Between Perpetrator and Victim: Apartheid’s Askaris and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
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In 1994, South Africa entered a new era of peace and democracy with the election of Nelson Mandela, who became the country’s first democratically elected president. With this, South Africa was closing the chapter on its violent past, which was marked by white supremacy, systematic racism and social engineering. However, Mandela’s election alone was not enough to unite the deeply divided country, whose past was cruel and enormously violent. Some form of transitional justice was needed. Through various negotiations, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was born. Based on the foundations of restorative justice, the TRC sought to investigate the events of the past and establish as accurate a picture as possible regarding the nature of gross human rights violations that took place during apartheid. This thesis examines the case of the askaris; black people, generally former liberation fighters, turned operatives for the apartheid Security Police, working primarily for the death squad known as Vlakplaas, who came forward and applied for amnesty at the TRC. Through questioning how the askaris were configured by the TRC, as figures who committed egregious acts against their fellow black South Africans, while at the same time being victims of apartheid themselves, this thesis demonstrates the complicated position of the askaris and perpetrator-victims in general. This thesis reveals the general lack of nuance afforded to the askaris by the TRC. By utilising Baines’ theory of complex political perpetrators, it makes an argument for a more nuanced approach to perpetrator-victims in future post-conflict settlements like truth commissions.
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