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Easter Makes a victor of the victim - Challenge is for victims not to become victimisers Fr Michael Lapsley,SSM - Cape Argus April 7, 2012

10 April 2012
Easter Makes a victor of the victim - Challenge is for victims not to become victimisers  Fr Michael Lapsley,SSM - Cape Argus April 7, 2012

On Easter Day Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Over several decades I have lived in a number of different communities across Southern Africa.  Whilst the church has always said that Easter Day is the most important festival in the Christian calendar, my observation has ben that especially in poorer communities, Good Friday is the day which captures the popular imagination more than Easter Day.  People “get it” about crucifixion much more than the stuff about rising from the dead.  Of course it is true that we see crosses everywhere and not so many empty tombs.  Maybe the Cape Town Jazz festival is our secular Easter Day with its own food for the soul albeit a week early.

Chief Albert Lutuli once said that those who think of themselves as victims eventually become the victimisers of others.   People give themselves permission to do terrible things to others because of what was done to them.  Is the recent resurgence of the horrific practice of “necklacing” a sign of this cycle of victims who become victimisers.

When horrible things happen to us there is likely to be one of two cycles.  One is when victims become victimisers and the other is when victims become survivors and then become victors.

Terrible experiences do many things not just to our bodies, but also to our minds and hearts and indeed to our very souls.   This is true of individuals, communities and nations.  What has happened to us and those we love, leave a residue of poison in our psyches.  This “poison” can destroy us and can be passed across generations.  It  can also blind us to good which may be evident before our very eyes.

I once read the story of two men together in a prison cell.  They both looked out of the window.  One saw mud and the other saw stars.

In the Jesus story the victim of Good Friday does not become the victimiser  but rather the victor of Easter Day.   The hope of all of us was that 1994 represented the turning away from being a Good Friday people to becoming an Easter Day people,  There are worrying signs of us becoming a Good Friday people once more.  Thankfully the political violence which characterized the country for so many centuries came to an end.  That was not true of criminal violence, nor of the much less visible, family and sexual violence.  Hardly a day passes without violent protest about service delivery.  Only the blind will fail to see that we are still a very angry people.  The demons of the past have not been exorcised.

We adopted a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way of trying to find the bridge between the old and the new under the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act. Maybe we naively thought that the TRC would indeed create National Unity and reconcile all of us without the whole nation becoming, not witnesses, but actors in the process.  Whilst we are right to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the TRC, we need to squarely face its shortcomings and the unfinished business that remains.

Since the TRC presented its final report, there has been a total lack of political will to implement in a comprehensive and systematic way the recommendations of the Commission. Some of the very people who gave evidence to the TRC and were in the eyes of the nation “popular” victims became very “unpopular” victims as they protested that their needs were not met, whilst amnestied perpetrators remained with their ill gotten gains.

For years the Department of Justice has sat on many millions of rands earmarked for victims, whilst the Khulumani Support Group continue to insist that the “list” of victims needs to be opened to many deserving people whose cases were not heard or recognised by the TRC for a variety of reasons.

When I gave evidence to the TRC in Kimberley Town hall there was more than a thousand people present in the audience but no white people.  Still today, organisations committed to processes of reconciliation struggle to find white youth who are willing to journey with their fellow citizens.

22 years later I still wonder about the people who made, sent and ordered the letter bomb that blew away my hands.  Are they still alive, have they become doting grandparents with dark secrets that they fear to tell their grandchildren.  Even now I could still, if they wish, become their liberators – what a wonderful Easter present that would be.

Many people have commented that having the most skewed income distribution in the world is South Africa’s time bomb. Hopefully the implementation of the planning commission’s recommendations will rapidly attend to this  situation.

Of equal urgency is the need for all of us to attend to our own woundedness – to have it acknowledged and to travel the very long journey, which may cross generations, towards healing and wholeness.

There is an account of the Resurrection of Jesus that says that the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples when Thomas the apostle was absent.  Thomas says he will not believe it was the Lord unless he sees the marks of the nails.  The Risen Christ appears again and this time Thomas is present and Jesus invites him to put his hands where the marks of the nails were visible.   The Risen Christ was also the crucified Christ - the wounds were still visible but they were no longer bleeding.

As South Africans we should acknowledge what we have done to one another.  We are called to become an Easter people characterized by new life.

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The Institute for the Healing of Memories seeks to contribute to the healing journey of individuals, communities and nations. Our work is grounded in the belief that we are all in need of healing, because of what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what has been done to us.

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