Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Lessons in Creating Ubuntu

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Lessons in Creating Ubuntu

Article excerpt

LESSONS IN CREATING UBUNTU

Conversations in Transition: Leading South African Voices, by Charles Villa-Vicencio and Mills Soko. David Philip Publishers.

CONVERSATIONS IN TRANSITION is a veritable graduate course in what South Africans call ubuntu, or good neighborliness.

Charles Villa-Vicencio and Mills Soko present 23 narratives of both well-known and unsung heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle. These narratives are filled with instructive words of wisdom for seekers of peace with justice in countries emerging from post-tyranny chaos and in long-estab- lished democracies alike. Historians and activists will find hope in the stories of South Africa's courageous, diverse citizens, as well as prophetic insights and warnings as the subjects address post-apartheid violence and oppression in a country still on the edge.

My own experiences lead me to an unqualified endorsement of this invaluable compendium. Over several decades I have pondered repeatedly two particular conver- sations, one with a Jew in Israel and the other with a Muslim from Cape Town.

An effort was made to introduce the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process into the Israel-Palestine con- flict. At the end of an evening with South African officials and members of the Israeli and Palestinian communities, the director of a Jewish study center in West Jerusalem, Benjamin Pogrund, shared a revealing com- ment. He said, "TRC will never work here because Israelis do not have the theological and philosophical understanding of for- giveness and reconciliation that Muslims, Christians, and Jews shared in South Africa

in order to bring unity and liberation with- out major conflict."

The second encounter was with Rashied Omar, then an imam of a major Cape Town mosque, now a Notre Dame professor. While he was on a visit to the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, I asked him why he spent so much time with Christians when so many Christians show little under- standing and even abuse Muslims. He responded, "That is a joy to answer. We have marched and worked together [in South Africa] for the end of apartheid. We have been shot, arrested, imprisoned together, and we have read each other's holy books and prayed with one another. You can preach in my mosque any time you wish. You will always be welcome."

Omar gave witness to ubuntu in his con- text; Pogrund acknowledged the absence of it in his. …

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