Fathima Moosa, Gill Straker and Gill Eagle
It is our basic premise that forgiveness is a desirable objective for individuals, as it acts as a catalyst for peace, both personal and interpersonal. It is also our belief that this is not an absolute, and that when individuals or groups find, in good faith, that they are unable to forgive those who have wronged them, their choice not to forgive is no less worthy of respect. For when forgiveness, like peace, is adopted as a line of least resistance, there is premature foreclosure on challenging situations which, if confronted openly and honestly, could serve as a spur to further growth. Our view is based on a recognition of the special complexities of the question of forgiveness in contexts of political trauma.
As our reflections are informed by our work with victims of apartheid-induced trauma and its aftermath, our discussion of forgiveness in relation to political trauma will be based on experiences derived from the South African context. Our observations are informed by the therapeutic work we have engaged in with victims of political violence over approximately two decades. It is also derived from our discussions with four colleagues who have been similarly involved in offering counselling services to victims of political trauma in South Africa. In addition, our conclusions are based on an analysis of the work of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Given the centrality of reconciliation to its functioning, the TRC has become emblematic of the struggles with forgiveness experienced by victims of political trauma. It is germane to present a brief outline of the TRC before proceeding with our analysis of the complexities of forgiveness in contexts of political trauma which it highlighted.