Facing the Truth
with Bill Moyers
Produced and Directed by Gail Pellett
Co-writers: Bill Moyers and Gail Pellett
Production Company: Public Affairs Television
Presented by: WNET- Thirteen
Aired on: PBS     Date: March 30, 1999

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chairman, South Africa's TRC

With the dismantling of the yoke of apartheid in 1994, South Africa had to come to terms with its oppressive past:  recrimination, trials and punishment or…something else, a different type of justice. Restorative justice and forgiveness were offered as a possibility if perpetrators of human rights crimes would come forward and tell the truth about their crimes.  This documentary reports some of the stories told at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.  It also includes interviews with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, apartheid victims, former officers of state security, freedom fighters, journalists, and eyewitnesses revealing the difficulties of mending a nation bitterly divided by race, economic inequality and oppression.

Hailed worldwide as a model for airing gross violations of human rights without resorting to Nuremburg-style trials, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was seen by many in South Africa as a means of healing the wounds of history. “We needed to acknowledge that we had a horrendous past,” said the TRC chairman, Desmond Tutu. “We needed to look the beast in the eye, so that the past wouldn’t hold us hostage anymore.”

Credits:  Editor:  Vanessa Procopio;  Cinematography:  Robert Shepard;  Field Producer:  Mandy Jacobson

Moyers interviews Justice,Albi Sachs, victim of Apartheid government clandestine bomb

Breaking News

This was a profoundly painful production. To come face to face with the evils committed during apartheid -- the human capacity and imagination for inflicting violence and pain -- was overwhelming at times. Endless screening of horrifying photographs and images, listening to the stories of torture and suffering has an effect on journalists, producers, and editors as it had an effect on all of those who worked and translated for the TRC. In recent years, a critical discourse has evolved around the arguments for documenting violent human rights crimes -- are we promoting a pornography of violence? Similar questions are being raised about the emphasis on remembering vs forgetting, on truth commissions vs. justice in the courts. There are no easy or simple answers to these queries. Hopefully this documentary will remain part of that discourse for a very long time.

"wrenching television. In interviews with the black victims of white repression, Mr.Moyers inquires into the limits of forgiveness and the lure of forgetfulness, while his encounters with the former tormenters leave bitter questions of individual responsibility and punishment."
This sort of television is also an art, more expansive and compelling than any article of book.
Facing the Truth...really is must-see TV. This supremely fair-minded two-hour documentary about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings...will open the eyes and stir the conscience. It is the best kind of investigative television journalism.
The wrenching stories -- many told with tears, some with dry-eyed stoicism -- are at the heart of this program...Some of the interviews are so stunning that American audiences at advance screenings of the documentary file out silently afterward...

2 Responses to “Facing the Truth”

  1. gary van wyk says:

    This was such a compelling project. A pornography of violence? No, that is hyperbole: violence is the crime, not reporting and witnessing it. Who can call the evidence pornographic but those who are aroused by it erotically instead of ethically. Justice in the courts versus forgiveness via confession, for me I’d rather see the bastards incarcerated to contemplate their crimes, but if that cannot be let them at least point out where the bodies lie and shed some tears, crocodile or salt.

  2. ingrid says:

    This is an extremely important historical documentary about an era which for new generations of students should have renewed relevance. When I asked my 20-year olds last year what they knew about Apartheid, there was silence, it is apparently not a subject taught in European high schools. Next time, I will ask them to see the documentary.

Leave a Comment