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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

From hell to hope: An organizational case study of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa

In 1993 the first step on the road to transformation in South Africa was taken with a negotiated settlement: apolitical compromise wherein the political players committed themselves to peaceful change. To this end the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act (Act 34 of 1995) inaugurated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which was conceived of as an organisational structure that could enable this transition form a divided to a unified society. Specifically, the TRV was mandated to serve a transitional function mediating the tensions and paradoxes inherent in the pursuit of the truth of apartheid years, the restoration of human dignity of apartheids victims, the granting of amnesty to apartheids perpetrators and the initiation of the delicate processes of reconciliation within and across fractured communities.Operationally the TRC was itself a transitional organisation with an initial task life of 18 months entailing a process of public expression, narration, witnessing, containing and transforming profound social and individual wounding. This paper looks at how the TRC fared in its negotiating these emotional transitions. The TRC can be understood of as a transitional object in a Winnicottian sense. It is this transitionality and the transitional space occupied and created by the TRC in the societal psychic fabric that is explored in the paper. It is argued that the TRC constituted a space for the integration of a reality crafted out of the tensions between reality and unreality, truth and untruth, hope and despair, the silenced and the narrated, justice and injustice, reconciliation and enmity; thus straddling many paradoxes in facilitating truth and reconciliation.This occupancy of transitional space in explored from two vantage points. One is a perspective on how the TRC attempted to address yet contain the traumatised emotionality of the society. The second is a perspective on the emotional processes within the organisational life of the TRC itself as it struggled to manage the emotional life within and without. The TRC is being proposed as an organisational model of transitional justice and non-retributive societal healing with potential implementation in other divided societies. This paper reflects on the challenges facing a national organisation attempting societal healing.'