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Tutu: Costly Reconciliation

Excerpts from an intervew with Desmond Tutu from Commonweal, September 12, 1997:

TUTU: Many people thought they knew what had happened, but the details, when they began unfolding, shocked us.  The depth of depravity was breathtaking.  As an illustration, a young man who was first poisoned and shot in the head was then burned.  While the body was burning, the perpetrators were carrying on and enjoying their own barbecue.  You hear this and think, "how can we sink quite as low as that?"

On the other side, when I say "no, not quite," I have found breathtaking and, in fact, exhilarating the magnanimity of people, the incredible nobility of spirit of people who have suffered as much as they have suffered.  So many of them are ready to forgive, which sometimes makes you feel as though you should take your shoes off because you are stepping on holy ground.


TUTU: I noticed recently an article that referred to the mothers of the Gugulethu Seven [activists beaten and killed by South African authorities]. I just want to point out that our commission counseled the mothers and told them that a video we had is quite harrowing.  But they said they wanted to see it.  When we were viewing it, they became so incensed that one of the mothers threw a shoe at one of the police officers who was testifying. Afterwards they said it was horrible, horrible, horrible, but thank you because now we know what happened....One of the mothers, whose son was dragged with a rope, was asked how do you feel about the police?  What wou ld you like to do to this policeman who shot your son?  She said, "I don't want anything to happen to him.  I don't want him to go to jail.  I forgive him." This is not the only incident of that kind.


TUTU: They have a strange notion about what reconciliation is.  They think that reconciliation is patting each other on the back and saying it's all right.  Reconciliation is costly and it involves confrontation.  Otherwise Jesus Christ would not have died on the cross.  He came and achieved for us reconciliation.  But he confronted people and caused division.


Frank Ferrari asked (in part): how anger can help people come to grips with the future, particularly with regard to holding on to something of the past.  If that's the case, how can people hold on to anger and forgive at the same time?

DESMOND TUTU: I think what you mean about anger is again acknowledging that such things happened and refusing amnesia.  Because amnesia is the way to hell.  There can be no future without forgiveness, and to ever forgive, you have to know what happened.  In order for us not to repeat what happened to others, we've got to have a memory.  Memory is quite, quite crucial.  We must give everything that we have to help people remember.  Remember for one thing, the cost of the freedom they have got, so that they will not devalue it.  Remember the anguish they went through so that they don't inflict it on others.  Remember in order for us to be human.