Between 1948 and 1994, South Africa lived under the shadow of apartheid, a system that infiltrated every aspect of society with its divisions, inequality and injustices. In April 1994, after years of negotiations, the African National Congress (ANC), which had been the official party of the struggle movement, came into power as a result of South Africa's first democratic election. During that same month, Rwanda, after decades of dictatorial rule, was swept by a genocide that left almost a million dead and almost twice as many displaced. By July 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) had brought the genocide to an end and implemented a transitional government. For both countries, 1994 signified the beginnings of the arduous task of post-conflict reconstruction. The approaches each country has taken to reconcile broken and divided societies forms the focus of this article.
Comparing two countries with distinctly different tragedies and unique approaches to reconciliation is a risky endeavour. However, this article will not attempt to recommend the approach of one country to be adopted by another. Rather, it will argue that in each unique context and time period, different approaches to reconciliation may be relevant and justified. Using John Lederach's model of reconciliation, the approaches to reconciliation adopted by South Africa and Rwanda will be described and compared.