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First Annual Healing of Memories Lecture: Restoring Humanity by Ela Ghandi

08 September 2011
First Annual Healing of Memories Lecture: Restoring Humanity by Ela Ghandi

First Respondent Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela

Restoring our humanity in the context of the modern state.

1. Introduction 

Thank you for giving me the honour and privilege to  present the  First Annual Healing of Memories Lecture.   While some memories will always remain within us,  and torment us because of the sheer brutality of the experiences, our spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation has indeed aroused a sense of great pride in us.  As a nation we have shown great magnanimity.  Our warring armies have merged into one defence force;  our parliamentarians sit together as South Africans even though they were so bitterly opposed to each other and not so long ago some even objected to others walking on the same ground as them;  we have come face to face with people who have tortured us and not retaliated and many more stories of our spirit can be told.  All of which point to the tremendous spiritual strength that we as South Africans have displayed.  It is summed up so beautifully by  Father Michael Lapsley who has suffered so much but had this to say after the bombing, “I was faced with some important questions and one of them was : Do I allow my life to be consumed with hatred, bitterness, self-pity and desire for revenge?”  and he answered this question as follows, “I am going to live my life as fully, as joyfully, as completely as possible and that is my victory.”  It is this powerful moral and spiritual strength that makes us proud to be South Africans.  We are here, together, looking for ways in which we can help our community engage in a process of restoring our  humanity.

2. The Truth and Reconciliation process

On this issue may I share a story with you about another part of Africa.  Some years back I was visiting Addis Ababa and there met a friend from South Africa.  We were talking about the difficulty in driving on the roads in Addis where there were so many pedestrians on the road.  My friend then related a story about his experiences to me.  He said that he was driving to the airport to receive some friends once and on the way accidently knocked a pedestrian.  He was immediately arrested and locked up behind bars.  A few days later he was brought to court.  Fortunately the pedestrian escaped with a few injuries.  But the presiding officer having heard the case ruled that he had injured a person who was the bread winner of a household and so my friend was sentenced to supply the family with a goat on a weekly basis for the next two years.   The effect of this was that each week he met the family.  It was not so much about having to provide the  goat as about meeting and beginning to get to know the family,. And thereby to realize his own guilt, to repent  and to regain his humanity in the process.  Here in South Africa that did not happen.  No reparations were actually made by the perpetrators to the victims.  This is perhaps the one issue that families, in particular women have felt as a shortcoming of the Truth and Reconciliation process.  

3. The present context

But when we view our country today we ask ourselves what has happened to our community, where has our humanity gone?  Today’s reality often makes us want to hide our faces as South Africans.  As we see the violence around us against women and children, against people of other countries, destruction of property,  growing dishonest behaviour, aggression and cruelty, intolerance and brutality towards others,  all of  which reveals a  systematic degeneration of our humanity in a section of our community.   Certainly by far a large majority of South Africans are humble, are warm and nonviolent and want to enjoy a healthy democratic order where debates do not degenerate into insults and violence but remain objective and healthy and where people can trust each other and live, without having to look over one’s  shoulder all the time.  Our Deputy President said at the Ruth First lecture “if unity of our people is pivotal, the pestilence of corruption menacing the soul of our democracy is a life and death matter on which our future depends. I would contend that after racism, corruption is the second most serious malady staring humanity in the face today. Corruption is cancerous; it eats away at the vitals of society, since it ultimately chokes off key societal institutions.”   It maybe that these corrupt acts are perpetrated by just a few people but  they make a significant impact on society in many ways. 

Indeed  it is this small and significant group of individuals who are not only fast tracking the degeneration of our social fibre but are also creating a situation of mayhem, anarchy and wanton violence.  There can be no reason in burning down and destroying  libraries, schools and universities which provide us with the essential education that we need so badly.  In other countries we have been told that universities schools and books are considered to be sacred property which people would protect with their lives.  There can be no reasonable explanation for taking the life of a person in road rage, in xenophobic attacks, in political and social antagonisms and in criminal acts.  There can be no reason in brutalizing babies, disabled people and old mothers or in perpetrating violence against partners.  But also there can be no reasonable explanation when people who have access to all the basic necessities of life trying to enrich themselves further by committing acts of corruption.  It is not poverty and hunger that drives them to commit these acts      

Clearly we have to look for answers in the philosophy by which our people are now living.  In recent discussions it became very obvious that people are now no longer looking at common good, but at survival of the fittest.  We are no longer looking at a future happiness, self respect, self realization, or God realization but just at what “satisfaction ” we can “grab” today.  It is just about immediate pleasures at any risk.  This seems to be the philosophy by which the present generation is living.      

