Negotiating Transition: The Limits of the South African Model for the Rest of Africa

Special Reports > South Africa, Defence & Security, Home & Internal Affairs, Law & Justice,

The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) hosted a seminar to reflect on the international impact of two key South African transition mechanisms – the ‘model’ of a Government of National Unity (GNU) which has been portrayed as a path to stability and unity at a political level; and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) seen as a mechanism for promoting broader reconciliation and nation-building.  Participants were drawn from practitioners, researchers and policy makers from Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, to discuss the limitations, successes and challenges in using these processes on the African continent.

GNUs and Disputed Elections
In South Africa, the GNU was part of a pre-election agreement to ensure a more inclusive cabinet and a smooth transition to a new constitutional dispensation. There is great concern regarding the use of power-sharing arrangements and truth commissions in contexts where there are disputed election results. In such contexts there is a fundamental lack of agreement on the democratic character of the election process itself.

In order not to further diminish public confidence in governance institutions and processes, GNUs (or similar power-sharing arrangements) should be established with caution, with clear deadlines for the finalisation of new constitutions and elections.

Healing, Truth and Reconciliation Processes
In Zimbabwe, the Inclusive Government (IG) has focused on national healing, reconciliation and reintegration, and on security sector reform, believing that a justice agenda at this point could jeopardise the IG.

In Kenya, while discussions around a truth commission began in 2002, a TJRC was only established in July 2009 in the wake of the post election violence of 2007. The TJRC was met with widespread protests about its composition .  The growing rhetoric of extremism in Kenya was noted with concern as this would affect both the operation and potential impact of an effective TJRC.

In South Africa, a number of challenges still remain after the completion the TRC‘s mandate in 2002. The conditional amnesty process held the potential of prosecutions for those who did not participate.  However, there have only been a few prosecutions to date.  New state initiatives to curb prosecutions and provide pardon have been found unconstitutional by the South African courts.  Survivors also continue a campaign for effective reparations given the state’s sluggish progress in finalising reparations policies.

Beyond Peace versus Justice
Participants noted that there is a danger of reinforcing rather than challenging the very conservative peace versus justice debate. The dichotomy only exists if we think of peace as simply an end to hostilities and a formal settlement, and of justice as simply pertaining to prosecutions. We need to think about peace as peace building - as a long-term process that requires sustainable solutions - and of justice as encompassing a range of accountability and restorative elements.  Peace and justice can then be viewed as mutually reinforcing elements, with creative ideas for sequencing and complementarities.

A role for the African Union?
Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU) clearly identify a role of the AU and its organs in ensuring peace, stability, democracy and respect for human rights and the rejection of impunity.  It was noted that while the Peace and Security Council is the body specifically mandated to deal with post-conflict reconstruction, and is often a key avenue for inserting transitional justice agendas, the African Court and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, have key roles in ensuring that these processes are implemented effectively.
Civil Society
Participants acknowledged the problem of double standards in justice debates in the global political arena, and noted that civil society (particularly South-based organisations) has to advocate for consistent principles of accountability, alongside pragmatic and locally-informed interventions.  

In the next few years, many African countries will be having elections. Given the increased violence in many electoral contexts, and given the ever increasing political and economic inter-dependence of the region, there is a need for regional civil society organisations to expand collaborative initiatives and find spaces within the AU and sub-regional structures to share their expertise and assist in proactive interventions before underlying tensions erupt into large scale violence.