Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Miracle or Model?

By Lyn S. Graybill | Go to book overview

4
Forgiving the Unforgivable

As Desmond Tutu envisioned the working of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), perpetrators would confess their sins and victims would offer their forgiveness. But many criticized the very framing of the issues in terms of repentance and forgiveness, which they saw as uniquely Christian concepts and thus alienating to South Africans who did not come from this faith perspective. One academic at a conference in Cape Town in July 1996 expressed horror at Bishop Tutu’s thanking a mother for her “sacrifice” of her husband to the cause.1 Not only academics but some victims as well have complained about “the imposition of a Christian morality of forgiveness.”2 One letter to the weekly newspaper Mail & Guardian expressed this common complaint: “I understand how Desmond Tutu identifies reconciliation with forgiveness. I don’t, because I’m not a Christian and I think it grossly immoral to forgive that which is unforgivable.”3

Ideally, perpetrators were expected to repent for their sins and victims to offer forgiveness, leading to reconciliation between individuals and ultimately for the nation at large. Tutu encouraged this process when he invited perpetrators to say they were sorry. He implored perpetrators to publicly apologize and accept the forgiveness that he believed would be forthcoming from their victims. In a Cape Town speech given in May 1977, Tutu urged political leaders to make pilgrimages to the sites of atrocities committed by their supporters and to apologize to the victims. He suggested that President Nelson Mandela go to Church Street in Pretoria, where a car bomb was exploded outside air force headquarters, on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC); that F. W. de Klerk

-39-

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Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Miracle or Model?
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa - Miracle or Model? iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1: Setting Up the Trc 1
  • 2: Nelson Mandela: Pragmatic Reconciler 11
  • 3: Tutu’s Theology of Reconciliation 25
  • 4: Forgiving the Unforgivable 39
  • 5: Amnesty: A Controversial Compromise 57
  • 6: Storytelling 81
  • 7: Women’s Testimony Before the Trc 97
  • 8: Innocent Bystanders? 113
  • 9: Media Hearings 125
  • 10: Wounded Healers: the Churches Respond 133
  • 11: The Rest of the Story 145
  • 12: A Workable Model? 163
  • 13: Afterword: Miracle or Evil Compromise? 177
  • Chronology 181
  • Glossary 187
  • Acronyms 189
  • Bibliography 193
  • Index 219
  • About the Book 231
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