The South African
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Videotape Collection

at the Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Library






Project Description

This series of web pages relate to a seminar, Confronting Past Abuses, run by Professor Robert Burt, Alexander M. Bickel Professor of Law, the description of which is presented below:

Confronting Past Abuses:

The South African Experience: Research Seminar (21396). 3 units. Following the transition to majority rule, South Africa undertook to address human rights abuses perpetrated under the prior apartheid regime primarily through the work of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), rather than exclusively relying on criminal accountability or ignoring the past abuses altogether. The proceedings of the TRC were extensively covered by the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and Yale Law School has assembled a completed collection of the tapes of that television coverage. The goal of this research seminar will be to assemble materials that would be made generally available for teaching and research purposes on the Law School Library Web site. The assembled material will include excerpts from the TRC videotapes, written and visual texts about the South African experience and comparative texts about the response (or failures to respond) to past abuses in international tribunals and in other countries emerging from dictatorship to democracies, especially in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Seminar students, acting individually or in small teams, will take principal responsibility for compiling this material, which will be discussed in the seminar sessions. We will rely on the technical skills of the Law School’s Computer Services staff to edit the material in a format suitable for the YLS web site.

What was done:

Having decided on a particular research topic, students in teams of two reviewed the videotape collection and then selected short video segments from the tapes that were relevant to their topic and which, when edited together, provided a coherent, flowing and logical story about that subject.

Then, taking the edited video segments as a basis and utilizing synchronized multimedia integration language (SMIL), students created scripts that use the time code from the video to trigger other multi-media events, especially visits to web sites. Such web sites provide information that supplements the narrative in the video, e.g. a link to newspaper coverage of an incident under discussion, the TRC website where a transcript of a specific testimony is housed, a journal article or book that deals with the subject, or an institution where such issues are confronted.

Much of a student’s time was spent on researching the topic and gathering together data from many, often disparate, sources.

Please see below for abstracts of the topics covered in the Spring 2004 seminar – clicking on the link will take you to an introductory page and the SMIL presentation itself. Further information, including bibliography, annotated web sites, and other references is included on these pages.

For help in using the SMIL as a tool for your research, please click here.

List of SMIL Projects

Click on the icons below to view on-line videos using RealOne Player


The Case of Chris Hani and the Standard for Amnesty

This video examines the dramatic amnesty hearings of Janusz Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis, two members of the now extinct Conservative Party. In 1993, Walus and Derby-Lewis assassinated Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist Party and African National Congress who was second only to Nelson Mandela in popularity polls at the time of his death. Walus and Derby-Lewis were serving life sentences for the murder when they applied to the TRC for amnesty arguing that their act was politically motivated




Violence Against Women

This video presentation explores the experience of women during apartheid and as witness before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The video presents the stories of four women: Kate Serokolo, Zubeida Jaffer, Shirley Gunn, and Phila Ndwandwe. Using their stories as a lens, this presentation looks critically at the TRC and the ways in which it failed to develop a complete and accurate narrative account of the experiences of women in South Africa.




Role of the Legal Profession

This video examines the case of Brian Mitchell, a police commander who massacred eleven people attending a wake in the small community of Trust Feed on December 2, 1988. The presentation provides a nuanced look into the events of and motives for the killing, the government’s strategy of fomenting internecine conflict between black resistance movements, and Mitchell’s emergence from death row to be granted amnesty in 1996. It concludes by following Mitchell back to Trust Feed in 1997, his plea for forgiveness, and his efforts ever since to raise funds and help restore the infrastructure and spirit of the torn community




Structure and Purpose of the SA TRC

This video examines the structure of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commisson and its purpose. The presentation is divided into 3 distinct parts highlighting the functions of each role. The video focuses on the people involved in the TRC process, how it was created and designed to facilitate the needs of the victims, applicants and participants. The presentation also provides detailed look at the step by step process of theTRC with in-depth stories and interviews.