4. Finding alternate philosophies of life

So in finding solutions we need to look at how we can change this and develop a philosophy which will be acceptable to this generation and yet not be as destructive as the philosophy by which they are presently living.

  • Our traditional beliefs
    We need to look at what are the principles that guides them.  We derive our principles from many sources,  our scriptures, great philosophers, role models, parents and educators.  May I share some of  the experiences of those who lived on the Phoenix Settlement which was Gandhiji’s first Ashram/ or a place similar to a monastery.  May I share some of the inspiration we received at this Settlement.

    The Sermon on the Mount was an important text taught at Phoenix.  We learnt, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; …. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, …. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,”

    From this text we understood that hording and craving for luxuries  should be controlled. Simple things can meet our needs adequately and bring joy. But also we learn that  to help others who are in need, brings much more joy and satisfaction as well as self respect. Gandhiji said, “the only way to find God is to see Him in His creation and be one with it”

    Another inspiration was from the writings of John Ruskin, who in his book Unto This Last expressed the following sentiment summarized by Gandhiji.

    “The good of the individual is contained in the good of all, that all work is equal, and that the life of labour, of the tiller of the soil and handicraftsman is the life worth living.”

    From this we learnt that it is important to value all work no matter how menial or how academic the work is, it is valuable and should be treated equally.  We learnt from early childhood that we were responsible to clean  and maintain the home and the surrounding areas.  This entailed the cleaning of the toilet buckets, and other unsavoury jobs.  But we learnt that if it is unpleasant for us to do the job it is equally unpleasant for others to do it and therefore we should attempt to make the job as easy as possible by learning good habits and making it easier for us to do the chores.  But by doing the work over and over and learning to do it better we developed a pride in our work.  This was considered to be an important aspect of our work.  Do what you do well so that you can be proud of what you do.

    These were some of the values we learnt at Phoenix under Gandhiji’s guidance through my parents.  I think they are still very important values  for the present generation.  They are not complex.  These were the doctrines into which we were schooled.   These formed the value base to guide our lives and decisions; these were a set of rules that informed all our actions and thoughts.

  • Today’s beliefs
    But today rules are regarded as forces that enslave us and that there is much more fun in breaking rules than in obeying them.  No one wants to live by rules.  If you do, people will regard you as a nerd! It goes against the grain of modern life to have rules.

    Perhaps this is one of the important aspects that needs to be understood.  We know that there were rules that imposed on us injustices in the past and under apartheid.   There are rules that we feel are thrust on us without our consent.  There are rules that we do not like.  Yet rules are an essential part of life.  Some of  these rules help us discover the purpose of our lives and help us in the darkest moments of our lives.  We need to  appreciate these rules and to realize the significance of having these anchors on which  we can build our lives.   But as adults we also need to understand that our youth want to be consulted and that we should negotiate the rules with them rather than impose them.

  • Responsibilities of adults and care givers
    But while this is true, we also see around us breakdown in families;  extended families are fast growing out of fashion;  instead we are seeing single parent families; child headed families; families with both parents out at work and no time to sit and discuss issues with children; families where there are constant tensions between parents, and children are left to fend for themselves.  What rules, what negotiations, what supervision, and what love and attention can a child, yearning for attention, get in these families?.  What does this deprivation do to the child as s/he grows up?  Archbishop Tutu recently spoke about the effects of apartheid oppression which has made us South Africans as a whole hate ourselves.  May I rephrase this to say that the breakdown in our traditional family structures and values through the terrible apartheid legacy of migratory labour systems and single sex hostels and other oppressions has resulted in us losing our ability to love.

    May I share a personal story which shows how important it is to have loving but firm parents.  One day when I was barely 9 years old,  my parents and siblings had to go somewhere and left me alone at home for a few hours.  During their absence I was confronted by a group of people from the neighbourhood.  They told me that a baby wild cat had run into our property and was sitting on a tree near our home.  They asked me for permission to shoot the cat.  We all knew that shooting was not permitted on the settlement. But in their enthusiasm to capture the animal they begged me to allow them to shoot, telling me how dangerous the animal was.  After some time I  gave them permission to shoot.  They shot down the little cat and took off with the prey.  A few minutes later my parents arrived and I told them the story.  My parents were very upset that a gun was used on the settlement, and the life of an animal was taken.  They explained to me why we do not kill even wild animals.  They reminded me of our  training and values.  That night I kept thinking of the poor little cat and how cruel I had been in allowing the cat to be killed.  After much repentance I decided that maybe a fast will help me heal the guilt and serve as due penitence.  My mother said that it may help and that there was no harm in trying.  Here was a clear message from my mother that  my quest for forgiveness was not from her but from myself.    I fasted and prayed for forgiveness, the next day, and in that day I learnt how important it was to take responsibility for one’s actions, to atone for wrong decisions taken, and learn never to repeat them.

