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The art of reconciliation

About the author
Madelaine Georgette was born and brought up in South Africa. She left in 1973 and now lives in Washington DC. These paintings are part of a larger cycle of work on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission inspired the artist Madelaine Georgette to embark on her own creative journey of redemption.


The townships represent one major element of the context in which the War of Liberation occurred. The vast majority of black South Africans have lived in townships that grew up haphazardly around the major cities. Urban black South Africans were confined to these squalid areas and denied permission to live in white areas, even if they could afford to do so.

While many townships originated from squatter camps, many were later supplemented by government housing – covering vast tracts of land with hundreds of identical, ‘match-box’, four-roomed, bare, brick bungalows which could be rented but not purchased. Government housing was frequently without electricity and water was only available from outside taps. Washing facilities were very limited and streets were often without lighting. Population density was and remains very high and townships were primarily bedroom communities with few social amenities and virtually no commercial activity.

The colors are muted, dull, polluted by smoke and covered with dust since few, if any roads, are paved. There is no focal point; no sense of order or planning; yet there is a sense of community and people make the most of what they have. You will often find some small patch of color or something precious and special that signifies that this is home. It is this landscape, this atmosphere and this feeling that I have tried to capture in Townships.

Only after the first all-race elections in April 1994 under the New South Africa, were black people allowed to live wherever they could afford to.

Forced Removals

Forced Removals

In 1950, the Group Areas Act was passed which gave the South African (SA) government the power to segregate the entire country by allocating separate areas to the different population groups. Part of this overall plan eventually involved the development of the ten ethnically based (tribal) homelands.

Another part involved designating specific smaller areas (such as townships or Black Spots) where the black population was to reside and work if that was where they were born. Typically, these were on the outskirts of towns, cities and suburbs reserved for whites or were rural areas, often on land that was impoverished and which had limited sustainable agricultural potential. To implement this policy, the act provided for the forced removal and resettlement of black people from areas designated for whites. Since 1948, four million people have been forcibly removed from their homes, with 3.5 million forcibly removed between 1960 and 1983.


People were often given little notice prior to removal and so had little or no time to pack. They were trucked from their homes to remote areas of the country and dumped there. Usually there was no infrastructure in these places – no running water or electricity. People had to establish squatter camps using whatever materials were available. There was no industry and there were no jobs. They had to subsist on the land, which was often totally unsuitable for agriculture. Typically only the women, children and the elderly stayed while the men migrated back to the urban areas seeking employment to support their families. Cheap black labour was used extensively in the mines – gold and diamonds – and used to build the wealth of the country in which blacks had no share. In effect, these policies were a form of social engineering or ethnic cleansing long before we began using these terms.


‘Necklacing’ refers to throwing a rubber tyre over a victim’s neck, dousing it with gasoline and igniting it, thus burning the victim to death. The burning of a body was a sign of contempt for the victim and his/her deeds and no act could convey a deeper sense of hatred and disrespect. It was also used to make an example of the victim and to deter others from similar behaviour.

The practice originated in the Eastern Cape in 1985 when, on 23 March, the police in KwaNobuhle, Uitenhage shot and killed 21 people. The angry residents retaliated by necklacing a staunch community councillor and his three sons, believing they were police informers. Every known home of an informer or policeman was attacked and burned and the term ‘necklacing’ entered into the South African vocabulary. This method of vigilantism distinguished the killing in South Africa from other types of intra-community violence around the world. Initially, necklacing was only used for collaborators or informers. Later, it became synonymous with the phenomenon of intra-community violence, which reached its peak in the early 1990s in the KwaZulu Homeland in Natal where supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) clashed violently with members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

The Policy of Apartheid or Separate Development in South Africa was intended to keep each of the racial groups separate and, in particular, to keep the black tribes from uniting in defence of their collective rights. In effect it became a policy of divide and conquer. As the black violence against the whites escalated in the 1980s, the ruling Nationalist Party formulated a covert policy to instigate and foment violence between one black group and another in order to divert their attacks against the whites and to prevent a united stand by blacks against whites.

The idea of a ‘third force’ was created under the Internal Stability unit in 1991 and this group was chaired by the then Minister of Law and Order, Adriaan Vlok. The ‘third force’ was a separate division of police specifically tasked with public order policing. The focus of the strategy was to arm and train the IFP under Chief Buthelezi of KwaZulu (the homeland of the Zulu tribe) to carry out vigilante attacks on the ANC and the United Democratic Front (UDF). From 1990 to 1994, a total of 14,000 people died from political violence in South Africa, according to the Human Rights Commission (February 1999).

Stompie’s Story

The four figures in Stompie’s Story refer to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela hugging Joyce Seipei, mother of the victim, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings; Katiza Cebekhulu and Stompie Seipei. Notations on clay shards refer to those involved in this event. Blank shards refer to what remains unknown about this tragic affair.

In 1986, after returning to Soweto from banishment by the SA government, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela provided refuge and assistance to disaffected youth. The Mandela United Football Club (MUFC) was formed and its members moved into outbuildings of the Mandela residence; they served as bodyguards to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Allegations of violence by the MUFC surfaced in 1987 and community residents described these actions as a ‘reign of terror’. Between August 1988 and February 1989, the MUFC and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela were implicated, directly or indirectly, in a range of incidents including assaults, abduction, murder and attempted murder of twelve individuals. Ostensibly, these attacks were against suspected informers who were betraying the cause of the war of liberation.

The crisis peaked when, on 29 December 1989, four youths, Stompie Seipei, Pelo Mekgwe, Kenneth Kgase and Thabiso Mono, were abducted from a Methodist Church Youth Shelter by the MUFC and taken to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s residence in Soweto, where they were accused of engaging in sexual relations with Reverend Paul Verryn, who ran the shelter. Stompie Seipei was singled out and accused of being a police informer; all were severely beaten and locked up. ‘In early January, Seipei’s decomposing body was found in a river-bed on the outskirts of Soweto. His body and head were riddled with injuries and he had been stabbed in the neck three times.’ This was stated in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC); see also another article in the debate ‘Sorry! The politics of apology’ on openDemocracy.

At the TRC’s nine-day hearing, 43 witnesses gave evidence. Four versions of Stompie’s killing emerged. ‘The various versions, with the exception of that of Erasmus, all implicate Ms Madikizela-Mandela, either directly or indirectly, in Seipei’s murder or its attempted cover-up. The Commission has not been able to establish conclusively the veracity of any of these versions, including Erasmus’s … Ms Madikizela-Mandela’s testimony before the Commission was characterized by a blanket denial of all allegations against her … It was only … under great pressure from Archbishop Desmond Tutu … that she reluctantly conceded that “things had gone horribly wrong”.’



Many detainees were released, only to be re-detained for an additional 90-day period. This law was replaced on 10 January 1965 with the 180-Day Detention Law. Helen Suzman, sole Progressive Party Member of Parliament, and sole woman member, was the only legislator to vote against the amendment.

Volume II of the TRC’s Final Report indicates that between 1960 and 1990 there were a total of 80,000 detentions-without-trial, of which 10,000 were women and 15,000 children under the age of 18. During the 1985 and 1989 States of Emergency, 48,000 of the 80,000 detainees were under 25 years of age. In the late 1970s, South Africa had one of the highest prison populations in the world, with an average daily prison population of 100,000.

Detainees were subjected to inhumane treatment including interrogation at gunpoint, subjection to electric shocks, tear-gassing in confined spaces. They were kept naked during interrogation; forced to do physical exercise and remain in forced positions while interrogated; brought to the point of suffocation with a wet bag placed over their heads; pressured to sign false documents; accused falsely and threatened with violence; deprived of food and sleep, and inflicted with cigarette burns, beatings and whippings.

Mothers of Ten

Mothers of ten

Mothers of Ten depicts the grieving mothers of ten black youths, aged 14–19 who were killed on 26 June 1986 by the Western Transvaal Security Branch. The suspected activists had been recruited by the Security Branch, supposedly to receive military training. They were then brutally murdered in one of the most notorious cases to appear before the TRC.

The TRC provided counsellors to work with the mothers to help them prepare to testify. They took the mothers to the alleged place where their sons were killed and held a ceremony for burial, although there were no remains.

In testimony to the TRC, Brigadier J. Cronje, who planned the operation, stated: ‘I don’t think I have to say I’m sorry and I’m not going to say it for what I did. I’m sorry for the relatives and the victims, yes, but what I did I’m not sorry about, cause I was doing my job and I thought it was right.’

The victims are believed to be: Abraham Makolane, Sipho Philip Sibanyoni, Jeremiah Magagula, Matthews P Lerutla, Elliot Sathege, Samuel Masilela, Tomas Phiri, Morris Nkabinde, Stephen Makena, and Rooibaard Geldenhuys.

Breaking the Silence

The TRC concluded that ‘…an inestimable number of women who suffered human rights violations in the political context between March 1960 and December 1993 have been unwilling to break their silence which is self-imposed.’

Its research concluded that women see themselves as having secondary status in South African society and black women feel this even more acutely. Society has public and private spheres and the prevailing belief is that ‘what happens in the privacy of the home is a personal affair’. Thus, women are afraid to reveal this side of their lives.

Women’s rights were rarely protected and though they are now protected under South Africa’s new constitution, the enforcement of those protections continues to be a major challenge. Women devalue their experience and do not feel they are important enough to testify about the violations committed against them.

The social stigma associated with the violations against women prevented them from coming forward. Common beliefs included: the victim will be seen to have colluded with their captor; coming forward shows weakness; testifying means selling out the ‘system’; women ‘ask for it anyway’!

For those women who participated in the training camps and who suffered violations at the hands of their comrades, they feel that loyalty to their political party prevents them from testifying and being perceived as an informer. Self-blame, pride, shame and a desire to avoid reliving the trauma also prevented women from testifying.



Ubuntu is an Nguni word describing an African philosophy of life and a guide for social conduct. It looks at the universe as a composite whole, an organic entity. It stresses group solidarity over individualism. Individual rights, needs, entitlements and demands are subordinated to the needs of the community. Communal contentment is the absolute measure of values.

Ubuntu utilises a conciliatory not adversarial dispute resolution process. It focuses on understanding, not vengeance; it seeks reparations not retaliation, and strives for community healing not victimisation. It holds the community responsible for creating the context in which crimes and aberrations take place.

The new South African Constitution gives constitutional status to African customary law by giving Ubuntu legal significance.

To learn more about Madelaine Georgette’s work, visit

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