Literary response to the TRC’s Concept of Forgiveness

Francesca Mussi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


On the main initiative of the former President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up in South Africa in 1995 'to provide for the investigation and the establishment of as complete a picture as possible of the nature, causes and extent of gross violations of human rights committed' during a 34-year period of apartheid (1960 to 1994). The TRC played a fundamental role in this process of political and social redefinition, by both encouraging perpetrators to come forward, confess and take responsibility for their crimes, and fostering mutual forgiveness between victims and wrongdoers as the only basis to move on and build a better future. In his memoir about the TRC, 'No Future Without Forgiveness', Tutu explains that 'in forgiving, people are not being asked to forget,' but, on the contrary, it is really important that people remember, the wrongdoer confess, and the victim forgive so that the process of reconciliation can begin in South Africa. In this paper, I discuss how Achmat Dangor challenges the Christian rhetoric of confession/forgiveness which informed the work of the TRC. Given the Commission's public hearings were held under a banner that read 'Truth: the road to reconciliation' - implying that uncovering the truth was the only possible way for victims to forgive perpetrators and begin the process of national-building and reconciliation - I will address the following questions: is it possible to achieve the truth? Who has the right to tell that 'truth'? Is truth a precondition for forgiveness and reconciliation? Telling a story of personal recovery from trauma and a search for revenge, Dangor's 'Bitter Fruit' tries to answer the above questions by unsettling the Christian definition of forgiveness, especially in the public context of the TRC's hearings.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives on Forgiveness
Subtitle of host publicationContrasting Approaches to Concepts of Forgiveness and Revenge
EditorsJordan Kiper , Susan DiVietro
Place of PublicationLeiden, Boston
ISBN (Electronic)9789004360143
ISBN (Print)9789004350779
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2018


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