The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) brought forth a new era in South African history. Beginning in 1996, its proceedings in restorative justice aimed to promote reconciliation and reform national identity, not only through the restoration of dignity for victims of apartheid-era abuses, but also the granting of amnesty to perpetrators. Although by no means the first of its kind, as a post-conflict tribunal it was uniquely transparent in nature, bringing apartheid abuses to light in the public domain, with proceedings broadcasted on national radio and television. The Commission also produced one of the first state-sponsored historical accounts of apartheid in the form of a seven-volume report, published between 1998 and 2003. Although a variety of human rights abuses were highlighted during the course of the Commission’s victim hearings, the rallying of feminist organisations saw the inception of a series of Special Hearings that placed emphasis on abuses specifically experienced by women. The women’s hearings, which took place in July 1997, brought traumatic narratives of gender-based violence (GBV) to light, mediated by a variety of intersecting discourses in a performative context. This thesis seeks to understand the ways in which these narratives were constructed, not only by the women who testified at the commission, but also in the official TRC report. It further seeks to understand the effects that the transition had on post-transitional narratives of gendered violence in 21st-century South Africa. This thesis employs narrative and discourse analysis, using concepts derived from Avery Gordon’s theory of sociological haunting in a critical examination of the intersections of affectivity, memory, and identity. In particular, ideas of haunting, structures of feeling, and rememory are highlighted. Transcripts of the 1997 women’s hearings, the official TRC report published in the years following the proceedings, and mixed media from the post-transitional era are analysed. This study reveals that narratives of GBV are inherently affective and interpretable through emotive contexts, and further, that these narratives inherently disrupted the dominant discourses of (post)transitional South Africa.

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Adriaansen, R.J.
Global History and International Relations
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Murning, Robyn. (2022, February 28). Haunting memories The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s women’s hearings and South Africa’s discourse on gender based violence. Global History and International Relations. Retrieved from