Truth Doesn't Pay. It Heals.
Iraqis, take note. Before dealing with either the people who ran the Saddam Hussein regime or those it harmed, learn a lesson from South Africa's postapartheid experience.Skip to next paragraph
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On Tuesday, the government there closed the book on seven years of trying to bring contrition, forgiveness, and reconciliation to a society torn for decades by heavy-handed racial dominance. The final act was a government decision to give about $3,900 to more than 19,000 victims who testified to their personal suffering under whites-only rule.
That reparation doesn't come close to covering the losses of many victims. It amounts to about a year's average income for most South Africans. Still, it reflects an important decision by Nelson Mandela, made soon after his election in 1994, not to take revenge on whites or radically distribute their wealth. He wanted unity and a stable, growing economy.
Instead, Mr. Mandela set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to grant amnesty to both whites and blacks who confessed to committing human rights violations during the apartheid period.
The commission's final report, issued last month, ended a commendable process of trying to hold apartheid's perpetrators to account. Its results were disappointing to many, but few South Africans would doubt that the wrenching disclosure of atrocities and the heartfelt confessions served to "to heal a wounded and traumatized people," as the commission chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said.
President Thabo Mbeki, who followed Mr. Mandela, hopes for more confessions from the guilty. "We agreed that everybody should become part of the solution, whatever they might have done and represented in the past," he said on Tuesday.