How Mandela tried to heal the wounds of apartheid

After Mandela came to power, he set up a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission," which gave perpetrators of brutal acts under apartheid the opportunity for amnesty

Warning: The video above contains graphic descriptions of torture and killings. 

When we asked veteran 60 Minutes producer Michael Gavshon to choose the story that most embodies the spirit of the late Nelson Mandela, he chose a piece from 1997 called “Forgive But Not Forget.” It isn’t a profile of Mandela; in fact, Mandela wasn’t even interviewed for the piece. This story is all about how Mandela tried to heal the wounds of apartheid.

Anyone who expected retribution and war-crime trials from South Africa’s post-apartheid government was probably disappointed. Instead of chasing down those who tortured and murdered in the name of  apartheid, Mandela’s government set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The revolutionary concept behind it? Forgiveness. 

Here's how it worked:  Victims told their stories of atrocities. Then, the perpetrators got a chance to own up to their crimes, and by doing so, became eligible for amnesty. All they had to do was tell the truth. No apologies, no remorse, and no justice. It was controversial at the time, and to Gavshon—a native South African—it was one of the most memorable stories of his career.

“One of the most chilling moments in this story was when a South African security police captain described how he had tortured a young activist and then killed him and then sat around a fire having a barbecue while they literally roasted this activist and destroyed the evidence. The farm was not far from where I grew up,” says Gavshon.

“Sitting there, watching him casually talking about how he had sat around drinking beer and watched as this man was burnt to smithereens was absolutely extraordinary. The casualness of his voice-- it was as if it was just another day at the office.”

In the above video, part of 60 Minutes Overtime’s “Producer Favorite” series, you’ll hear a short introduction by Michael Gavshon, followed by the full 1997 story “Forgive But Not Forget.” It’s a riveting account of the horrors of the apartheid regime—and a reminder of how Mandela tried to move the country beyond its troubled past.