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Overcoming hurt and hate in South Africa.

Hurt and hate--two forces driving much of mankind into destructive reaction. South Africa has its share of both.

But are some hurts and hates too deep to overcome? Many tend to believe so. To forgive when forgiveness seems folly and to accept healing when vengeance seems infinitely sweeter are rare qualities that need to be nurtured.

How to do this was one of the issues explored at a fourday conference held in Bloemfontein, a city in the heart of South Africa, over Easter. About 300 people from all five continents attended. The twin themes of the conference were `Healing the past: building the future'.

The conference took place just before South Africa's controversial Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its hearings on our painful past. That is perhaps why the conference ended up focusing more on healing than building.

One has to earn the freedom to build anew and in our case this may mean first making peace with the past, as Professor Piet Meiring, a member of the Commission, told the conference.

`How we deal with the past is something that is on every-body's lips,' he said. `Many people say why can't we just close the books on the past. We must--but first we must open them. We must know what they say.'

Keynote speaker General Joseph Lagu, Roving Ambassador for the Sudan and a former Vice-President of the country, was less sanguine about the Commission. He warned South Africans not to let it destory the chances for harmony.

In his speech Prof Meiring outlined why the Commission had been set up--to provide as complete a contextual picture as possible for what happened in South Africa between 1960 and 1993. The purpose was to restore the dignity of the victims of oppression and to give them the chance for catharsis.

`The need is for understanding, not for vengeance: for reparation but not retaliation,' he said. `It's an uneasy and fearful process that can go awry or it can be truly healing.' Most of all it was a reminder never to let what had happened in the past happen again.

`As we step out of the wreckage of the past, we're a moral wasteland. We're in need of spiritual healing and I hope that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will set this healing in motion,' said Prof Meiring.

No nation has a monopoly on hate and suffering--as was demonstrated by two speakers from outside South Africa who made a profound impression.

Abeba Tesfagiorgis, a human rights activist from Eritrea, had suffered deeply in the struggle for her country's independence. She underscored the role played by moral principles in establishing the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Coming out of a 30-year war--the longest on a warridden continent--Eritreans supported the view that resentment and revenge would have no place in national life, an attitude which has created rare harmony in a troubled region.

But it was the extraordinary story of Yusuf Al-Azhari, a former Somali Ambassador to the United States, that opened up new dimensions in forgiveness and healing. (See Profile on page 8.)

Details about Dr Al-Azhari and his involvement in the conference were carried in The Star, one of South Africa's main daily papers, just after he left the country. It caused an interesting reaction.

`Foreign correspondents from all over the world contacted me to try and find Dr Al-Azhari and I ended up giving numerous print and radio interviews about the man I had interviewed,' the reporter, Winnie Graham, told me.

The conference itself was opened by the Premier of the Free State, Patrick `Terror' Lekota, who dispensed with his prepared speech and spoke off the cuff. `I welcome this conference,' he said, `because we need to shape men and women who will not only understand moral values but live them stubbornly."

This was the first international MRA conference to be held in South Africa since the installation of democracy. It was attended by people from 14 other African countries and a strong Jamaican delegation, led by the Governor-General, Sir Howard Cooke.
COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Anthony Duigan
Publication:For A Change
Date:Jun 1, 1996
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