    It was a little,  perhaps an insignificant incident,  but deep down it was one of those incidents that remained in my subconsciousness and never failed to return to remind me that decisions have to be taken carefully and not rashly.   I learnt that at the end,  we must be prepared to be able to defend our decisions because if we cannot then we should not take such a decision.  This was an important lesson which I learnt from loving yet firm parents.

  • Finding our identities
    I believe that as we try to build a world where humanness and nonviolence become entrenched, we need to look within ourselves.  I believe that we can each contribute to the change only when we each are able to make that change within ourselves.

    Africa has its own indigenous philosophy that enabled the people to survive and build a community which had great respect for the environment, for the forests and the animals and the creatures and a tremendously hospitable spirit.

  • Ubuntu
    The concept of ubuntu  is what fashioned our behaviour and which Nelson Mandela describes in a story that says that when people travelled from one village to another and they stopped over in a village on the way, the people from that village would offer them food water and shelter. This he described as ubuntu.

    Judge Mogoro described the concept ubuntu by qualifying firstly that any translation of the term ubuntu would of necessity be deficient as it is such a broad term and open to many interpretations.  She however attempted to described this profound term as ,  “ a philosophy of life, which in its most fundamental sense represents personhood, humanity, humaneness and morality;”  She goes on to say,   “Group solidarity, conformity, compassion, respect, human dignity, humanistic orientation and collective unity have, among others been defined as key social values of ubuntu…… its value has also been viewed as a basis for a morality of co-operation, compassion, communalism and concern for the interests of the collective, respect for the dignity of personhood, all the time emphasising the virtues of that dignity in social relationships and practices.”   An indeed profound philosophy  which does us proud.

    Ali Mazrui, an eminent African scholar observes, "... Africa can never go back completely to its pre-colonial starting point but there may be a case for re-establishing contacts with familiar landmarks of modernisation under indigenous impetus."

5. Taking responsibility for our actions and not finding scapegoats

Today in our fast modernized society what place does a concept such as ubuntu have?   It seems that the culture today is to blame someone for everything that happens and not take responsibility.  Can we change that?  Can we ever heal if we go on blaming others and never taking responsibility?   Are we teaching our children to take responsibility for their actions no matter how young they maybe.  I believe that by being asked to take responsibility for my action I learnt something that remains in my consciousness even today and not only that but it helps me to cope with unpleasant situations in my life.  

We are also always finding reasons to justify our actions.  But when we confront ourselves truthfully, we find that there is really no excuse.   As Mazrui says, we have to revive our traditional beliefs and integrate it into our modern life- styles. 

It is principles, rules, beliefs and strong rootedness that gives meaning to our lives that informs our actions and that helps us in our darkest hours.  This rootedness comes from our parents, family, peers, schools, religious institutions and so on.  While modern society prides itself in being independent and free, it cannot discard the importance of  each individual living within the confines of certain basic principles, rules and values.  But young people are often left to fend for themselves, and have to  organize their lives themselves. They then depend on lessons from the pages of the lives of our heroes and heroines who inspire us.  This is why preserving and recording our history is important.   We need to develop a critical understanding of the values and traditions that underpinned the freedom struggle and thereby develop our own value system.  Modern life has many distractions and many temptations.  These detract us from deep thinking.  It is only deep thinking that can help us ground ourselves  in a set of values and it is these values that can help us resist the temptations of modern life.  If our youth look upon corrupt leaders as their role models, corruption will certainly become cancerous as has been pointed out by Deputy President Mothlanthe.  Therefore we have a crucial responsibility to popularize important respected leaders who can be role models for the youth.     

