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Reconciliation: South Africa's greatest export?

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During the anguished years of apartheid, Dumisa Ntsebeza was detained more times than he can remember. He wrings his massive hands as he recalls the various assassination attempts on his life and violent acts against other South Africans, including the gunning down of his eight-year-old cousin by South African security police.

Despite his painful experiences, Mr. Ntsebeza isn't vengeful. "I don't have the capacity to hate," the former anti-apartheid activist says.

Ntsebeza, who served as chief investigator for South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has become an eloquent spokesman urging reconciliation and forgiveness in war-torn parts of Africa. But as Burundi's warring ethnic groups stumble toward a proposed peace agreement, it is uncertain whether Ntsebeza's and South Africa's example of healing will be followed by neighbors on the continent.

On Monday, President Clinton is scheduled to join peace mediator Nelson Mandela in Arusha, Tanzania, to witness the signing of a truce to end Burundi's gruesome civil war between Hutus and Tutsis. Tensions have risen, however, as the deadline for a peace agreement approaches, casting doubt on whether the accord will be signed.

When the fighting in Burundi stops, Ntsebeza believes that the devastated nation should use South Africa's TRC as a model to begin healing rifts in a peaceful way. "No experience of any one country can be exported to any other country, but there is something to be said for South Africa" and its relatively peaceful transition, Ntsebeza says.

True, agrees Pearl Robinson, an Africa expert at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., but the problem is that those negotiating a truce in Burundi are not Burundians. "In Burundi," Dr. Robinson notes, "they are attempting to take a model that worked in South Africa and use external actors as the primary people who are trying to make that model a fit."


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