Beyond Nuremberg: The Historical Significance of the Post-apartheid Transition in South Africa

Volume Number
43
Number
1
Type of Publication
Main Author
Journal Name
Politics & Society
Year

Abstract
The contemporary human rights movement holds up Nuremberg as a template with which to define responsibility for mass violence. I argue that the negotiations that ended apartheid—the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA)—provide the raw material for a critique of the “lessons of Nuremberg.” Whereas Nuremberg shaped a notion of justice as criminal justice, CODESA calls on us to think of justice as primarily political. CODESA shed the zero-sum logic of criminal justice for the inclusive nature of political justice. If the former accents victims’ justice, the latter prioritizes survivors’ justice. If Nuremberg has been ideologized as a paradigm, the end of apartheid has been exceptionalized as an improbable outcome produced by the exceptional personality of Nelson Mandela. This essay argues for the core relevance of the South African transition for ending civil wars in the rest of Africa.

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