6. Beware of Delusions of modernity

In conclusion allow me to share a story I heard,  of a man who was being taken to heaven by the angel,   and on the way they passed hell, as the man got a peek into hell he saw people dancing and heard loud music and saw beautiful girls all dressed up and lots of food and wine, and he wondered how much more beautiful will heaven be.  Then they arrived in heaven and everything was quiet, people were reading under trees some breathing the pure air and the only sound was that of birds and the flowing river.   The man instantly turned to the angel and asked if he could go to hell instead.  The angel responded by saying “sure, anyone can move from heaven to hell but not the other way around.”   The man thought for a moment about the music and dance and the beautiful girls and responded  with a quick “Yes, I want to go to hell”.   The angle transported him back and left him there.  No sooner he entered hell he realized that the are was oppressive, the music was really jarring and the people there were miserable and quarrelsome.  But the angel had warned him that there was no turning back!   

Thank you for allowing me to share some of my stories with you. 

First Respondent and Questions

I would now like to invite Professor Pumla Gobodo Madikizela who is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cape Town.  She served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as Co-ordinator of Victims Public hearings in the Western Cape and in that role she participated and facilitated encounters of family members of victims of gross human rights violations and perpetrators responsible for these human rights abuses.

Since serving on the TRC and witnessing the unexpected outcomes of the TRC’s public hearing processes and public dialogue,  Professor Pumla has been interested in this question:   What features of the TRC process were effectively opening up the possibility of transformation?  She has been studying the process of forgiveness and its relation to past trauma in encounters between survivors and victims of gross human rights violations and perpetrators.  In order to deepen the understanding of transformative elements of forgiveness.  Her current research examines the development of empathy in victim/perpetrator dialogue.  Her interest in relation to empathy focuses on the web of feelings and the transformative shifts that open up the possibility of reconciliation when conditions for respectful dialogue in small groups are created.

Prof Pumla

Thank you very much and good evening everyone.  It gives me really great pleasure to be asked to respond to your wonderfully inspiring speech and especially because this an event that is sponsored by the Healing of Memories.  I am a proud member of the board of Healing of memories so I stand in front of you here wearing that hat but also wearing the hat of joining you in the call to restoring humanity in our society.

What I really love about your speech is that you brought all this narratives that we have to hear today beginning with the narrative of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

I think it is appropriate that you cited Father Michael’s story.  It is a testimony that continues to move me today. One of the things that moves me about Father Michael’s journey is how reflectively he engages in a journey of relflections on what happened to him and where he is going and how he deals with this in the public domain. and he invites us to think with him  and to think and engage about what does it mean that all this happened;  Not just to him but in our society.

You bring that narrative of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where you witnessed the possibility of forgiveness, the possibility of reconciliation, a process that brought into focus the dialogue of reconciliation and made it real.  It wasn’t just talking about reconciliation.  It made it real

But at the same time you reminded us of another narrative – one that is with us today – the narrative of destruction, the narrative that is potentially... that potentially carries with it a drive for revenge.  This strong drive of violence and destruction.  That is the tension that you have reminded us of – the tension that exists in our society and the question is where are we in all of this and what is going on.

You have provided us with some guidance, some guidelines in terms of understanding what is happening, the breakdown of families and family values, the importance of values  in the life of a people who have pride and dignity.

There is a problem of a leadership that is  corrupt, that is to say that we are facing questions about leadership. These are the issues that we have to grapple with.

The speech is reminding us of what we have come from; in the history of the country. We grapple to try and transcend this history of trauma  and to reach out to others and engaging as fellow human beings.

However, in the life of the democracy of our country in 10 years, something has happened; something terrible and something dangerous has happened. Now we are at a crossroads if one might call it that.  A crossroads where we have to make serious decisions about how to change the course of life in our society.  One of the main things that is important is the struggle for  power in humans.  You mentioned that there is a problem of leadership  and there is a void – our young people do not have the sense of direction or at least in what we witnessed in our community and our broader community there appears to be this lack of leadership.  The problem of leadership and the central element of all that lack revolves around the question of absence of good, strong, values that have been lost.  We have to remind ourselves that the families today are no longer the families that were in the past.  The vision of ... or the image rather of families sitting around the table having conversations with their children that is gone. That is no longer part of family life today.

