John W. De Gruchy's book Reconciliation: Restoring
Justice is an appealing exploration of the process of truth
and reconciliation in South Africa. In the history of truth
commissions throughout the world, South Africa was the first to
combine notions of truth and reconciliation. This
combination, I believe, was due to the commission's Chairman, the
Reverend Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former
archbishop of Capetown and South Africa's long "tradition" of
 Essentially, Mr. De Gruchy believes and argues
"reconciliation is about the restoration of justice whether that
has to do with our justification by God, the renewal of
interpersonal relations or the transformation of society"
(2002:2). Defining restorative justice as "a form of justice
that has to do with healing relationships whether they be personal
or political," de Gruchy demonstrates how reconciliation is
inseparably connected with the restoration of justice (Ibid).
The author explores these notions from a Christian perspective,
acknowledging awareness that Christianity is made up of many
strands (Ibid). While Mr. De Gruchy states that he does not mean to
imply that other religious traditions outside of the Abrahamic
household are not significant, a book of this kind would require a
different format (2002:3).
 De Gruchy demonstrates sensitivity to the need of exploring
issues concerning justice and reconciliation and recognizes the
multicultural character of virtually all societies today and the
dynamics of multi-faith relationships (2002: 2-3). As an
anthropologist, I appreciated his acknowledgement of the worldwide
multicultural character of societies and his overall awareness and
recognition of history and context. The author understands
that reconciliation occurs "within a particular context and with
regard to a particular set of interpersonal or social relations"
(2002: 153). I also appreciated Mr. De Gruchy's acknowledgment of
issues concerning gender and the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission (2002: 157). Unfortunately, at the time of
writing, Fiona Ross' book Bearing Witness: Women and the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was not released.
She focuses on women's testimonies before the commission and
examines the roles of women during the anti-apartheid struggle put
forth before the commission.
 In reference to the quest for reconciliation in South
Africa, while I agree there is a need for restorative justice
versus justice that is retributive, I raise four objections with
his use of the Christian Church "as an instrument in enabling and
embodying reconciliation in the world" (Ibid). First I argue using
the human rights cultural critique, which views human rights in the
same domain as social ethics. The moral authority of human
rights is conditional on the nature of acceptable ethics (Sen 1999:
228). The assumption is that these ethics are universal.
Questions concerning ethics, justice and human rights all encompass
and utilize a set of moral principles and values to delineate the
differences between right and wrong, justice and injustice.
These moral principles are often based on notions of universality.
Human rights demands universality but some critics claim that there
is no such concept as universal values. Universality is a western
notion just as the "Christian tradition" is a construction from the
 Why do we have a tendency to only utilize western
"instruments" such as Christianity when attempting to find
solutions to questions regarding reconciliation and justice within
a society? In the case of South Africa, a country with eleven
(11) official languages and a multi-cultural society, why can't we
look to other "traditions" or customs within the society for their
notions of healing and justice? What are the concepts of
reconciliation and justice within Zulu society, in Xhosa
society? How are these questions resolved?
 Second, as an anthropologist, I am aware of the history of
Christianity in non-western nations, particularly in South
Africa. Absolom Vilakazi, in his book Zulu Transformations
published in 1962, credited Christianity and Christian education
for the changes in social structure and the demise of indigenous
culture in Zulu society in South Africa. These changes in the
social structure, according to Vilakazi, demonstrated that
Christianity was more than simply a new religion but was a partner
in the construction of the new economic system of capitalism whose
purpose was to destroy the indigenous "savage" beliefs and values.
Thirty years later Jean and John Comaroff, writing Volume One
Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity, Colonialism and
Consciousness in South Africa, trace the processes by which
the London Missionary Society, one of the earliest partners of
British colonialism, sought to change the consciousness, the signs
and the practices of the Southern Tswana (1991:xi).
Christianity was founded in an environment whereby the construction
of inequality was vital for its success. With this in mind, I
stress the danger of utilizing Christianity as the only means of
promoting reconciliation and healing. Why should Christianity
with its long legacy as a partner to colonialism, capitalism,
inequality and apartheid in the South African context become a
collaborator in the quest for reconciliation and healing within the
 Third, I disagree with John De Gruchy's assessment of the
purpose in the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission. According to the author, the intention was to
create a space in which victims, perpetrators and benefactors could
come together in order to establish "the truth" and for the sake of
personal and national healing. In reality, the
situation in South Africa became more complicated, for many
perpetrators expressed that they were carrying out the will of the
apartheid government in its effort to fight communism and the
"communist" supported organization, the African National Congress
(ANC), the party that came into power as a result of South Africa's
first democratic elections in 1994. They believed in what they were
doing. I contend that the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission in South Africa was in reality a nation-building
"project" predicated upon the creation of a culture of human rights
in order to foster the transition from the repressive regime of
apartheid to a liberal democracy (Wilson 2000:76). Truth
commissions usually arise in transitional regimes as they change
from authoritarian to democratic systems. Non-state
actors, such as religious leaders, played a pivotal role in this
"project" in South Africa in the making of a peaceful
transition. Religious leaders employed human rights language
in post-apartheid South Africa to create a "culture of human
rights" (Wilson 2000: 76).
 Finally, I question the reality of reconciliation in a
society plagued by a ubiquitous long violent past. After
reading two fictional novels by South African writers, namely
Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda and Disgrace by J.M.
Coetzee and having had my own personal experiences in South Africa,
I wonder how one can consider the possibility of reconciliation in
a society with such a long legacy of violence and a society with
extreme economic inequality based on the stratification of
race. How can we begin a conversation about reconciliation
when notions of revenge remain persistent?
 In discussions with some of my white South African friends,
I have heard them express fear of firing their black maids for poor
job performance. One friend admitted that she feared
"thakati," a Zulu word for "witchcraft" or an evil spell
if she were to fire her domestic worker. Another friend
expressed fear of harm for the same reason. These articulations
persist in post-apartheid South Africa. They speak to
questions that go beyond issues concerning guilt or attempts to
"right" the "wrongs" that were committed.
 Before South African society can hope to experience true
reconciliation and healing in order to transform society, it must
first confront economic inequality and its violent legacy of the
past and the present. Until then and only then can talk of
reconciliation begin and be taken seriously. Otherwise, talk
of healing and reconciliation remains a utopian ideal and a
performance for the world and the international community.