Apartheid's survivors work toward healing: individuals need reconciliation.
Trudy Govier Philosopher
EVERY South African has a story to tell about the apartheid years. It is the story of what we did, what was done to us, and what we failed to do." So reads a brochure describing reconciliation workshops offered by the Institute for the Healing of Memories, in Cape Town Cape Town or Capetown, city (1991 pop. 854,616), legislative capital of South Africa and capital of Western Cape, a port on the Atlantic Ocean. It was the capital of Cape Province before that province's subdivision in 1994. , South Africa South Africa, Afrikaans Suid-Afrika, officially Republic of South Africa, republic (2005 est. pop. 44,344,000), 471,442 sq mi (1,221,037 sq km), S Africa. .
Father Michael Lapsley Father Michael Allan Lapsley SSM (born 2 June 1949) is an South African Anglican priest and social activist. He was born in New Zealand and in the early 1970s trained as an Anglican priest in Australia before coming to South Africa in 1973. and his skilled facilitators work to bring reconciliation processes to South Africa's still divided racial groups. Having lost both hands and an eye to a letter bomb, Father Lapsley, himself a victim of the struggle against apartheid, is in a special position to make reconciliation meaningful.
On May 26 -- 28 of this year, I was permitted to participate in one of Father Lapsley's workshops. South African participants were male and female, young and middle-aged, and -- most significantly here -- black, coloured, and white (both English and Afrikaner). Two graduate student researchers from Germany and the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. were also present.
Held in a Catholic retreat centre, the workshop began Friday evening with introductions and a dramatization dram·a·ti·za·tion
1. The act or art of dramatizing: the dramatization of a novel.
2. A work adapted for dramatic presentation: of some horrors of the apartheid era. Police with guns were depicted in a township. A mother wailed for her child killed in a demonstration. A `Boer' army marched to defend the country against communists and terrorists. An Afrikaner mother showed horror at what her drafted son had become.
On Saturday morning, art provided the starting point Noun 1. starting point - earliest limiting point
terminus a quo
commencement, get-go, offset, outset, showtime, starting time, beginning, start, kickoff, first - the time at which something is supposed to begin; "they got an early start"; "she knew from the for telling our stories. I drew Calgary's Nose Hill Park Nose Hill Park, one of the largest municipal parks in Canada and North America, is located in the northwest quadrant of Calgary, Alberta. It is a natural environment park, commonly regarded as a retreat from city life and a place to enjoy nature. , showing the hill covered with buffalo as it would have been when aboriginal people owned the land. I talked about Canada's failures with regard to First Nations peoples The following is a list of First Nations peoples organized by Indigenous geographic area. This list does not include Metis or Canadian Inuit groups. The areas used here are in accordance to those used by the Canadian Museum of Civilization  , and the tragic anomaly of these failures, given our national pride in our tolerance and multiculturalism.
I told the story of my own greatest life tragedy, losing custody of my first son after repeated abductions by his father. Other art showed guns, jails, children, the climbing of mountains to face the past -- and leafy suburbs where white people had led comfortable, but guilt-ridden, lives.
We broke into smaller groups to tell our stories. In my group were three men (Afrikaner, black, and coloured) and four women (white and black). Supporting each other with attention and sympathy, tears, warm arms, and hugs, we shared stories of loss, terror, suffering, confusion, guilt -- but also solidarity, generosity, and love.
A common theme was that of being separated from others and still burdened by the past. Several stories were of jail, torture, beatings, and loss. A white woman expressed intense love for her `second mother' who was black; another was agonized ag·o·nize
v. ag·o·nized, ag·o·niz·ing, ag·o·niz·es
1. To suffer extreme pain or great anguish.
2. To make a great effort; struggle.
v.tr. by family loss and guilt about the horrors her community had condoned.
It was through my friend and colleague Wilhelm Verwoerd that I had come to this workshop. Wilhelm's grandfather, Hendrik Verwoerd Noun 1. Hendrik Verwoerd - South African statesman who instituted the policy of apartheid (1901-1966)
Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, Verwoerd , is known as the architect of South African apartheid. One of the ways Wilhelm has sought to contribute to reconciliation is by telling his own moving stow, based on personal struggles with his family history.
Charting feelings that emerged from the small groups, Father Lapsley mentioned revenge, hatred, anger, rage, helplessness, hopelessness, isolation, guilt, and unwarranted privilege. But there were also compassion, sympathy and empathy. A common theme was the hope that people could work to overcome negative feelings and support each other in bridges of friendships built across racial divides.
After a day of intense telling and listening, we were more than ready for the evening party. From casual chat and friendly mingling, it moved to African religious songs, line dancing line dancing
a form of dancing performed by rows of people to country and western music , Afrikaaner folk dancing. The climax was lessons in toyi-toying -- the protest run characteristic of black demonstrations during the struggle. In South Africa, all this was a striking achievement in sharing across cultures.
Sunday's work began with making clay peace symbols. We then designed and conducted a creatively designed liturgical ceremony, where names of negative feelings, written on scraps of paper, were burned. There were repeated hugs, as participants planned a reunion, established a buddy system buddy system
An arrangement in which persons are paired, as for mutual safety or assistance.
Noun 1. buddy system , and vowed to keep in touch. As a foreigner, I couldn't hope to participate in this phase.
South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was designed to work toward national reconciliation and it had a tremendous impact on national and international politics. But reconciliation must also be within the feelings and lives of individuals -- and therein lies the value of these workshops.