A Tidal Wave of Emotion
In late 1994, shortly after completing my training as a clinical psychologist and psychodynamic psychotherapist, I met with a friend and colleague for an informal discussion. My colleague was Paul van Zyl, who was to become the Executive Secretary of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and later one of the founders of the International Centre for Transitional Justice in New York. At the time of the meeting he was a researcher working on political violence and based at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in South Africa. I recall asking him at the time if there were any new or interesting political or social developments on the horizon that he had heard about. He responded that various individuals within the Justice Department of the new South African government elected in 1994, along with some NGOs, were discussing the possibility of setting up a truth commission in South Africa.
I remember that moment well. I immediately questioned him on this ‘idea’ and he outlined some of the sketchy thinking at the time. More importantly, I recall thinking that the concept of a commission that would investigate the truth was one of the strangest – not to mention intellectually most imprecise – ideas I had ever heard of. The idea of investigating the whole truth about the apartheid past as if such a thing actually existed, at least theoretically anyway, was an anathema to me.