Excerpted From: Benjamin Zinkel, Apartheid, and Jim Crow: Drawing Lessons from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation, 2019 Journal of Dispute Resolution 229 (Fall, 2019) (Student Comment) (277 Footnotes) (Full Document)
South Africa and the United States are separated geographically, ethnically, and culturally. On the surface, these two nations appear very different. Both nations are separated by nearly 9,000 miles, South Africa is a new democracy, while the United States was established over two hundred years ago, the two nations have very different climates, and the United States is much larger both in population and geography. However, South Africa and the United States share similar origins and histories. Both nations have culturally and ethnically diverse populations. Both South Africa and the United States were founded by colonists, and both nations instituted slavery. In the twentieth century, both nations discriminated against nonwhite citizens. South Africa implemented a series of legislation and institutionalized segregation named “apartheid,” and the United States implemented similar measures through “Jim Crow” laws. Both institutions were designed to segregate and disenfranchise the non-white population.
When apartheid ended in 1994, the South African government attempted to heal the open wounds of apartheid by establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was established in the interest of full disclosure. The goal of the TRC was to inform the citizens of South Africa of the atrocities committed during apartheid and learn from the mistakes of the past. Both witnesses and perpetrators of human rights violations were invited to testify in front of a committee, and if perpetrators gave full disclosure of their crimes, they were granted amnesty. By implementing the TRC, South Africa attempted to bring a finite end to apartheid.
The United States never had an absolute end to its racial segregation. After the American Civil War, a series of amendments were passed to guarantee the rights of all citizens, regardless of race. However, this did not stop states from passing JimCrow legislation that limited the rights of black Americans. From the 1880s to the 1960s, JimCrow laws spanned the United States and legalized discrimination against and segregation of black Americans. In 1964, the United States passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in attempt to remedy the toxic culture created by segregation. Although the Civil Rights Act guaranteed equal protection to all Americans, it did not eradicate the hatred and animosity shown by certain groups toward black Americans. Though not as explicit as during Jim Crow, such racism and prejudice still exists in the United States today. Many people of many races and cultures were affected by Jim Crow, and their suffering should not be diminished. However, the scope of this paper will focus on the persecution and continuing discrimination of black Americans before, during, and after JimCrow.
The United States needs a way to remedy the racism that is still prevalent in its culture. The United States can learn from South Africa and use truth and reconciliation to help heal the wounds of the past. Whether the South African TRC was successful will be addressed later in this paper, but truth and reconciliation can be an effective way to ease racial tensions and resolve disputes in the United States.
[. . .]
Racial discrimination has persisted in the United States long after the end of the Jim Crow era. One way to address this issue and remedy the scars of the past is through truth and reconciliation. The United States can learn a lesson about truth and reconciliation from South Africa's TRC, established at the conclusion of apartheid. While the South African TRC was not perfect, it was a good start in the right direction. Black Americans have never received true reconciliation, and a TRC in the United States could serve as a means to relax the racial tensions straining the American social fabric.
South Africa still feels the effects of apartheid, and the ANC has seen a recent demise. While South Africa is far from the “rainbow nation” it strove to establish, it at least made a good faith effort to remedy the mistakes of the past. If there is any take-away from this comment, it is that the United States needs to make a similar good faith effort. There is no perfect solution, but truth and reconciliation is a good start.
Benjamin Zinkel, B.S. Psychology, Truman State University, 2015; J.D. Candidate, University of Missouri School of Law.