ARCHBISHOP Desmond Tutu has always emphasised that reconciliation is a process. Given the history and nature of societies, there is no point at which anyone would be able to declare: “Mission Accomplished!”.
Each country has its own ghosts, and efforts to lay them to rest will differ, and will achieve different levels of success. South Africa has now wrestled with the meaning of reconciliation for 25 years. The tone was set by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose primary objective was to excavate the truth about apartheid state atrocities and racist brutality. The premise was that this was a necessary first step towards healing, and its spirit was encapsulated by the idea of a “Rainbow Nation”.
There has, in the meantime, been a wilful misinterpretation of the TRC’s objectives, and a small-minded focus on its limitations. In this vein then, annual celebration of the Day of Reconciliation is routinely diminished and dismissed as a fraud, on the basis that we are a society riven with conflict at every level: economic inequality, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and generally high levels of murder and mayhem.
Into these fissures many politicians pour their rhetoric of resentment in an attempt to foster a culture of grievance. The true challenge is how to engage with all the disparate interests and disappointments in such a way that we achieve a common understanding and purpose. Hope in the future is more likely to fuel reconciliation, by whatever definition, than obsessively dwelling on whether sufficient punishment has been dealt out, or sufficient remorse has been displayed.
Many South Africans find it as difficult to live with the present as the past, but imagine that if the past could be laid to rest then the present will take care of itself. The reverse is the more likely truth.