Last week I
had the privilege to facilitate a conversation for a group that recently
visited the Apartheid Museum.
Together we explored the stories we were told of why Apartheid happened,
the narratives that provided plausibility structures to the gross separation in
into smaller groups and then gathered for feedback. What happened next has stayed with me for the last few
days. The group voiced that they
didn’t want to talk about this topic anymore – it was too painful for a few of
the women present. Through an
interpreter one particular woman explained that under Apartheid she lost both
her parents and that her brother was hung and flogged.
As she shared
her story of a deeply traumatic past tears streamed down her cheeks. It was one of those holy moments. We sat in silence with her. Eventually
we had to voice something and we explored how her story made the rest of us
last few weeks the media has been full of explorations of forgiveness. What does forgiveness mean in our
discussion, as I posted last week, was launched by prof. Jansen’s forgiveness
of the Reitz 4. As I said in that
post, I think it is essential for whites to focus on the other side of
forgiveness – we have to explore white repentance.
remembering Apartheid dare whites continually focus on how the blacks should
forgive? Isn’t this a clever way
of manoeuvring the conversation away from our responsibility (as whites) to live
repentant lives in South Africa?
multiracial group we have a saying that when you share, you have to “go direct
to the city and not via Emmerentia”.
It is a way of urging people to keep their talking concise – like taking
a taxi directly to Johannesburg.
If someone talks too long, they take a taxi via the Emmerentia
in our South African context has to go via Emmerentia – to use the
metaphor. It is a journey through
the detours of our South African past, through the roads of white repentance
and black forgiveness (and dare I say black repentance and white forgiveness).
Last week I
attended a bi-weekly leadership meeting where Anathi, Thabo and Kutloano
explained to me why forgiveness is hard for black South Africans. I will mention three of the reasons.
is hard because many churches have taught people that to “forgive is to
forget”. When forgiveness comes up
in our South African context, it sounds like a movement towards
forgetting. It sounds like a
wiping away of the oppressive past, a form of amnesia.
is hard because many blacks have experienced a ‘shallow repentance’ from white
people. When whites want
forgiveness they say sorry with their lips but not with their lives. A few black friends of mine have gone
through the pain of a white person extracting forgiveness from them and after
they have received the pardon, the white person disengages with the black
person. As a newly-
forgiven-white-person they continue in a whites-only privileged life. Blacks
become forgiveness ATM’s.
is hard because many blacks conflate forgiveness, reconciliation and justice
into the word FORGIVENESS. So when
there is talk of forgiveness but no change in physical circumstances a deep
resentment and suspicion arise.
This is epitomized by one of my friends who commented that, “the white
man came to our country, taught us Christianity, took our land and then told us
to forgive – and they still have the land!”
aftermath of Jonathan Jansen’s speech and pardon last week, this sentiment was
described by the Young Independent Democrats (YID). They stated that,
"Why is it that black
South Africans are always under more pressure to forgive than whites are to
show remorse and ask for that forgiveness?"
That is a wonderful
question to explore – tomorrow I want to explore some of the ways in which “whites
are to show remorse”
PS> Cobus also posted some thoughts on this here.