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Faith, Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

July 15th, 2011

by Chané Ramadahya, South Africa

In response to a lecture by Valérie Rosoux

In our continued search for the global resolution of conflict, we have fortunately progressed from seeking solutions that are universally applicable to acknowledging that one size does not fit all, with ‘context’ being the buzzword of the century.

Over the course of the last three weeks of the symposium, it has become my sincerest wish for all the conflict stricken pockets of our world to enjoy the joy of transformation that was experienced in my own country, South Africa. I idealistically entertained a notion that an intimate examination of the dawn of the new South Africa could take us one step closer to ‘world peace’. I wanted to believe that what was possible for South Africa would be possible elsewhere. In truth however, the path to peace is like a recipe, those who stick to measurements may never get the taste quite right, but those who cook with passion and are sometimes brave enough to try something new may just create a delicacy!

There are some clear factors that contributed to South Africa’s transformation: individual experiences, a population’s expectations of the process and strong leadership (Rosoux). South Africa certainly had a strong, credible leader; and what the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process reveals is that victim needs were neither static, consistent or constant. They were complex and changed over time, very much in keeping with complex human identity, shaped by the enduring and complex impact of trauma”. The mechanism of the TRC particularly appealed to the religious nature of our society by promoting and attempting to facilitate ‘forgiveness’. As such faith became instrumental in the rebirth of the country.

In world history there have been at least twenty-four wars waged in the 20th century with a religious dimension, nevertheless religious organizations, as a rich source of peace service, can function as a powerful warrant for social tolerance, for democratic pluralism, and for constructive conflict-management. They are peace-builders and peacemakers (Reychler). In fact in 1996 during the TRC, 95% of the South African population indicated their affiliation with some religious group. Was it wrong for the TRC to monopolize the dynamic of its society? Have we not learned over the past three weeks of this year’s symposium to use the information we have about another party at the table to reach an agreement? We do so with the danger of putting a band-aid on a wound that would heal better if it were simply allowed to dry out. We do a great disservice to the victims who together, with the pain of loss and trauma, are forced to forgive perpetrators even when they are not truly resentful of their actions.

I would suggest that in South Africa the proof is in the pudding. We live in a society with a contentious history and truth and painful memories. Budding through the cracks is a youth that is not consumed by hatred and revenge. They are nurtured by the rays of cultural sensitivity, watered by the celebration of our differences, and pollinated by promotion of dialogue to face our current challenges that sometimes find their roots in our past sketchy past.

In light of South Africa’s successes, it is largely disappointing to me to admit that we cannot take our approach and paste it over the conflicts of other regions. I further realize that we may learn more from our failures than our successes. Perhaps peace is really a dance with destiny that some achieve and others don’t purely because of a set of unique conditions that are impossible to reproduce but that exist intrinsically in the fabric of a society. This does not excuse inaction, and as peacemakers we make it our aim to deal with those uncertainties and hope that our choices and actions each day will make a difference. As South Africans, we need courage to look the monster of apartheid squarely in the eyes, stare him down, and search the abyss beyond him for a collective hope. To that end we remain faithful.

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