Mandela’s Legacy: Truth & Reconciliation Commission

Virtue Online:

In dozens of stories about Nelson Mandela after his death few mentioned his greatest achievement – the creation of a South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was part of the new country’s Constitution.

Its negotiators were former enemies. The African National Congress (ANC), which took power in 1994, wanted “justice.” That would probably have taken the form of prosecutions, prison and reparations. The former apartheid government wanted collective amnesty for its crimes. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) became the innovative means to respond to both needs.

There was more strife and killing from 1990 when Mandela was released from prison – and 1994 when he was elected president – than in three decades of apartheid. The great fear was that racial tensions could explode into a civil war resulting in tens of thousands of deaths.  Thus, TRC’s mission was of supreme importance.

Here is how the Constitution described the need for the Commission: “The Constitution provides a historic bridge between the past of a deeply divided society characterized by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice, and a future founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence and development opportunities for all South Africans, irrespective of colour, race, class belief or sex…There is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation.”

Significantly, the TRC was chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led the Anglican Church at the time – and was a widely respected black leader. The vice chair was Dr. Alex Boraine, a former opposition member of Parliament.

At the heart of the TRC was the unique willingness by the government to grant amnesty to those in or hired by the apartheid government to kill opponents, in exchange for their telling the truth of what happened. Its sessions were open to the public and widely covered by the media, the results of which were published in five volumes.

The years of negotiation between the ANC and the apartheid government resulted in a compromise that amnesty would be granted only to individuals, and only after they applied for it. The longing for justice that fueled the liberation movement resulted in victims’ hearings, in which individuals could testify about their pain and suffering, or that of relatives and friends.

Their testimony was so moving that Archbishop Tutu wept openly, laying his head down on his arms. At one hearing in Port Elizabeth, the widows of political organizers or their bereaved mothers simply wanted to know why their Movement had given up on their right to justice. I heard three women testify in a video archive that can be seen online. Some 22,000 people testified or submitted statements.

One failure of the process was that top political leaders, such as F.W. deKlerk, the last white prime minister, did not apply for amnesty. Only the small fry came forward, those who got caught, and feared they would be made to answer for their actions. But 7,500 applied, and 1,500 were granted amnesty for thousands of crimes.

Did the Truth and Reconciliation Commission spark much truth and reconciliation? Here are some answers by Gillian Slovo, whose mother was assassinated by a parcel bomb sent to her in Mozambique by the South African Security Forces. Her father, Joe Slovo, helped to create the Commission “which would permit her assassin to go free.”

The victims’ hearings “did undoubtedly bring a sense of relief, at least to some of its participants. People were given the chance to be heard in public. They spoke of the years they had borne their pain and their grief in isolation and in silence, and of their need to let their country know what it was that they, and their loved ones, had endured.”

Some told Ms. Slovo that in hearing the testimony on radio while they were driving, they “were so affected by what they heard that they had to stop their cars and vomit.” Others simply turned off their radios or TVs.        “I do not doubt that the drip, drip, drip of the TRC was powerful, the fact that apartheid’s thin veneer of civilization was gradually being peeled away.”

A vivid history of South Africa was recorded “so that future generations could never say, as some have managed to do so about the Holocaust: oh no – it didn’t really happen.”

The most important result is that Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have emerged as an international norm in 20+ countries as Kenya, Sri Lanka, Canada and even in Maine where a TRC is looking into how Indian children were taken from their homes and given to white parents.

Mandala’s legacy lives on.


The Miracle of Forgiveness

Reproduced from The Austin Stone:

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

These are simple, powerful, and even poetic words that I’ve said so many times without fully grasping their meanings. On July 15th, my family was given a chance to live them. An ordinary day transformed into an extraordinary test of faith.

While traveling north on I-35, we were suddenly rear ended by an 18-wheeler. We were stopped in traffic when it hit, crumbling our van like an accordion. My wife, Nikki, and I were in the front and our children were in the back, where they bore the brunt of the impact. When the truck hit, I sustained a head injury and lay bleeding in a bed of glass. My wife turned to see our oldest son, Cadyn, slumped over, limp, and lifeless. For a moment, she thought he was gone. By a great miracle of God, he was still alive… but gravely injured.

Nikki pulled our children from their car seats and handed them to strangers outside the van. In the midst of the chaos, she saw that everyone was being tended to long before the ambulance arrived. Cadyn was in critical condition and barely breathing, but Nikki had a peace that surpassed understanding that God was there.

