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  • Author or Editor: Dee Smythe x
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Critical Writings on Apology from South Africa
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Recently, there has been a global resurgence of demands for the acknowledgement of historical and contemporary wrongs, as well as for apologies and reparation for harms suffered.

Drawing on the histories of injustice, dispossession and violence in South Africa, this book examines the cultural, political and legal role and value of an apology. It examines the multiple ways in which ‘sorry’ is instituted, articulated and performed, and critically analyses its various forms and functions in both historical and contemporary moments. Bringing together an interdisciplinary team of contributors, the book’s analysis offers insights which will be invaluable to global debates on the struggle for justice.

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This chapter situates the book within broader debates and literatures around apology, drawing out its context and relevance for a broader audience. It outlines the contributions made by each chapter and links them to one another by way of a number of critical themes around which meanings of apology are made, unmade, settled and unsettled. The chapter establishes the book’s resonance with contemporary demands for both reckoning and remedy in the face of legacies of colonialism and other enduring injustices, and the place of apology therein and, ultimately, in the possibility for reparative reconciliation. Traversing treatments of apology in law and alongside truth and justice, the chapter locates its meanings and effects within the prism of power. In doing so, it interrogates the value of the apology as constitutive of structures and articulations of power, drawing attention not only to what apology says, but also what it does. In exploring transformative potential, the chapter calls for a departure from a zero-sum reading of apology as either all or nothing, seeking instead to interrogate its value in exposing how structure, system, agency and context all mediate its transformative (im)possibilities.

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Research points to a profound disconnect between victim conceptions of justice and the remedies offered by the criminal justice system. Where more restorative approaches are considered in the context of sexual offences, reservations have been raised by scholars and activists about their appropriateness to the seriousness of the crime and the context of unequal gendered power relations in which these violations occur. The lack of solutions for repairing harms caused by sexual violence and providing meaningful recourse for victims demands that serious attention is paid to the outcomes and the forms of justice sought by victims themselves. Apologies are known to be useful and important in the realm of harm-reduction, and to hold meaning and power for victims. Compensation can also play an important role in assisting victims to recover pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses. Because compensation, both as an end in itself and conceptualised in terms of apology, has meaning to victims of sexual violence, this paper suggests that it should be more intentionally included as a method of remediating harm for victims of sexual violence within the South African criminal justice system.

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