I am a clinical psychologist and Senior Research Professor at the University of the Free State. I served on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as coordinator of victims’ public hearings in the Western Cape.
In that role, I participated in, and facilitated encounters between family members of victims of gross human rights violations and perpetrators responsible for these human rights abuses. Since serving on the TRC, and witnessing some of the unexpected outcomes of the TRC’s public hearings process and public dialogue about the past, I have been interested in this question: what features of the TRC process were effective in opening up the possibility of transformation?
I have been studying the process of forgiveness and its relation to past trauma, in encounters between survivors/victims of gross human rights violations and perpetrators, in order to deepen understanding of the reparative elements of forgiveness. My current research – on the development of empathy in victim-perpetrator dialogue – applies the insights emerging from my work on forgiveness, to conceptualise the components of the TRC process that led to expressions of remorse by perpetrators and forgiveness by victims/survivors and/or their family members.
My interests in relation to empathy focus on the web of feelings and the transformative shifts that open up the possibility of reconciliation when conditions for respectful dialogue in small groups are created. This is one of my articles discussing the themes of remorse and forgiveness. You may also read this article or a review of one of my books on the topic.