Performing South Africa's Truth Commission

Performing South Africa's Truth Commission

Stages of Transition
Catherine M. Cole
Distribution: World
Publication date: 12/22/2009
Format: Paperback 10 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22145-2
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South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commissions helped to end apartheid by providing a forum that exposed the nation's gross human rights abuses, provided amnesty and reparations to selected individuals, and eventually promoted national unity and healing. The success or failure of these commissions has been widely debated, but this is the first book to view the truth commission as public ritual and national theater. Catherine M. Cole brings an ethnographer's ear, a stage director's eye, and a historian's judgment to understand the vocabulary and practices of theater that mattered to the South Africans who participated in the reconciliation process. Cole looks closely at the record of the commissions, and sees their tortured expressiveness as a medium for performing evidence and truth to legitimize a new South Africa.

Author Bio

Catherine M. Cole is Professor in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is author of Ghana's Concert Party Theatre (IUP, 2001) and editor (with Takyiwaa Manuh and Stephan F. Miescher) of Africa After Gender? (IUP, 2006).


“Offers a powerful lens into the performance of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
 — Diana Taylor, New York University

“An exceptionally cogent and substantial project by a leading scholar in theater and performance studies.”
 — Joseph Roach, Yale University

“Cole's description of both the achievements and failures of the South African TRC is a substantial contribution to the debate as to what is justice. This is a book not only for lawyers and those involved in the dramatic arts and philosophers. The depth of Cole's research and clarity of the arguments advanced is a very useful contribution as to what ought to be done in our troubled world.”
 — George Bizos, Senior Counsel, Legal Resources Center, South Africa

“Cole takes us through new routes as she lays out a startlingly new mapping of the Truth Commission and its place in South African performative and cultural life. An original and meticulous study of one of the most important examples of transitional justice of our era. Compelling reading both for South Africans and international readers.”
 — Liz Gunner, University of the Witwatersrand

“There are many ways of telling the story about how people told their story. Catherine Cole looks at the functioning of the Truth Commission as a mode of story-telling in itself. Her empathetic and richly detailed recovery of information adds a new dimension: an objective and nuanced story of the passionate TRC story of the stories of pain.”
 — Albie Sachs, Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

1. Spectacles of Legality: Performance, Transitional Justice, and the Law
2. Justice in Transition: Political Trials, 1956<N>1964
3. Witnessing and Interpreting Testimony: Live, Present, Public, and Speaking in Many Tongues
4. Eyes and Ears of the Nation: Television and the Implicated Witness
5. Dragons in the Living Room: Truth and Reconciliation in Repertoire, 2006
Afterword: What "Truth" Meant to the TRC

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