Wednesday, November 07, 2007

the TRC and ubuntu

Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing a lecture by Dr. Piet Meiring on Reconciliation: South Africa and the World. Dr. Meiring was asked by Nelson Mandela to serve on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and has had a long-term commitment to racial reconciliation and to care for the poor. He has been an advisor helping in similar processes in Indonesia, Israel, Palestine, Ireland, Fiji, Rwanda, India and Sri Lanka.

He told many stories of the TRC, stories of grief, pain loss, shame and reconciliation. It seems that the US has historically lost the opportunity to engage in its own TRC since most of the historical players have since died. 40 acres and mule never happened. This in my opinion has left us with many unresolved issues. There has been no truth telling and therefore no reconciliation has happened or is even possible. I do not know the history of my people and the history I do know is not the whole truth, it is a tainted history told in order to cover up the truth and the atrocities committed and the wounds that were made. One phrase Dr. Meiring presented yesterday that are still ringing out of the South African context into ours are as follows. You cannot close the book on Apartheid unless we wrestle with the truth of the book. In our context we have supposedly closed the book on slavery and racism and work hard to keep it closed and never open it again. We think that this is moving on: forgiving and forgetting, but not addressing the truth and the necessary healing memories for the oppressed and the oppressors. After hearing of the healing process of telling the true stories of how some had been sinned against and other have sinned it seems to me that we have inherited a history of untold stories, and not just untold stories but an intentional attempt to not tell the stories, to ignore the stories and live not in the light but in the darkness. What kind of effect does this have on the psyche of our collective souls, the hearts and minds of the oppressors and the oppressed in our country? We live in the dark and deny the truth and thus cannot be set free.

This was further exemplified as last night I watched the movie, In My Country, which is the story of an American reporter (Samuel Jackson) and an Afrikaner reporter (Juliete Binoche) covering the TRC in South Africa. This is a must see film!!! The film portrays the deep anger, bitterness and unresolved issues that Americans have in regards to race. How we are unwilling to let go of our anger and rage and how we have no concept of ubuntu. Ubuntu is a Bantu word and the concept which defines the individual in terms of their relationships with others and community; it is a quality and character that a person has. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “ A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. Ubuntu is solidarity; it is commonality; it is unity; it understands the inherent and integral relationship that you have with the family of God. It is saying that there is no true understanding of myself apart from the person next to me – we are connected, we are fellow citizens, we are family. In th film and in the reality of the US we have not concept of how the history of slavery and racism has wounded hurt and oppressed all of us, not just African Americans but anything that hurts another human being in turn hurts us. Ubuntu is allowing S. African blacks to forgive white Afrikaners and allows white Afrikaners to offer amends and restorative justice for their wrongs because they know that they are all connected to one another and bitterness, unforgiveness will eventually effect them.

Jesus said, “those who live by the truth come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” To walk in the light is to live in the open, honestly, authentically, plainly and transparently. Light and walking in it is about truthfulness with your self, with others and with God. Light is about being exposed and freed from hiding. Darkness is about sneaking around, hiding, shame, fear, and covering up who we really are. May we learn from our South African brothers and sisters to come out of the darkness and into the light of truth.


Anonymous said...

BJ... well said. We know what is and the challenge is to get to what should be ("E plurabus Unum" or "umbuntu"). What next steps do you recommend for getting the process of "opening the book and having it read" on a broad scale on this side of the Atlantic? -rep

Sarah Louise said...

important stuff.

bj woodworth said...

we need to create safe places to come into the light (expressing pain, shame and sin) were the spirit of ubuntu can be agreed upon by majority culture people and minority culture people to allow for reconciliation to begin