By Marew Abebe Salemot, IJR 2021 PAREN Fellow

Marew Abebe Salemot

Marew Abebe Salemot is a Lecturer at the Debark University in Ethiopia. He teaches Political Science, Federalism and Election Courses. Marew is one of the co-founders of the Ethiopian National Media Support, a civil society organisation based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Reconciliation commissions have been established to address past injustices and gross human rights violations and to create a conducive environment for societies to transition towards more inclusive and peaceful societies. Since such institutions are by their very nature temporal bodies and can cease to function after a fixed period of time irrespective of whether the democratic transitions have been consolidated. How can the effectiveness of such bodies be measured in the post-commission period?

The Institute of Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) was established, among other things, to respond to this challenge. The South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) is a public opinion survey conducted by the IJR every two years. Since its launch in 2003, the SARB has provided a nationally representative measure of citizens’ attitudes to national reconciliation, social cohesion, transformation and democratic governance.

However, the origins of the SARB has to be located to the proceedings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which today is regarded as one of the best models of a reconciliation commissions, that has been operationalised in what can only be described as probably the most significant transitions of the twentieth century, from apartheid to inclusive democracy. More than a quarter of a century after the South African TRC was convened, there are issues worth investigating and researching as the country continues on its journey towards sustainable reconciliation and an improvement in the lives of its peoples.

The AUTJP states that “it is imperative that national and local actors take the lead in planning, implementing, monitoring, evaluating and reporting on lessons learned in all phases of the implementation” of the Policy. The AUTJP also envisages a technical role for civil society and think-tank actors to “support the production of relevant research and studies” through processes that systematically “collect best practices and facilitate the sharing of such best practices with societies contemplating or pursuing transitional justice processes.” Along these lines, the SARB monitors public perceptions relating to the about reconciliation processes and if there are any missing issues to be addressed. The South African Reconciliation Barometer is the only survey dedicated to the critical measurement of reconciliation and the broader processes of social cohesion and is the largest longitudinal data source of its kind globally. Methodologically, through its South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) Survey, the project collects reliable and accurate public opinion data through a nationally representative public opinion survey that measures public feeling towards national reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa. The survey uses both the quantitative methods to quantify the public opinion on the reconciliation and the qualitative debates across the content in relation to reconciliation in South Africa. The South African Reconciliation Barometer, thus, finds basic areas that may lack the reconciliation and peace process and recommends policy guidelines for further interventions. The survey makes use of indicators to learn public opinion on reconciliation in South Africa. Questions include economic access, social access, cultural access, spatial access, political community, political efficacy, rule of law, confidence in democratic institutions, acknowledge the injustice of apartheid, acknowledge the legacy of apartheid, support for redress and transformation, willingness to walk in someone else’s shoes, willingness to tolerate, willingness to confront racism, formal opportunities to engage, spontaneous opportunities to engage, meaning of reconciliation, perceived improvement in reconciliation, material change, psychological change, hope for the future.

In this regard, the IJR SARB is already responding to the appeal by the AUTJP for think tanks and civil society actors to take on a leading role in monitoring and documenting the efficacy of transitional justice processes in countries. The SARB also serves as an important model for other African countries to adopt and modify to suit the own national conditions. Public perception surveys in the aftermath of the work of reconciliation commissions, can provide an important window into the degree of affection or disaffection during the post-commission period.