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Reconciliation and transparency.

Northern Ireland, South Africa and the fight against corruption were the themes of the three `Caux Lectures' given during this summer's MRA conferences.

`Decommissioning of arms will not secure peace (in Ireland) without the decommissioning of hearts, minds and attitudes,' said Canon Nicholas Frayling, Rector of Liverpool and author of the influential book, Pardon and peace--a reflection on the making of peace in Ireland.

Frayling gave his lecture during the conference on `Partners on the road to reconciliation and peace' (see Lead Story) at the beginning of August. He told how over many years his `unhurried pilgrimage to Ireland in order to listen and learn' had helped him to understand `the bitter legacy' England had bequeathed to the peoples of Ireland, both North and South, Protestant and Catholic. `We drove the Roman Catholics into exile, killed thousands ... and invoked God as our justification,' he said, outlining eight broad themes of Anglo-Irish history. `When they protested, we met violence with violence.'

The plea to simply `forgive and forget' would not work in Ireland. `It is bad theology, and it is untrue to the insights of human psychology. The only way to deal with deep pain and resentment, whether far in the past or a present experience, is not to forgive and forget but to remember and repent--or to remember and change. Too easily we speak of the need for forgiveness, without understanding that it begins with costly repentance.'

In the `real world' of politics, such concepts of repentance, or apology, are often discounted as being naive. But, Frayling said, there is `ample evidence that the politics of penitence can indeed have lasting and beneficial effects'. South Africa, for instance, showed that `where there is sufficient will for peace and reconciliation among the people', courageous political leadership, and prophetic and engaged religious leaders, `it becomes possible to sit down and discuss the unthinkable with those one has always regarded as unspeakable'.

Frayling's theme was taken up a week later by an Afrikaner MP for South Africa's African National Congress, Melanie Verwoerd, and her husband, Wilhelm, a lecturer at Stellenbosch University.

`Reconciliation takes more than standing in long queues to vote,' Melanie Verwoerd told an audience which included the South African Ambassador to Switzerland, Ruth Mompati. `Bygones cannot be bygones until we actively remove the economic and social legacy of apartheid. Reconciliation comes neither cheaply nor easily. It is a long and tortuous road of lifelong commitments to the country.'

A first step on the road of reconciliation had been to `look squarely at the past, to listen'. It was crucial that those who had caused the pain, intentionally or unintentionally, should apologize unreservedly. Now both the former President, Nelson Mandela, and the present President, Thabo Mbeki, had called for `reconstruction and development of the soul'.

Wilhelm Verwoerd, who had worked as a researcher for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, painted a vivid picture of the `cocoon of white privilege' within which he had grown up. He described his painful journey, as a grandson of the prime minister regarded as the architect of apartheid, from a narrow Afrikaner identity to one that was at home in Africa. He had come to accept himself as a white, an Afrikaner, a Verwoerd, a man and a Christian. `The question is: what am I doing with these sources of myself?'

Corruption was `a tragedy with a human face', said the Chairman and founder of Transparency International (TI), Peter Eigen. He cited the examples of a Ugandan mother watching her child die because she had no money to bribe the hospital staff; the Tanzanian schoolchild beaten by her teacher for failing to deliver `a tip'; Japanese haemophiliacs dying of Aids because corrupt officials released tainted and untreated blood. There was no area where corruption flourished more than in the arms trade, he added.

Eigen gave his lecture during the Caux Conference for Business and Industry in July. Several in his audience had helped to set up some of TI's 70 chapters in different countries. Eigen had just received the Freedom Prize of the Swiss Schmidheiny Foundation for TI's work, which had contributed to a recent convention of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which criminalizes the bribery of foreign public officials.

Eigen stressed the importance of civil society organizations in fighting corruption. `Governments are often part of the problem and lack credibility even when promoting anti-corruption strategies,' he said. `Business is often as much the perpetrator of corrupt practices as the victim.' Civil society organizations must form `a magic triangle with governments and business that will create more justice and wealth for all'.
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Publication:For A Change
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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