۱۳۹۳ اسفند ۲۰, چهارشنبه

My Article on the Lessons which can be Learned from South Africa


Moving on from Atrocity: Can Iran Learn from South Africa?

When a South African court pardoned Eugene de Kock, charged with the deaths and torture of hundreds of people during the Apartheid era, many Iran experts wondered whether a similar process could ever take place in Iran. What implications does the case have for those in other countries who have been convicted of multiple crimes, or for those who have headed up major terror operations?

De Kock was jailed in 1996 after confessing to his crimes following the collapse of the Apartheid regime. The court to hand down two life sentences plus 212 years for additional crimes, including murder, kidnapping and fraud. But in the recent decision to pardon, the South African justice minister Michael Masutha announced that de Kock, whom the media had nicknamed “the Prime Evil”, would be released on parole in the interest of nation-building and reconciliation — and because he had expressed remorse over his crimes and helped authorities recover the remains of some of his victims. The judge also announced that the time and place of de Kock’s release would not be disclosed to the public.

I asked lawyer and human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar and academic and writer Ramin Jahanbegloo what they thought of the pardon, and its impact on South African society. What do they think about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s decision to pardon de Kock? And what does it say about Mandela’s legacy?
Kar, who conducted extensive research on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and has written about it extensively, argues that, to understand the basis of the de Kock verdict, one must look closely at South Africa’s period of transition from apartheid state to democracy, and at how the TRC functioned from its inception in 1995. It is vital to understand the history of the negotiations between the Apartheid regime, anti-Apartheid leaders and the African National Congress (ANC). Because many criminals were forgiven as part of the process, the “verdict was not unexpected,” Kar says. South Africa abolished the death penalty as part of this process too, a key step toward enshrining democracy in society.

As Kar points out, Mandela, who had once led an armed struggle from both inside and outside prison, adopted a policy of “forgiveness instead of revenge”. It was, she says, “a political strategy,” and Mandela “only agreed to negotiations when he came to the conclusion that the tools for struggle should be adapted based on the conditions of that struggle.” He concluded that when the Apartheid regime agreed to negotiate, “a peaceful reaction would be a better response… that the continuation of armed struggle would not be compatible with the nature of the negotiation — and would threaten the national unity of South Africa.”
Kar says that the leaders of the peaceful transition believed that if a judiciary were used for revenge, it could not maintain its independence and could justify killings under the name of transition and revolution.

Philosopher and writer Ramin Jahanbegloo considers De Kock’s pardon to be a sign of the country’s political maturity. “It shows that the society of South Africa wants to turn a dark page of its history and plan for a brighter future. After releasing Nelson Mandela from prison, the presidential election of 1994 and the establishment of the truth commission, South African society faced yet another challenge: ensuring how peaceful coexistence between the country’s black and white communities could be achieved.” Jahanbegloo says that this was a particularly difficult challenge, given that South African society was still, to some extent, guided by a “spirit of revenge”. As Kar points out, ANC negotiations with the Apartheid regime and support from Western countries relied on the condition that South African society would not become unsafe for the white population that had lived there for many years. Prominent South African figures, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired the TRC, and Nelson Mandela, who was the president of the ANC, made it clear to the South African people that if the country wanted to start a new chapter, it must abandon the idea of revenge.

Jahanbegloo, who met with a number of South Africans who had been tortured or had lost family members during the Apartheid era, says that many "believed that forgiveness was the only way to get over the bitter memories.” Dumisa Ntsebeza was one of those: though he had endured torture, he believed in the rule of law. And he believed that such pardons could contribute to the rule of law being realized in South Africa.

“Mandela had a history of struggle, and even inside prison, he learnt Afrikaans,” says Kar. “At that stage in history, he played such a unique role and introduced a new discourse to the world. It was not an easy task for Mandela to control the anger of the black majority in South Africa. The world owes this wonderful experience to him and his colleagues.”

