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The Road to Reconciliation

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on June 22, 2019 10:54

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Twenty years later there are those who question whether reconciliation is possible in South Africa. At the end of Apartheid, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission sought to find restorative justice, to discover the truth behind smokescreens of propaganda and fake news, and to heal the wounds of hate. Today many wonder if it went far enough.

It was a time of crisis. The Apartheid structures, which for better or worse had been the government for thirty years, were coming down. Threats of reprisals, revenge, defense to the last man were abroad, tensions were high.

Trying for reconciliation


A prominent theologian and critic of Apartheid, Reverend Alan Boesak, claimed that without confrontation, reconciliation was not possible. Opponents jeered, but wiser voices won the day. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu was asked both by outgoing President F W de Klerk and incoming President Nelson Mandela to convene a commission that would investigate, hear testimony, and grant amnesty from prosecution, in an attempt to substitute restorative justice for retribution.

Harrowing testimony. Timeslive/Raymond Preston


At the time many felt that this was not necessary, that the past was better buried, that it is better to forgive and forget. Vivid in my mind: an occasion when Tutu asked a person: “You have testified, you say you are sorry for what you had done. Behind you are the family of the people you have killed. Turn around and face them, tell them you ask their forgiveness.”

Winnie Mandela was called to testify about the death of an activist in her care. AFP


Equally vivid: the stonewalling by witnesses saying they had followed orders, had done what was necessary at the time. Today, thirty years on, Leon Wessels, retired Human Rights Commissioner, remarked that the youth of today do not want to hear the history of South Africa’s democracy. He noted that the drafters of the South African Constitution, himself among them, knew that transition to democracy was not possible unless there was a commitment to reconciliation and national unity.  

Many today do not want to be reminded of the past and look at present injustices, sometimes overlooking the historic causes, sometimes seeking retribution or restitution. Wessels is of the opinion that without understanding the past, we cannot have a future. But politicians who politicize every opportunity for gain make the building of a shared future difficult.

Apartheid Assasin's testimony dismayed Government Ministers. Zapiro.com


Maria Paula Unigarro Alba’s recent article on finding reconciliation in Colombia, a country I know little about, interested me. But I do see similarities with my own experience in South Africa. What is needed is some way of presenting the differing perceptions, histories, viewpoints, by confronting the contradictions of society in a framework that has the credibility and stature to create a common vision of the future.

Mduduzi Mbiza, a young South African thinker, writes: “The art of mending is living past the past, it’s accepting things as they were with the hope that they will become what we wish them to be. The art of mending is not even about the present, it’s about the future. It’s not about what we are but what we may be.”

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on June 22, 2019 10:54

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Source: KOB 4

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