The question that it raises for me always comes back to the issue of moral leadership.  If we speak about restoring humanity in our society it seems to me that we have to begin with the question of moral leadership.  We have had leaders of moral standing in our society.  Nelson Mandela lead the way.  They lead us into a conversation in our country that was a reconciling conversations about who we are as fellow human beings in our country and we were all excited at the time and I witnessed this in the TRC.  This was not just words.  When Nelson Mandela speaks about the moment of the TRC and the possibility of forgiveness, these were real.  These examples are very real.  Our witness of the TRC and people becoming transformed as a result of listening to the stories of suffering and pain of others;  white people connecting with black people.  There is a story that I like to share, taking from the tradition of telling stories, that  I witnessed at  the TRC. A white woman came.  and I tell her story all the time; Her name is   Annemarie McGregor.  Her son was killed in Namibia in the former apartheid government’s war in Namibia and she came to the TRC to tell the story of her son. Sometimes she would see a man and  she would tell herself that this must be him... She would start and look at the man and suddenly she would realise that it is not my son …but that sense of loss and a story of the past …of memory and past that was never healed and coming to the TRC and telling her story and now meeting other mothers whose sons were murdered by the former apartheid government.

Black mothers whose sons were murdered by the apartheid government and watching these women coming from two areas of history connecting together in a very meaningful way and embracing and hugging and crying together was really a very moving experience.

Those were examples of the TRC although there were not many of them, there were sufficient for us to understand that too is possible.

The work of the healing of the memory deals with precisely that; it brings people from different sides of history to reflect on this past and to think about where they are going.

The last words some.... some of the last words that Ela Gandhi  has spoken about were words that connect us to the idea of thinking about our actions, taking responsibility for our actions.  That is so central in this idea of restoring humanity because so often when people don’t think, when people don’t reflect on their actions, they don’t care about what they do.  They don’t think about what they do.  They don’t think about the consequences of their actions on others.  The reason that we have had the kind of past that we have had is that so many people took actions that were destructive to the lives of others without thinking. This idea of taking responsibility for our actions, I believe, is very central in this project of restoring humanity.  The breakdown of humanity begins at the point where we are not able to think about our actions and about the consequences of our actions on others.  The moment we restore that stability within ourselves so that we can reflect on our actions, then we are beginning to embrace that core of what being a human being is about.

Ela Gandhi mentioned ubuntu – that is what ubuntu is about.  It is about the concern for the other person and so this idea of taking responsibility is not just words, it is just really the core of rising up to that moment of humanity.  It is rising up to that call to humanity, to joining the realm of moral humanity.

When you spoke you cited  statements about reviving our traditional beliefs.  It reminded me also of Steve Biko’s words who said that our goal as South Africans, as Africans in this country is to restore this spirit of humanity back to the continent, back to South Africa so that begins to be our identity again.  The project of humanity of restoring humanity revolves around all of these issues – the issues of the importance of values, the importance of taking responsibility for our actions.

When you witness people trashing what they own or what belongs to them or what they should be proud of, when we witness people who are healers engaging in actions that destroy life, as in the protests at the hospitals that we have seen over the past few years, when we witness people engaging in corrupt actions and taking pride in engaging in corrupt actions and not feeling a sense of shame, that means that we are facing a crisis in our society.

When leaders like the leader of ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, speaks proudly about what he has earned and he has no sense of reflection on what it means to be engaged in this actions that everyone is questioning.  When it relates to  actions without shame, when he calls people names without shame.  When his people call people snakes and all of that.  When all of these words become part of our public discourse we ought to be worried.  This speaks to this issue of a failure of taking responsibility for our action.

Our own leader, our own President, at some point during his campaigns, he has himself not stood up and spoken against people who were his supporters, who used the same violent language within a public sphere, so this is why I say the question we have to address to ourselves, is the question that Ela Gandhi’s presentation raises for us is how are we going to deal with the problem of the crisis of moral leadership in our country in order to restore the humanity back to the core of our Africanness.

All of us in our diversity – how can we restore this moral core of humanity that characterises our transition to live a life like Nelson Mandela.


I am at UWC focussing on community healing in South Africa and Zimbabwe.  Thank you for the good presentation.  I am proud to be part of this historic occasion.  You eloquently explained some of the reasons why we have such a violent community ... some of the reasons being the reparations were done not by the perpetrators but by the government. Healing  became elusive as it did not bring closure to both the perpetrator and the victim and it is a debate that rages on in most conflict communities and I think it is a mammoth task ... or maybe as a recommendation or what do you think is the role of the government or what should the government in order to prevent the cycle of violence to be passed on to future generations?

My name is Shane..  I am front Atlantis.  I am part of the Youth   Mine is actually for Pumla and I wrote it down.  Crisis of moral leadership – yes I do agree with that, but especially within deprived communities and communities far away from the city, but how can we have more young, effective, stong leaders when they grow up very illiterate in those communities.  To our educatrional system – what can we do because the educational system has shifted over these past few years from Outcome Based Education  to something new and I think if you grew up illiterate then your morals and values are in fact decreasing sometimes.  So what could be done, what would the government do, what would we or what can we do, or ask as we sit here to kind of take away illiteracy and move forward to moral leadership.  Yes we do have a lack of moral leadership.  Thank you.