That’s when she noticed the truck driver, Roger.

He was curled up into a fetal position, leaning against the concrete divider, weeping into his cell phone. My wife felt an overwhelming sense of love and compassion for him. It was an accident. She walked over to Roger to embrace him and began to pray. At first he refused, but Nikki insisted and said, “This is what grace is for.” While praying with him, she realized by his words that he was our brother in Christ.

Cadyn was immediately sent to the ICU, where our trial continued. We received news that his brain had sustained shear injury, a type of brain damage that either kills or severely impairs for life. We sat at his bedside, begging for him to open his eyes. In the darkness and overwhelming anxiety, the Lord gave us His strength to believe for a miracle.

It was during that time that Nikki reached out to Roger. He had to know that Cadyn was alive and that he was, indeed, forgiven. As I prayed about this, I felt a love for him as well. God brought to my mind numerous verses of His command to love radically and forgive freely. As our son laid there hooked up to a ventilator, we were not helpless. We could love. The enemy was to have no foothold. After leaving a phone message with the trucking company, we went back to praying and waiting.

Doctors told us that Cadyn would be in the ICU for many weeks with a tracheotomy and a feeding tube, followed by many months in the hospital. They said we would never have the same son again. Even still, we had an unexplainable joy and peace. We were not alone and none of this was a shock to our Savior. He wasn’t finished yet.

A few days later, Cadyn woke up. This set into motion a recovery process that astonished the doctors and defied scientific explanation. That same day, Roger contacted us and we invited him to see God’s miracle in action. Our son couldn’t talk right away, but he could write. He was coherent enough to understand the situation as my wife and I explained to him what happened. Nikki asked Cadyn if he wanted to forgive Roger. I saw my son think about it for a moment, then give an assertive thumbs up. With construction paper and a crayon, Cadyn wrote: “Roger, I forgive you. Love, Cadyn.”

At that moment, my little 5-year-old son became my greatest hero.

We were blessed to meet Roger and his family that day. Roger said he was framing Cadyn’s note and putting it on his wall. I believe him. It was surreal to embrace the man who almost killed my son, but there was also such joy.

I remember the shocked look on his face when he told us that our forgiveness had rocked his faith to the core and that he could not understand how I, as a father, could forgive him. I told him that Jesus poured out His grace to me from the cross, and the only right response would be for me to pour that same grace out to others. Roger said he didn’t know people followed Christ like this, but we assured him we’re not super Christians. It’s only by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As the saying goes, we’re not perfect, we’re just forgiven.

The Great Benefits of Forgiveness

The Southern Cross:

Have you ever said the words: “I will never forgive you for what you have done to me”? Maybe not, or maybe not often, I hope. But these are common words spoken in anger after an experience of deep disappointment, rejection, violation, manipulation or abuse. We express ourselves in anger because our hearts are wounded by such an experience.

We have to pray to God and ask him to give us the grace to forgive whoever has wronged us. Forgiveness is not ours to give”

The pain that we feel when someone has hurt us, for example, can be so intense, and our immediate reaction is then to direct our anger towards that person in order for him or her to feel the same pain in return.

Immediately we want to react, for example by sending hurtful messages via e-mail, BBM, SMS, Facebook or Twitter. We want to contact their friends and family and share what they have done and how bad they are. We want to take revenge.

Because it is our hearts that are wounded, it makes forgiveness from the heart very difficult and sometimes forgiveness seems impossible. And forgiveness is impossible if we think that we are doing the forgiving.

It is God who forgives the person through us. None of us have a supply of forgiveness stacked up somewhere among our possessions which we can take out and give to other people as needed. We have to pray to God and ask him to give us the grace to forgive whoever has wronged us. Forgiveness is not ours to give.

Unfortunately, the tragedy of our lives is that those who love us, wound us too. These are mostly people very close to us: our parents, our friends, our spouses, our lovers, our children, our neighbours, our teachers, our pastors.

The person whom we expected would be there for us might have wounded us, thereby breaking the bond of communion that existed between us.

We live in community, even between two people, and that community has been broken. This community will never be possible again without the willingness to forgive one another “seventy-seven times”. This means, forgiving until the matter is settled.

What can help us during our experience of woundedness is the fact that we see our friends and family as just that, friends and family—and not God.

