From 1948 to 1994, South Africa was under apartheid rule which means that the legal system prescribed racist segregation. The rights of especially the black majority were seriously curtailed e.g. they did not have the right to vote and they were stripped of their citizenship. Blacks were forced to live in so-called Homelands and in townships.
When, in 1994, apartheid was finally abolished, the new government of Nelson Mandela set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC had many prominent members, among them its chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a well-known opponent of apartheid and holder of the Nobel Peace Prize 1984. The TRC was a court-like body where witnesses and victims of human rights violation under the apartheid regime could give statement about their experiences in the period 21 March 1960 to 10 May 1994. In turn, perpetrators of abductions, killings, torture, and severe ill treatment could give testimony of their crimes and, by this, request amnesty from both civil and criminal persecution.
The commission was successful in revealing many human rights violations committed by the apartheid government, but also by the liberation forces including the (now ruling party) African National Congress (ANC), and other forces. On 28 October 1998 the Commission presented its final report, which condemned both sides for committing atrocities. Out of 7,112 petitioners a total of 5,392 people were refused and 849 were granted amnesty.
Because of the perceived success of the truth-finding approach, other countries installed similar institutions according to the South African model. Nevertheless, the TRC also got some criticism regarding its reconciliation goals.