December 16, 1995


The following is the full text:-


It is a very great privilege to have been asked to chair such a distinguished group of eminent persons with a proven track record and outstanding professional ability. I thank God that I have been asked to captain such a brilliant team.

I want to express deep appreciation to Dr Alex Boraine for all the very hard work he has put in to get us going. He has been involved from the onset, assisting the Department of Justice in drafting the legislation which has brought the Commission into being. He has worked like a Trojan, as all of you will know, in making arrangements for this first meeting. He is a gifted organiser. A perceptive journalist has remarked that perhaps the Archbishop will be like a President whilst Dr Boraine will be something like a Prime Minister. That would not be too far off the mark.

Thanks too, to the Minister of Justice and his Department for their unstinting help.

May I say in a kind of parenthesis that my style of operation as a leader is through consensus and delegation. I like to play to the strengths of my team, letting each person blossom by doing the sorts of things at which they are good and feel confident in doing. That way one ends up almost invariably with a winning side and you are always perceived to be a good captain when you captain a winning side. And I know I have been given precisely such a team. By and large, remarkably so, the composition of this Commission has found general and favourable acceptance. It means we have credibility and we must do all we can to enhance that credibility. We hope through some of the appointments to the Committee on Human Rights Violations and the Committee on Reparation and Rehabilitation to make the Commission even more representative and inclusive.


Everyone is aware that we have been assigned a delicate task whose execution, successful or otherwise, will have critical and far- reaching consequences for our land and nation. It is an awesome responsibility.

It is important to bear constantly in mind the title of the act that has brought us into being the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation. What a happy coincidence, how providentially significant, that our very first meeting takes place on the day designated in our calendar as the Day of Reconciliation. Absolutely central to our concern in the work of our Commission is helping our land and people to achieve genuine, real and not cheap and spurious reconciliation. Some view the Commission with considerable misgiving and indeed suspicion and even hostility because they have convinced themselves that the Commission is going to degenerate into an Inquisition, a witch-hunt hellbent on bringing miscreants to book and the assumption is that it would be miscreants from one side only.

We must scotch that rumour or suspicion from the outset. We are meant to be a part of the process of the healing of our nation, of our people, all of us, since every South African has to some extent or other been traumatised. We are a wounded people because of the conflict of the past, no matter on which side we stood. We all stand in need of healing. We on the Commission are no superhuman exceptions. We too need forgiving and to forgive. I hope that our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples will be able to provide liturgies for corporate confession and absolution.

We are privileged to be on this Commission to assist our land, our people to come to terms with our dark past once and for all. They say that those who suffer from amnesia, those who forget the past, are doomed to repeat it. It is not dealing with the past to say facilely, let bygones be bygones, for then they won't be bygones. Our country, our society would be doomed to the instability of uncertainty the uncertainty engendered by not knowing when yet another scandal of the past would hit the headlines, when another skeleton would be dragged out of the cupboard.

We will be engaging in what should be a corporate nationwide process of healing through contrition, confession and forgiveness. To be able to forgive one needs to know whom one is forgiving and why. That is why the truth is so central to this whole exercise.

But we will be engaging in something that is ultimately deeply spiritual, deeply personal. That is why I have been appealing to all our people this is not something just for the Commission alone. We are in it, all of us together, black and white, coloured and Indian, we this rainbow people of God. That is why I have appealed to our different communities of faith (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu etc) to uphold the Commission in fervent prayer and intercession that we may be showered with the divine blessings of wisdom, courage and discernment.

That is why I have asked religious communities of monks and nuns around the world to soak our Commission and its deliberations in fervent volumes of prayer. That is why I want to suggest that all our activities should be started if not by prayer then by a substantial silence, and that we should start our work with a retreat together for the replenishment of our spiritual resources. Our work is going to be harrowing and demanding. We will need counselling periodically to recoup.


