To what extent do the formal reconciliation processes in South Africa and Australia compare?

Vermaak, Vanessa
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Abstract The purpose of the research has been to compare the reconciliation processes in South Africa and Australia. The research involves specific periods of human rights abuses in both countries. Consideration is given to the role of state policies and institutions which excluded indigenous people from participating in society. Equality, human rights, and socio-economic disadvantage are defining elements of the debate between the governments and the indigenous communities. It is impossible to talk meaningfully about reconciliation - and the transformation in relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people - without reference to human rights. Both the South African and Australian processes were defined in terms of human rights. However, while there was a commitment on paper to addressing past experiences in the two official ‘truth telling’ mechanism introduced in both countries, the outcome of the processes did not, either in South Africa or in Australia, lead to any significant change in the unequal basis of the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people. The ways in which the processes unfolded were meant to offer more than a platform for memories to be recounted or for history to be rewritten on the basis of new evidence, they were meant to offer some kind of recompense that would lead to renewal and change. But neither the process nor the outcome properly addressed the deep disempowerment of indigenous people, and in many ways the process was disillusioning. In studying the reconciliation processes in these two societies, an underlying question presents itself: does truth really achieve reconciliation?