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.
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.