Jahanbegloo argues that bringing the world together is not achievable without compassion, and refers to the southern African Ubuntu philosophy, to which many people working towards reconciliation in South Africa have subscribed. Quoting Nelson Mandela, he says: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you must cooperate with him.”

“I do not intend to say that from tomorrow he should be given a high position such as the presidency,” says Jahanbeyigloo, “but considering that de Cock has spent 20 years in prison, it does not matter now if he spends the rest of his life in jail or lives in South African society. Killing our enemy does not help us to reach freedom; rather it only demonstrates our fear of the enemy and our fear of freedom.”

But how has South African society responded to the pardon and the expected parole? Why did the place and time of de Kock’s release remain a secret, undisclosed to the public? “The majority [of people] South African society are struggling with financial problems,” said Kar. “They still do not have decent housing and a proper education system; the rate of unemployment is very high and the society is insecure in many ways. In this situation, South Africans believe that, even with the end of Apartheid and the opening of the government to all parts of South African society, many black South Africans still suffer from an economic apartheid. South Africans have lost their fighting capacity. Radical groups still exist in the society. Of course, the justice minister and the whole government are afraid of revenge riots staged by the black population against the white. The South African government has the support of the West. It has financial and economic exchanges with it — and the West pays great attention to the security of the white population.”
Why did the country not pardon de Kock back in the 1990s, when other cases were put to the judiciary? “I do not have any specific information on de Kock,” says Kar. “But I can say that a few of the accused, even though they had confessed, had justified their crimes and argued that [they] were necessary at that time.” She says that many did not show any remorse and defended the Apartheid regime, “even in front of survivors.” Some of these cases were sent to the courts; many of these perpetrators are still in jail. “De Kock might have been one of those,” says Kar.”Forgiveness was not arbitrary, it had a philosophy; Healing and relief of victims had been taken into consideration. The Truth Commission had a thoughtful and inclusive mechanism. Of course, there were no gallows or firing squads — but those who did not show any signs of remorse were not forgiven.”

And to what extent does de Kock’s pardon impact other situations around the world? Jahanbegloo says “In my view, the forgiveness that was experienced in South Africa and Chile makes the foundation of every social and liberation movements. It is necessary for the advancement of democracy in every country. What occurred in South Africa proved to the world that we should not forget the past. South Africa showed that it would not forget the crimes of the people like de Kock and it would teach its students about this era. Democracy cannot be based on revenge because revenge only facilitates the death of democracy.”
“The president of Brazil is a woman who has been in prison and was tortured during the time of the dictatorship,” Jahanbegloo says. “But this did not cause her to speak of revenge. This attitude helps the society to reach corrective justice and abolish the death penalty.”

To what extent can Iranians accept forgiveness instead of revenge? Could a similar process happen in Iran? “Well, the truth commissions had their own struggles,” says Jahanbegloo. “Naturally, it was hard for those who had undergone torture and hardship or lost family members to meet with those who had served in the military and security forces during that time.” But, he says, the commission’s report emphasized the importance of justice, so that was the goal of the committees — uncovering facts about the regime, and not revenge. In many countries like Iran, historical facts and arguments are not taken as much into consideration; the focus is more on personal revenge. But this does not help us understand history. At present, South Africa’s society has a much better understating of its past than Iran’s society.”

“So far,” says Kar, “there has been no wise leader in Iran. The government continues to justify its atrocities. We cannot anticipate the future of Iran, but I do not believe that we can see South Africa as an example for Iran to follow. If a society wishes to reach political transition, it should act based on its own situation. Proper mechanisms should be used based on that specific situation. This requires special conditions that I do not see in Iran: We do not have a national congress — neither to unite Iranians with a shared goal or to liaise between Iranians inside and outside the country. Iranians lack a leader such who has the support of the majority.  And there are also many other differences between South Africa and Iran.”
Jahanbegloo says such mechanisms can work in the context of Iran. “Some Iranians argue that forgiveness would sacrifice justice, but this is not the case. The issue is not to ignore justice; rather, the issue is that society gets over revenge and qisas (retaliation), because justice is not retaliation and retaliation is not justice.”


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