activists throughout South Africa with the elections of 1994. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established a year later to record crimes against human rights and, in some cases, grant amnesty to the perpetrators of those crimes.

In the twelve years since the TRC’s establishment, however, no judges have made submissions to the commission. Instead, law experts have attempted to transcend the specific details of complaints by appealing to the abstract value of enforcing laws as they are written at the time of sentencing. According to this reasoning, judges who presided over cases during Apartheid had the responsibility to interpret and enforce the law as it stood then.

Such an account gets to the heart of the activists’ call, which is not only an apology from a court authority, but more importantly an acknowledgement of pain, suffering, and wrongdoing by a now democratic system that claims to value reconciliation for past injustices.

As Quentin Michels, one of the activists who was sentenced to 12 years, said: “It would mean that for all those times and troubles that we’ve gone through it was something that we can say it was worthwhile.”

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