The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like body assembled in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Anybody who felt they had been a victim of violence could come forward and be heard at the TRC proceedings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution.

The formal hearings began on 15 April 1996. The hearings made international news and many sessions were broadcasted on national television. The TRC was a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa and, despite some flaws, it is generally regarded as very successful. The creation and mandate of the TRC was set up in terms of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act , No 34 of 1995, and was based in Cape Town. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, reparation and rehabilitation. The TRC has a number of high profile members: Archbishop Desmond Tutu (chairperson), Dr Alex Boraine (Deputy Chairperson), Mary Burton, Advocate Chris de Jager, Bongani Finca, Sisi Khampepe, Richard Lyster, Wynand Malan, Reverend Khoza Mgojo, Hlengiwe Mkhize, Dumisa Ntsebeza (head of the Investigative Unit), Wendy Orr, Advocate Denzil Potgieter, Mapule Ramashala, Dr Faizel Randera, Yasmin Sooka and Glenda Wildschut.

Eunice Miya being comforted at the TRC hearings. (Photo: Iris Films)


The work of the TRC was accomplished through three committees: Human Rights Violations (HRV) Committee investigated human rights abuses that took place between 1960 and 1994. Reparation and Rehabilitation (R&R) Committee was charged with restoring victims' dignity and formulating proposals to assist with rehabilitation. Amnesty Committee (AC) considered applications for amnesty that were requested in accordance with the provisions of the Act. In theory, the commission was empowered to grant amnesty to those charged with atrocities during Apartheid as long as two conditions were met: the crimes were politically motivated and the entire and whole truth was told by the person seeking amnesty. No one was exempt from being charged. As well as ordinary citizens, members of the police could be charged and, most notably, members of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party at the time of the trial, could also be charged. 5392 people were refused amnesty and 849 were granted amnesty, out of 7112 petitioners (there were a number of additional categories, such as withdrawn ). The commission brought forth many witnesses giving testimony about the secret and immoral acts committed by the Apartheid Government, the liberation forces including the ANC, and other forces for violence that many say would not have come out into the open otherwise. On October 28, 1998 the Commission presented its report, which condemned both sides for committing atrocities.

Audience members at the TRC hearing in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo: Iris Films)

SAHA & WITS special TRC project

The South African History Archive (SAHA)  and Historical Papers (Library, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) have undertaken a joint digital archive initiative, sponsored by the Atlantic Philanthropies Foundation, to develop a non-commercial digital and electronic archive of material from assorted media relating to the work of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), available over the Internet. Our aim is to make available to scholars and researchers worldwide TRC material, which would otherwise be difficult to locate and access... read on

The South African History Archive (SAHA) and Historical Papers (Library, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg ) are pleased to announce that another output from the same initiative is now available online. From the following URL, you can access a digital copy of our Guide to Archival Sources relating to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

Sources in Our Archive

Collections in the Archives