November 30, 1995


It is a very great privilege and honour to have been appointed as the head of the Commission, and I am deeply humbled.

The membership of the Commission appears to represent a fair spectrum of South African society, and comprises people who have special gifts to bring to the sensitive task of contributing to the healing process in our country.

I appeal to South Africans and people around the world to uphold members of the Commission in their prayers, because the healing and reconciliation of a deeply traumatised and wounded people is a deeply spiritual exercise.

I hope that the work of the Commission, by opening wounds to cleanse them, will thereby stop them from festering. We cannot be facile and say bygones will be bygones, because they will not be bygones and will return to haunt us. True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has to be based on an acknowledgement of what was done wrong, and therefore on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know.

The purpose of the Commission in terms of the act which establishes it is to assist in the process of healing and reconciliation. The Commission needs to be geared towards the victims of human rights abuses rather than the perpetrators. I would like us to concentrate on the rehabilitation of victims and restoration of their dignity, emphasising restitution rather than retribution and reprisal.

I hope very much that people, especially those who have not previously had the opportunity of doing so, will come to the Commission to tell their stories. I would appeal to churches and NGOs to make available their resources to provide counselling to such people before, during and after they appear before the Commission.

A great deal is going to depend on the spirituality of the commissioners. We will be needing counselling, times for refreshment, and opportunities to rebuild our own spiritual resources, because hearing the harrowing stories that are likely to come before the Commission will be testing.

The Commission must to do its work as quickly as possible so that we can close a horrendous chapter in the life of our nation. We need to turn over a new page and seek to live out our rich diversity of culture, religion, political views and ethnic backgrounds.

I will be in touch with the Minister of Justice and Dr Alex Boraine about arranging the first meeting of the Commission so that we can plan our work as expeditiously as possible.