My concern is around a case whereby a perpetrator fails to meet the victim half way. My question would be to what extent are the past oppressors responsible or liable for the present day injustices as they relate to class, race and class?  To what extent are the past oppressors responsible in meeting the victims half way?

Thank you.  I think  I would like to give one answer to those two questions but it is a very broad issue. I still think that in general ,... Like with a disease, if you have a disease you have to find a cure.  You can’t put it away and say forget about it and something like that.  SO there has to be something that has to be done and I would suggest that perhaps there should be a discussion on how we can bring the perpetrators and the victims together and how the perpetrators can take responsibility for their actions and the victims are able to see that and to begin to relate to each other again as South Africans.

Both perpetrators and victims are South Africans, how can they together understand their South Africanness,  understand the spirit of Ubuntu and begin to live together without attacking each other? So I think an action needs to be taken.  How it can be done is something that groups have to come together and decide on that particular aspect of how you do it because it is a large amount  of people we are talking about.  It is not just one or two people or just one or two crimes that we talking about.  It is a lot of things that have happened.  We have to identify perhaps from the Truth Commission record something and then begin to organise and that is where the Government can be helpful in helping that process to take place.  So the first step is to understand and accept that the process needs to happen.  The second step is to look at how it can happen.  And the third step is to facilitate that process.

Pumla :  I can only add that beyond the victim and perpetrators: the larger society that is out there, we know from so many of these atrocities that happened in country like ours, in Germany (Nazi Germany) in Rwanda, not very far from us, Zimbabwe, all these places we know the people who are responsible for the crimes – the people who hold the guns and pull the triggers, however in society there are  others who actually allow for want of a better word, allow the oppressive governments and actions to take place and so that group of people who are the society who vote into power the repressive leaders; they too have a role to play.  They have something to answer in terms of their responsibility, because we live on their watch and this government became successful and this is the debate that is now raging in the press in our country.

This issue of the broader sense of responsibility and the issue is not people like Eugene De Kock who are in prison as perpetrators, but in the larger scale of things the questions focus mostly on the larger society that benefitted from atrocities being committed.  So one of the important things then in order to avoid explosive situations that we have seen in our country. That language of anger and revenge is tapping into what is bubbling underneath.  The sense of frustration from people who feel that nothing is happening in their lives, their education is terrible so the question is where do we start?

One of the things that is frustrating in our country is that something that is so obvious – the education of the young people in so many communities.  Sometimes even if there are schools those schools aren’t up to scratch.  Even when there are school sometimes the teachers themselves don’t put the pupils first and Father Michael has just reminded me that the speech again of the Deputy President stresed the importance of teaching ethics at school. If people are not taught that core of values and morals ... To know the difference  between right and wrong and the sense of entitlement... and we are talking about leaders who are now role models, teachers as leaders.  What is happening in the schools often is a reflection of the leadership in the schools themselves.  No sense of right or wrong.  The sense of entitlement – I must get this, I am entitled to this, it is my right to do this.  What about the other person?  Thinking about the other person?  So this question of ethics and teaching of ethics can go a long way in making us recognise the humanity of the other person and instil a sense of humanity in our society.

In fact the healing of the memories is doing a lot of work in that area bringing again ... not perpetrators in the sense of people who pulled the trigger but bringing people who are feeling a sense of shame for having not done enough or not spoken out against the terrible things of the past and bringing them together with people who are their descendants of. What does it mean to be a white person in South Africa.  What does it mean to be a black person in South Africa and what does it mean that we are living in the same country and how can we engage in dialogue
I was part of one of these groups who was lead by Father Michael and his team bringing together victims who are white and victims who are black and at the end of the weekend black people were saying we did not have a sense of suffering by white people and the white people said you know we came from a place of privilege but this pain and suffering connects us so this work of dialogue is very important because of what it does.  It forces us to recognise the other person as a fellow human being.

Father Michael

I just want to make three brief points.  If you have heard me speak before you will know that one of my favourite quotes is from Edward Burke:  “For evil to prosper all it needs is for good people to do nothing”.  We could perhaps reflect on that.  In the Mission Statement of the Institute we say all people share the responsibility for  our past and all people have the responsibility for creating the future and I think that an underlying theme in our discussions is blame and responsibility and we can spend a lot of time on the blame game and not take responsibility.