We love God, we try to understand God, we know about God, we spend time with God in prayer, but, we are not God.



Forgiving Monsters

George Conger:

One of the most notorious criminal cases in modern European history has returned to the public eye, dominating the front pages and leaders of Belgium’s newspapers. A judge has agreed to release Michelle Martin from prison on the condition she enter the Convent of the Les Soeurs Clarisses de Malonne (Poor Clares) and remain under police supervision.

The news of the parole has prompted an appeal by state prosecutors, public protests, outrage in the press — and the mayor of Namur has ordered police to guard the convent. Why such a fuss? The opening paragraphs of a solid AP story tells us why.

BRUSSELS — The ex-wife of a notorious pedophile who aided her husband’s horrific abuse and murder of young girls – and who let two children starve to death while her husband was in jail – was approved Tuesday for early release from prison, infuriating the victims’ parents and reopening a dark chapter in Belgian history.

Michelle Martin, who is now 52, received a 30-year prison term in 2004 for not freeing girls her then-husband Marc Dutroux held captive behind a secret door in their decrepit, dirty basement in Marcinelle, 40 miles south of Brussels.

Dutroux, 55, is serving a life term for kidnapping, torturing and abusing six girls in 1995 and 1996, and murdering four of them.

During those years, Dutroux also spent four months in jail for theft, leaving it to his wife to feed Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, a pair of friends imprisoned in the basement. Martin let the girls starve to death. They were 8 years old.

Bumbling police work and claims by Dutroux that he was part of a wider pedophile network that included politicians, judges and police officials prompted public protests in Belgium and nearly led to the fall of the government. King Albert intervened and ordered a reorganization of the criminal justice system. The Dutroux affair had a profound effect on Belgium’s national psyche, some have argued, damaging public trust in the country’s civil institutions. Sixteen years into her 30 year sentence, Michelle Martin may be leaving prison to enter a convent.

While this has been a gruesome true crime, political intrigue and corruption story, it has now become a religious liberty story with faith taking center stage in this drama. The AP article closes with these paragraphs:

Under the terms of her release, Martin will have to remain at the convent and be assigned a task daily. Moreau, Martin’s lawyer, said it took some time for the convent to agree to have her live there. But in the end they realized that no one else would take her in, he said.

“They accepted because their vocation is to welcome people nobody wants,” he said.

The convent’s decision to give refuge to Michelle Martin has not been warmly received by the Belgian press…

Objections to her release were founded upon a belief that Michelle Martin was the incarnation of absolute evil — “l’incarnation du mal absolu” — the conservative national daily La Libre Belgiquereported. But no person was beyond redemption, the newspaper argued, saying the law must not “deprive anyone, not even the most heinous criminal, of any hope of getting out of jail…

De Standaard printed a letter from the Abbess of Malonne, where the sisters explained their decision to give Michelle Martin a home. They stated they had agreed to take her in as she has no family and no half-way house or other institution would have her due to the notoriety of her crimes. They stated that while she would be residing at the convent under the supervision of the judicial authorities, she would not be a entering the order but would be the guest of the Poor Clares. And, they felt it was their Christian duty to act as they did.

Nous avons la profonde conviction qu’enfermer définitivement le déviant dans son passé délictueux et l’acculer à la désespérance ne serait utile à personne et serait au contraire une marche en arrière pour notre société. Michèle Martin est un être humain capable, comme nous tous, du pire comme du meilleur.

Ideology plays its part in the coverage of this story. Self-identified Catholic newspapers have stressed the theme of penitence and redemption. Some secular newspapers have objected to the intrusion of Catholic sensibilities into the parole of a “monster”, but others have advanced ethical theories of crime and punishment. No one newspaper encompasses all of these views, but collectively the debate over the parole of Michelle Martin is an example of the best of the European press.

Can Michelle Martin be forgiven? Is parole a form of forgiveness? Should the church be accorded a custodial role in a secular state? All great questions. What say you?


Getting Rid of Sins

G. K. Chesterton once wrote about being asked the following question, “Why did you join the Church of Rome?” Chesterton was an agnostic in his youth, then was an Anglican for many years before entering the Catholic Church in 1922. The “first essential answer” to that question, he wrote in his autobiography, is “‘To get rid of my sins.’ For there is no other religious system that does really profess to get rid of people’s sins.”

Read on here.