“What was wrong with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post apartheid South Africa?” What’s
Well before I answer that, I’m going to make what you may think is a digression and tell you what I’ve experienced through decades of working with young people. It is very relevant to the question, believe me…
Also to illuminate my experience, I’m going to give you an anecdotal description of a young man and young woman I’ve worked with. Let’s call them Kojo and Latanya… They came from two different schools years apart from each other, but they had a lot in common. Both came from a background of stress, tension and violence. Kojo’s mum was Ghanaian and was an alcoholic and though his dad lived in the house he was like a ghost, never speaking to his son about ‘anything real,’ (as Kojo used to say).
Also Kojo could not remember even one time when his dad stood up to his mum when she was aiming glass ashtrays, pottery plant pots and foul screaming abuse at her son’s head. Or when she attacked his dad as well.
Latanya was of St Lucian descent and had moved with her mum to a safe house after her dad had battered her mum unconscious in front of her. It was not the first time and he was due to go to prison. Thus they had finally escaped his physical abuse.
However his emotionally abusive impact was so strong that her mum’s distress led her to try and kill herself and Latanya was scheduled to live in a residential home for teenagers.
Another thing they had in common was that they were both extremely angry: their volatility including regular fights with other young people and also with their teachers had seen them both permanently excluded from their respective schools. Kojo and Latanya were in pupil referral units when I met them. At the age of fifteen Kojo was involved in a local gang and Latanya had had two abortions and was smoking a lot of skunk (I worked with Latanya ten years after I worked with Kojo).
I mentored both of them, separately and also in small groups of their peers. In my first sessions with them we watched films, played lots of games and I was intent on ‘being with’ rather than fixing anything. When we were relaxed enough together that they (and their peers) began to trust me, I coached them in Mindfulness and hooked them up with arts activities
Kojo learned to play a mean guitar and Latanya learned to write extraordinary poetry and to rap like she was born to do it! Latanya also came abroad with me and her peers through a youth programme. Personally I taught them KaZimba Ngoma (African Martial arts) and challenged them to ‘dare to be… ‘ Along with storytelling with which I challenged then to ‘dare to dream.’
Amongst other things, they both learned Mindfulness and to share their stories with their peers. They also learned to accept challenge as a fact of life, to set goals, to develop a teamwork practice with their peers based on trust and mutual respect and a deeper understanding of the integrity of their history and culture.
However even though these learnings galvanised them to do inspiring things, the most significant moment and in my view the most transformative one came for both of them when they learned the art and power of forgiveness.
When they learned to forgive themselves for the guilt, self hatred and fury that we tied up with their feelings that they could have ‘done something’ to prevent their parents’ from tailspinning out of control. When they even learned to forgive their parents by understanding that the negative emotions inspired by ‘what their parents did’ produced a toxic biochemical state in the body that was akin to ‘swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.’
Through both self and other person forgiveness they learned to let go of so much that was holding them back and thus to allow inspiration, vision and diligence to take them to a much more balanced, productive and generative state.
They are adults now. Kojo is in his early thirties and is a fantastic youth and community worker ‘using music to build relationships, (his words). Latanya is 20, has won poetry slams and has a freelance career as facilitating poetry workshops in schools and festivals.
So what does this have to do with Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa? What was your answer to the question I posed? Did you even agree that the ground breaking T & R Committee did anything wrong? Well from my perspective the Committee did not fulfil its potential as it did not foster African led therapeutic interventions in which Africans practiced forgiving Africans.
It payed no attention to self healing, to community practices that catalyse this or to even promoting a dialogue in which Africans spoke to Africans about the atrocities we perpetrated against each other during the Apartheid years.
If we consider Kojo and Latanya as a microcosm of the macrocosm and if we embrace the maxim as above so below (and vise versa), it can be argued that the self destructive anger and lives generated in the two young people by controlling violence, continuous stress and emotional pain; corresponds to similar things experienced by what I call’ aftermath communities, including African and Caribbean nations and Africa / Africans in general ?
Post traumatic Slavery Disorder is an actual diagnosed pathological mindset in the US. Thus post Apartheid & post colonial mindsets could equally in my view be pathologised in Africa. Consequently, for Africans learning to forgive ourselves is in my view the missing link in the heady cocktail of empowerment initiatives offered by the T & R Commission.
More difficult even than that however is that as long as we focus all our attention on ‘what white people did, instead of our own healing, we’ll be ‘drinking poison and expecting white people to die…‘