Just a tiny story.  The very last night that it was possible to get amnesty through the TRC, Archbishop Tutu went on Television and begged people “this is your last chance to get amnesty.”  Five minutes to midnight in Cape Town a group of young black men – African men, came to the Commission offices and they said “we are asking for amnesty for apathy”.  The commission was gobsmacked.  What are they talking about?  But these young black men – one of them in fact was a young Zimbabwean whose parents had been killed by Rhodesian troops but now in South Africa, so these young people said you know it is true that all black people suffered under apartheid.  It is true that all white people benefitted from apartheid.  But it was left to the few to say “we will end it “  Most people simply did their best to survive under tough conditions.  That story confronted me but I think it should also confront all of us because part of our bigger blaming game in South Africa is to blame the government for everything as if we have no responsibilty as  citizens of this land.
There is a group in Kwazulu Natal, called the Vuleka Trust who have what are called “courageous conversations” and I would like us as the Institute for the Healing of  Memories to increasingly be a safe space where we can encourage courageous conversations between young and old, between black and white where we can really say these deeper things to each other.  My last point is to speak to this issue of the perpetrator meeting us half way.  Now in my case I don’t know  who sent me the letter bomb so there is no question at the moment of a perpetrator meeting me halfway, so do I say to myself “well I can’t heal until they say they are sorry?”.  Do I allow myself to be a prisoner of their failure for the sake of my own healing?  Of course it is wonderful when the perpetrator does say sorry and does take responsibility and how wonderful.  You get a goat every week. But even if the goat doesn’t come and I think this is part of what we are as an Institute – these safe and sacred places where we can deal with our toxicity, our poison so we can be free and so that we can create the South Africa of our dreams.  Thank you

I am an.ordinary worker in Parliament. Over time we seem to have lost the plot.  We began to look at personal achievement, personal wealth.  We have a regime we can’t trust, we don’t want to believe in anymore because there seems to be certain actions that have taken place in individuals and in groups.  So those who were part of the struggle and those from other generations, what can we do to bring everyone together

The National Party leadership at the time was corrupt and they were killing people and we believed in this new leadership and we are again faced with people we can’t believe in.  So how do we make the changes so we can  believe in our leaders once more?

My name is.. and I am from Atlantis.  I should say my age as well.  I am 16 years old and I was a volunteer here and there and I also volunteered in Atlantis where we also informed the youth about what is happening and I felt a little bit easier because I know what the families back then and what they felt. I never thought that the past would  actually affect me as a young person.  I never thought it would affect me but  two months ago I went on this training  to where you actually learn about apartheid and how it affected us and all those things and I also went around a couple of time to find out a question inside of me and try to bring out and ask this question Since you are speaking about apartheid, I think it is best that I ask my question now.  During apartheid people went through many things like forced removals.  I think the worst law that was actually implemented was the forced removals. Firstly.  I think that was really really bad.  Ashley Kriel  and all those people who lost their lives and struggled to move forward but unfortunately they were stopped.  Thank God we are not like that anymore.  Our parents say the youth of today, we don’t know exactly how it is to move forward and how painful it is and all the hurt and how they fought for our rights today.  My question is if they saying that type of things, why aren’t our parents and grandparents opening up to us and telling us exactly what happened,.  They have this pain and hurt and they don’t want to speak about it.

I think seriously for us youth to move forward is for our parents and grandparents who knows exactly what happened in apartheid, they need to tell us what happened so we can move forward..

I live in Khayelitsha I try to have a conversation but they  watch TV all the time.  Tv takes away the quality timFre within a family and you find a lot of things that are destructive to constructive conversation in the house. So  I think it was said before the saying everything starts in the home and the home becomes a village, a village becomes a nation.  So I think everything begins and starts in the family.  The values and morals one gets is in the family..  So also what you find is that within the community there are no leaders in the community even if there is kind of leaders but they are not shown that much appreciation so that the little child will be able to see that okay Mrs so and so is being given appreciation for what he has done in terms of development and I want to follow his steps and also show that this person was able to do a great thing. 
My question is that what steps also could be taken more further in the communities or a programme or can be taken in terms of teaching family values

I am from Kuils River.  I am just sitting here wondering if all of us here this evening really appreciate what happening here this evening.  I must really commend all the organisers,   the ground workers who put this together.  This is so so needed in our community and our society.  We are just fortunate that we started a little group in Kuils River on the religious side where we are trying to get people together.  We do realise it is not going to be really smooth because people are really so confused and so hesitant to open up. We as adults need to open up.  I think it is very unfortunate that we have so few older people here this evening because we have a lot to answer for.  We are expecting from the youth to take chance every time.  It is not fair.  We need to also go and confess that we also were quiet, we didn’t do too much.  I was just detained for one day with my wife.  We had a three month old baby that was still drinking, breastfeeding and one day it was bad for me.  And another problem that we have in our society in general and Africa (I have travelled a lot in this Continent) and this Continent is still very religious.  There is a different story in Europe and I think our religious communities regardless of whether you are Christian, Buddhist or Moslem, we need to take charge again for the moral issues of our society.

