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From Apartheid to Democracy: Deliberating Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa.

From Apartheid to Democracy: Deliberating Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa. By Katherine Elizabeth Mack. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014; pp. 156. $64.95 hardcover.

Katherine Mack's From Apartheid to Democracy joins the lively and important conversation about the role of argumentation, deliberation and decision-making in transitional justice. With a focus on South Africa, Mack draws from a variety of sources, including written testimony, fictional narratives, and photo documentary to support her analysis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in that nation. Mack's background in comparative literature and English composition structures her critical approach, which highlights the political and social functions of speech and writing in transitional justice contexts.

Chapter one examines origins of the TRC, highlighting the extremely agonistic political context in South Africa that gave rise to the institution designed to enable a transition to post-apartheid democracy. Mack argues that the rhetorical dimensions of the South African TRC separate it from other TRCs because it utilizes "truth's inherent rhetoricity" in four areas: "forensic, social, narrative, and healing" (p. 26). In unpacking the rhetoricity of "truth," Mack explores the dynamic debates on punishment for previous apartheid injustices. For readers unfamiliar with the South African TRC, this chapter delivers a macro-level historical analysis that is helpful to understand the controversy.

The goal of chapter two is to explore how silence and speech are both generative and destructive forces for women who participate in TRC proceedings. Mack deploys a feminist socio-psychoanalytical approach to show the potential range of reactions to South African women's traumatic experiences during apartheid, especially the TRC's tendency to portray women as victims. To accomplish this, she juxtaposes two representative narratives. One narrative tells the story of Thandi Shezi whose experiences as a revolutionary were silenced by the linguistic prompts of the TRC. This prompted her testimony in a fashion that undermined her role as an actor. Mack juxtaposes this narrative with the narrative of a fictional character in Achmat Dangor's novel Bitter Fruit. In Dangor's telling, Lydia, the character in his novel, refuses to utilize the TRC's women's hearing, which she perceives to be filled with meaningless speech acts. The utilization of a real person and a fictional character serves as the centerpiece for Mack's "cross genre approach," which she suggests has unique potential to inspire imaginative thinking on TRC dynamics.

Chapter three considers how the TRC is designed to bridge the past with the "new morals" of the present. Here, Mack foregrounds issues of accountability, looking at how "perpetrators" in their TRC testimony justified carrying out violent actions against their "victims." One fascinating element to emerge in this analysis is how the TRC deliberations are structured to shift discourse from collective identity frames (e.g. "Black", "White", "Colored", and "Indian") to questions of individual accountability in the context of specific acts, such as Robert McBride's bombing of a white bar (pp. 75-83) or through the controversial history of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. This chapter will be especially intriguing for students of social movements and democratic deliberation (particularly in a transnational context).

In the last chapter, Mack addresses the issue of reconciliation by analyzing Jillian Edelstein's work, Truth and Lies: Stories from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Mack views Edelstein's work as a "photographic essay," comprised of "composite" and "synthetic" works called "imagetexts" (p. 104). By studying the argumentative dynamic of imagetexts, Mack intends to share light on what Erik Doxtader (2003) would call the "substance of reconciliation" and Robert Asen's (2002) theory of "collective imaginings." Mack takes note of how the seemingly banal portraits in Edelstein's imagetexts are accompanied by perturbing written captions that describe incidences of extreme violence, pain, and suffering in the South African apartheid regime. With imagetexts, the reader encounters a range of South Africans responses to the TRC from acceptance of its reconciliatory goal to prima facie repudiation of idealized democratic hopes.

Mack's work provides insight into an example of historically situated transnational rhetoric. She does an outstanding job of bridging together the past, present, and future to articulate the complexity of a precarious geo-political situation. The strength of the book resides in its deployment of a diverse range of theoretical tools brought to bear in a well-defined case study. The broad array of theoretical voices in the conversation produces an inviting text that may connect with scholars from many backgrounds. However, this theoretical complexity may come at the price of analytical depth as there are points where Mack will deploy a particular theoretical approach briefly, yet stop short of full development. Insofar as the book evaluates the "rhetorical experiment" that was the South African TRC, it speaks to argumentation scholars, investigating how TRC deliberation pushes and tests the limits of public deliberation. It takes the reader through the classic deliberative binary of political idealism versus pragmatism, and articulates new multi-modal sites of subject-formation within South Africa. Even with a brief conclusion that covers only three pages, From Apartheid to Democracy productively adds to Eric Doxtader's (2003) groundbreaking rhetorical work on TRCs. The book's utilization of "cross genre" literary sources articulates, in a revealing way, the complex and highly agonistic political picture in which the South African TRC conducted its challenging work.

Aaron Swanlek

University of Pittsburgh

Works Cited

Asen, R (2002). Imagining in the public sphere. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 35, 345-365. doi:10.1353/par.2003.0006 Doxtader, E. (2003). The Provocations of amnesty: Memory, justice, and the impunity. Claremont, CA: David Phillip Publishers.
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Author:Swanlek, Aaron
Publication:Argumentation and Advocacy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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