The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) sought to promote healing and reconciliation, and thereby bring closure to a past era of oppression. The process of public testimony was assumed to provide for a revealing of the truth of the period, and to promote forgiveness thus enabling victims to heal from the traumas of the past. This qualitative study sought to explicate the subjective meaning of the experiences of victims who testified at the TRC. Data derived from transcripted open-ended interviews with twelve victims were analysed using an empirical-phenomenological method. The sample group of 12 volunteers comprised eight black females, two black males, one Indian male and one white female. The subjects were interviewed nine to eighteen months after they had testified as victims at the KwaZulu-Natal regional hearings of the TRC. The findings of this study challenge the one-dimensional assumption that testifying at the TRC would promote a therapeutic outcome for victims. Analysis of the data revealed that public testimony is a dialectic and interpersonally constituted phenomenon, which in certain circumstances may facilitate healing. Victims described symptoms of anticipatory anxiety, and typically experienced the opportunity to testify as an "approach-avoidance" phenomenon. The TRC was perceived with the potential either to bring closure to the past, or to re-open old wounds without meeting the raised expectations for justice to be served and reparations to be provided. Victims experienced secondary traumatisation as they testified and simultaneously bore witness to their painful life-stories. The circumstances for a therapeutic outcome emerged as those in which forgiveness could take place through hearing the confession of a perpetrator, or through dialogue with a significant other who could stand for the perpetrator. In either case, an acknowledgement of the truth was required as a co-constituted reality. The study concludes with a call for post-testimony psychological support for victims given the limited resources of the TRC to provide follow-up counselling services.
Thesis (DPhil (Psychotherapy))--University of Pretoria, 2007.