Transitional Justice, Decolonisation, and the Legitimation of Political Change in Contemporary South Africa

Change log
Eze, Michael Onyebuchi 

In this project, I explore the residual impact of transitional justice discourse in contemporary South Africa. I argue specifically that even though transitional justice in South Africa became successful in terms of political justice, it failed to fulfill its promise of sociocultural and economic transformation. Precisely because the mandate of transition was political justice, the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), instead of being an outcome of evolving historical processes and sociopolitical relations, now reads as a finished business or an event and not a transitional mechanism. The prioritization of political justice problematized other initiatives for an inclusive and contemporaneous transitional justice. First, our notion of justice is grounded in temporal fluidity, fluctuating according to political interests or wind of change. Second, it undermines the normative appeal to socioeconomic and historical justice as necessary attributes of a transformative capital. Third, it frames political justice as the end of the transformation. Transitional justice here becomes primarily an event that ended with a constitution that is supreme to the parliament.

The very idea of transitional justice would have to be decolonized for a creative adaptation that will stimulate continued processes for change and emancipatory transformation. In decolonization, a few things unravel: (i) we begin to understand why societies that have undergone transitional justice sometimes relapse to pre-conflict situations and in some cases into worsening scenarios; (ii) it unmasks why transitional justice has failed to accomplish its ambitious, transformative agenda and often implicated in undermining these goals; (iii) it exposes the discontinuity between the abstract ideal of justice and a historicized notion of justice, a misrecognition that often (a) accentuates distrust of the whole political project of transition and (b) imposes a westernized idea of justice as hegemonic reality. (iv) Decolonization also opens room for mobile politics – an imaginative effusion that gives priority to context and history.

Complementing decolonization is Cultural Reclamation (CR) as a theoretical utility to overcome the limitations of decolonization.CR negotiates the ambivalent relationship between race and class, including the ambiguities of survival politics, which turns victims into perpetrators or villains into victims. Race ceases to be a primary determinant of collective consciousness and becomes instead, a subsidiary to culture. The relevance of CR is this ability to contextualize history and create diverse meanings, even in most contradictory and conflictive situations. CR expands our conversation on transitional justice to include, for example, issues of historical and economic injustice as well as the land question. With this maneuverer, discussions on transitional justice move beyond the binary entrapment of us versus them to a creative engagement with a non-racialized other. Our claim on justice is no longer a residual narrative entrapped only within the epistemic space of colonial engagement to embrace a dynamic infusion of reality.

Branch, Adam
Transitional Justice, South Africa, Decolonization, Land Justice, Ubuntu Philosophy, South African Politics, Transitional Justice South Africa, Truth and Reconciliation, Political Justice, Historical Justice, Moral Hierarchies, Cultural Reclamation, Racialist Capitalism, Nelson Mandela, TRC, Frantz Fanon, Human Reconciliation, Land Identity, Apartheid, Neocolonialism, Nationalism, Intergenerational Justice, Political Legtimation, Moral Legitimacies, Political Change
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge