Juxtapositions in Justice

What is justice?

Unfortunately, as individuals confined to the present, we cannot erase the atrocities of the past.  Whether it be in the de facto segregation within Stellenbosch or the de jure economic realities that still haunt the majority of black and coloured South African communities, the ramifications of apartheid are omnipresent.  I have been particularly interested in how South Africans, as individuals, face their own historical injustices.

There is an intriguing age gap in perspectives.

Many of the “born free” generation of South Africans, people who were raised after the apartheid government had been dissolved, are dissatisfied with democracy and the present-day situation.  I was surprised to learn that most of the “born free” generation considers both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a government body chaired by Desmond Tutu that dealt with human rights violation through forgiveness and amnesty, and former President Nelson Mandela, to have failed them.  For many of the “born free”, justice is rooted in change within their own communities and restitution (the reclamation of stolen lands during the apartheid era).  Restitution is very bureaucratic process that has gained international attention after the controversial amendment to Section 25 of South Africa’s Constitution allowing the expropriation of white land without any compensation.  Uma Mesthrie, a professor at the University of the Western Cape and scholar on restitution, defended the amendment and argued that the South African government should not pay historical oppressors vast sums of money for land that they had originally stripped away from black South Africans in areas like District Six.  To many of the “born free” justice will not be served until they get their lands back and opportunity is equalized throughout South Africa.  For them, injustice was not settled by the election of Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) in 1994.  In contrast, many older South Africans have different interpretations of the past and views on justice.

One of the tour guides I met was Ricky Marais.   Ricky lived through apartheid as a coloured person and was subjected to dog attacks, beatings, and multiple arrests.  Despite many instances of oppression, Ricky revealed to me that he finds justice by moving on: “I will not be chained by the past.  Life can be wonderful if you choose to see it that way.”  The juxtaposition between Ricky’s views of justice with that of the “born free” generation is an interesting and important contrast.  Ultimately, the only individuals who can dictate where they find their own form of justice are those who were degraded in the first place.  Whether the route to justice is through a conversation or the reclamation of land, South Africa will never be able to move on until affected individuals have their injustices addressed.  One day, I hope each South African can come to terms with their own form of justice and finally find peace that they so deserve.  Until then, the nation will continue grappling with its past and the struggle of finding justice.


Nick Pernas is a rising sophomore at Emory’s Oxford College where he studies Political Science, History, and Religion.  Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Nick is an avid Trail Blazers fan and enjoys listening to a combination of hip-hop, soul, afro-funk, and reggae in his spare time. 

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