To be able to do our work well and to achieve the goals that we have been set it is of paramount importance that we are totally independent and seen to be independent and autonomous, not subject to any undue influence from any quarter whatsoever. Chapter 7 of the Act is quite insistent about this matter of independence:

Page 38:

Most persons, for instance, make a distinction in the moral quality of violent acts according to the motive of the one who commits them. For instance if a woman resists her rapist, killing him, her violence would not be considered to be culpable. Whereas we would all condemn roundly a car hijacker who killed the owner. That homicide would be culpable universally. We must stress that the Act under which we operate makes no such moral distinction. Those who apply for amnesty are judged to qualify for the granting of that amnesty or not only by whether they satisfy the criteria laid down did the offence happen in the appropriate time frame, i.e. March 1960 to December 1993, was it politically motivated and consonant with the policies of either the then State or a liberation movement and has a full disclosure been made? If these criteria are met, then amnesty must be granted. No judgment about the morality of the offence is required or expected. The political affiliation of the applicant is an irrelevance. He/she might have been a state employee belonging to any or no political party. All applicants, it is required by the Act, would be treated even-handedly and without bias.

Equally in the matter of reparation a victim would be someone, anyone, who has suffered harm as a result of actions arising from the conflicts of the past, who has suffered a gross violation of human rights.


We are going to be in the spotlight. I know we can depend on all of you to be discreet and circumspect, beyond reproach like Caesar's wife. The Act lays down some specific terms in an explicit manner with regard to our conduct and frowns on anything that would bring the Commission into disrepute or which would undermine its credibility and integrity. We believe we will need the wisdom of Solomon in dealing with the media which will rightly be interested in the goings-on in the Commission and I think that is quite right, but it will be like living in a fishbowl. You will be, even more than ever before, public property with scant privacy. I hope so very much that the media will realise they have a quite critical role to play in the work of our Commission and that we will evolve an amicable relationship. We want to be open and transparent (you wondered when I was going to use the blessed word).

I have no intention of gagging any of you. You are mature adults who know the score. But I want to state that only the Vice Chairman and I or those we designate specifically will be able to speak officially for the Commission. The law is quite strict about confidentiality. That is why we are going to swear oaths or make affirmations. You are free to speak to the Press, but do know what you are taking on. We don't want to be embroiled in pseudo- controversies that deflect from the purpose of the Commission. If you are able to say the Act provides such-and-such, it will get you out of most potentially awkward situations. It would be wise to avoid speculation, e.g. why so-and-so was not appointed. It is pointless. The law says the President shall appoint after consultation with the Cabinet. It will be wise not to think aloud and to confine oneself to the facts. A great deal of our information will be privileged unless the Commission makes it public and many of the rules that apply in a court of law apply in the case of a commission, e.g. the sub judice rule making it an offence punishable by law to comment on matters being dealt with by the commission in a way designed to influence the finding of the commission or to anticipate its conclusions.

Given the levels of remuneration we shall be receiving and which will become public when they are tabled in Parliament, and given your Chairperson's acquaintance with a certain mode of transportation, it would be odd in the extreme if the media were to pretend that there was no potential scoop somewhere. I raise it here so that we know it is bound to be an issue which we should get out of the way right at the beginning as likely to affect the credibility of our Commission. Our circumstances are different. Many of you are professionals used to large pay packets and who may be going to take a cut in your pay by being a commissioner. I am not going to be holier than thou. I just want us to remember the kind of people who may come before us needing reparation and the amounts we may be able to recommend in relation to our own remuneration. You don't yet know what it is. I have discussed my situation with Leah and we have agreed what we want to do, which I will announce at the Press Conference and share with you in the closed session. You will need to do your thing when you are ready.


We have seen a miracle unfold before our very eyes and the world has marvelled as South Africans, all South Africans, have won this spectacular victory over injustice, oppression and evil. The miracle must endure. Freedom and justice must become realities for all our people and we have the privilege of helping to heal the hurts of the past, to transcend the alienations and the hostilities of that past so that we can close the door on that past and concentrate in the present and our glorious future.

We have it in us as South Africans to become a scintillating success. God bless us in our high calling.