The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

38 MARCH 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The hearing I vividly remember was held in Paarl, in the Cape Town region, in the heart of the wine country. This beautiful, idyllic part of South Africa had been the locale for terrible, heinous crimes during the apartheid era. I took Assistant Secretary [for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor] John Shattuck to attend one of the 26 hearings. … Susan Rice [then National Security Council senior director for Africa] also accompanied him to this hearing. The hearing was at a local school. They had the stage in the auditorium surrounded by flowers. The families of the victims and the perpetrators were seated in separate sections of the hall. The process allowed the accused to present themselves to apologize and express their contrition for what they had done and ask for reconciliation and amnesty. Translators were present to manage the five major languages of South Africa, and the hearing used simultaneous translations. Psychologists were on the scene to deal with the anticipated emotional breakdown of the accused and/or the victims’ families during and after the testimony. … Obviously, heavy security was in place. It was a surreal setting. Archbishop Tutu chaired the hearing. This was a case where a young Black man had disappeared in Paarl region, and his family wanted to know what had happened to him in the 1980s. He had gone out drinking with his friends in a bar. He never came home— he had disappeared 10 years ago. The local police commander of the squadron that killed him came forward to testify and admit to his guilt. Turns out that the young man that they killed was not an anti-apartheid activist. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time in that bar. They killed him and buried his body by the river. The policeman pointed out where the body was so that his remains could be recovered. The man’s widow was there with his children. A tragedy, one of hundreds of thousands that occurred during the apartheid era. In the second case, the accused were ANC [African National Congress] cadre that had kidnapped an Afrikaans policeman, then tortured and killed him. After that they tossed the body in a pit, never to be recovered. These men came forward and testified and described the events of that night. They asked for amnesty, and of course the victim’s family was present in the hall. We took a break after two hours of these heavy-duty emotions. We went to a break room to join Archbishop Tutu and the rest of his commission for coffee. … The archbishop was just crying, due to the emotional toll that this had taken on him. But he also said that these were also tears not just of sorrow but of joy, because people were confronting their demons in a way that could improve the greater society. It was just one of the most emotional, heart-wrenching days that I had ever experienced, and I believe that it was the same for most of us in that school that day. No country has been able to replicate the TRC’s process with the effectiveness of the South African authorities. … President [Nelson] Mandela … was an extraordinary leader and certainly a unique figure in the 20th century, someone who had achieved the impossible in many ways, a feat that most human beings are incapable of doing, which is to set aside anger and hate and disappointment and suffering. To have the courage and determination to ignore such powerful human feelings and look to the future in a positive manner. To set forth on the path to reconcile a diverse nation that had lived through the injustice, pain, and tragedy of the apartheid era. To give hope and democratic governance as a platform for a historic transformation the likes of which the world had never seen. Very, very few people in humankind’s history have ever been able to accomplish such monumental things. 2004 Disaster Assistance After the Indian Ocean Tsunami After serving as ambassador to Malaysia, Marie Therese Huhtala returned to Washington as the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs deputy assistant secretary covering Southeast Asia. Just months into the job, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami hit, wiping parts of the territory off the map. Ambassador Huhtala shifted full time to coordinating U.S. emergency assistance to the devastated region. For a U.S. Embassy Jakarta account of coordinating civil-military rescue efforts in Aceh, see also Ambassador Lynn Pascoe’s forthcoming book in ADST’s Diplomats and Archbishop [Tutu] was just crying, due to the emotional toll that this had taken on him. But he also said that these were also tears not just of sorrow but of joy because people were confronting their demons in a way that could improve the greater society. —Aaron Williams