Can the legacy of the apartheid ever be totally erased, and is it possible to make things fair for everyone?

The legacy of the apartheid era will clearly last a long time, perhaps for centuries. Organizations such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its successor, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, have been founded with the aim of applying the lessons learned from apartheid to make South Africa fairer in the future, but it is unlikely that any society can be completely fair.

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It is probably not possible to make things fair for everyone in any society, let alone one with the tumultuous history of South Africa. The legacy of apartheid is likely to last for centuries rather than decades. Few would claim that the legacy of the Holocaust has been erased in over seventy years or the legacy of U.S. slavery in over a hundred and fifty.

A point often made about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1996 to investigate the crimes of the apartheid era, is that it was quite deliberately not called the Truth and Justice Commission. A slow reconciliation, based on exposing the true horrors of apartheid, was necessary before anyone could think about trying to remedy its injustices. The Commission took the same attitude as the judges at the Nuremberg trials: the atrocities of history must be remembered before they can be forgotten.

The Commission's successor does have a reference to justice in its title. The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation was established in 2000 under the patronage of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said in public statements that justice in such a case as apartheid can only ever hope to be partial and imperfect. The main mission of the Institute is to ensure that South Africa learns the lessons of the apartheid era and is able to build a fairer society in the future.

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