My main concern is we sitting with a setting that we are going into a new kind of culture of prosperity, preaching in Christian churches.  I am a Christian myself.. I am sometimes hesitant of that term but I think we need to capitalise on these big gatherings where people still get together and they are faithful... They are so faithful and sometimes sitting with corrupt leaders but they are still faithful and they carry on and we need to capitalise and get people to understand these dynamics, that we are sitting with a society that is so enslaved that we will do anything for the purpose for the good of that particular... whether it is a church or whatever we call it.  We will do anything, we will give our last penny but we will remain enslaved as victims of a very sick society and it is a very exciting country.  We are sitting with a beautiful country that has so much to offer and we don’t capitalise on it.

Father Michael
Thank you.  A word to my sister for her beautiful statements.  I am just envious I am not 16. In 1976 a generation of young people changed South Africa’s history.  A generation of young people said to their parents “you accepted and accepted your oppression; we are not going to”. Archbishops Tutu spoke about a generation of young people with iron in thr souls who faced the bullets  with dustbin lids and went on  fighting...  Of course those young people had to learn that there had been suffering, sacrifice and struggle for generations before in this country.Nevertheless they changed the face of history.  Now that ‘ 76 generation are your parents who are now keeping quiet.. who are now not talking.

Perhaps part of the role of young people today  - you have a role to play in the healing of your parents and grandparents.  We will talk about the past when the time is right not just as someone is running out of the door.
My elderly mother died recently at the age of 93.  She had been affected by an earthquake long before I was born in 1931 and she never told us that story.  It happened but she never talked about it.  My niece, her granddaughter interviewed her about that event and that is how we as a family learnt some of what had happened to my mother.  We learnt that it was a young man that saved her life and then got killed.  We never learnt that story.  So it was the granddaughter who created a space for the grandmother to speak.  So I think part of healing of memories is intergenerational conversations.
You as young people can be the healers of parents and grandparents in your willingness to listen. Just as when I was bombed,  it was children from across the world who through their paintings helped me heal.  So don’t think you don’t have a role to play.  You said it so beautifully – thank you very much. Congratulations.  I think she deserves a clap.

I think Father Michael has spoken eloquently  ... One thing that is important for us to realise is that we voted leaders in and we can vote them out.  So we need to know that we do have the power of votes in our hands.  As long as there is one person one vote in this country we can exercise our vote in the best way that we can.  So I think it is about organising, it is about getting together, about talking because it is not just about voting for one party or the other but  it is about the person, the kind of person that you want and saying to the person this is the kind of person we want to represent us and that is one way in which we can bring about some change at that level.

I just want to share one little story.   The Mahatma was my mentor and this story always comes to my mind.  There was a mother who brought a little child who was suffering from diabetes and he asked the Mahatma to speak to him because he refused to listen to her about not eating sweets. When he brought the child the Mahatma said come back in 2 weeks time.  So the mother went away and then came back in 2 weeks and then the Mahatma called this child and spoke to him and explained why sweets weren’t good for him and asked the child to promise him that he would not eat sweets.  And the child listened because he respected him and said okay I will not eat sweets.  And all of this took about 10 minutes of  the Mahatma’s time so when the mother was leaving she turned to ask him “so why didn’t you say this when I first came to you.  Just give him 10 minutes.  The day I came to you why didn’t you tell the child not to eat sweets?”  He said “at that time I was eating sweets”.

It is a privilege to the do the vote of thanks after such a special event this evening.  I would like to thank Ela Ghandi for presenting this very first annual healing of memory lecture hosted by us and the University of the Western Cape.  I am very very moved and inspired by what you said and I think many of us were also inspired.... When Mrs Ghandi spoke of love I was reminded of another great teacher and that is the Dalai Lama who says “Love and compassion are necessities, not a luxury.  Without them humanity cannot survive.

About Us

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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