South Africa's Brutal Truth

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Assassination, torture, kidnapping and execution were tools of law enforcement in apartheid South Africa -- that much is clear from the 3,500-page true-life horror story released by the Truth Commission Thursday. Its exhaustive accounts, from perpetrators and victims, of almost every apartheid-era violation is a gut-wrenching chronicle of evil's violent banality. Little will change as a result of the report; even the recommendation of prosecution for those who failed to seek amnesty for specific violations -- such as former president P.W. Botha and former first lady Winnie Mandela -- is unlikely to be deemed politically or legally expedient. But its impact shouldn't be underestimated: "Everybody knew the process would be imperfect," says TIME South Africa correspondent Peter Hawthorne. "But the impact of revealing the dark secrets of the past has been profound -- nobody in South Africa has been unaffected by the evidence heard at the commission."

There may be something deeply unsatisfying about killers' being granted amnesty in exchange for full disclosure, but, says Hawthorne, "the Truth Commission has helped the country move on, to focus on the future without pretending to forget the past." Because while the criminals have not been punished, they have certainly been shamed.