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No Future Without Forgiveness (1999)

by Desmond Tutu

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when I first tried to read this book, I had just finished a broad review of the history of sub-Saharan Africa (including the complete history of South Africa) and Nelson Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom (which I just realized I never reviewed! gaah). so I was familiar with the history---the long, sorted history of relations between the Dutch settlers who came to call themselves Afrikaaners, the various black African native peoples, the "coloureds" (of mixed Dutch-African descent from very early in the colony's history), and the Indians (yes, that's the country of India, thank you). I was familiar with apartheid, the resistance to and armed struggle against apartheid, and the amazing dissolution of apartheid and a democratically-elected new government.

after centuries of internal conflict, South Africa could have easily (and indeed was fully expected to) become yet another battleground of the world: like Northern Ireland, Bosnia-Hertzogovenia, Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan, Angola. this kind of conflict does not just go away. even if people try to smooth it over, forget about it, and move on, if you don't deal with the foundations and results of that conflict, it will rise again to drag you back down.

however, if you hold the equivalent of war tribunals or the Nuremberg Trials, in South Africa, well then you'd be hunting down literally thousands of people who participated in apartheid; and running up enormous court and jail costs in a country that had serious economic concerns including food, medicine, and housing; and really then you run the risk of just reversing the oppressed and the oppressor. none of this is conducive to long-term healing of a nation where people have to live and work with each other, and same with their descendants, and their descendants after them. this does not serve the peace.

so South Africa tried a different way. after a new Constitution was approved, one of the first things the new government did was to try to deal with the anger and hurt of people throughout the country by setting up a Truth and Reconcilliation Commission. they made it where if you had committed a gross human rights violation under apartheid (with certain cut-off dates and restrictions), you could apply for amnesty, and if you received amnesty, you couldn't be prosecuted for that offense in criminal or civil court. but. you had to confess in full, in public, and you had to hold yourself accountable.

that way no one could say they "didn't know" any more. the whole country would be made very well aware of what had been going on, and the people responsible would have to accept their accountability, and the people who had not dared ask questions or who had looked the other way had to accept their own kind of accountability too.

victims of apartheid (meeting requirements, because otherwise there'd be just too many people to deal with) could also come forward and tell their stories and receive reparations to help them heal and move on.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the Chairperson of the Truth and Reconcilliaton Commission, and in this very expressive book explains the thinking behind such an experiment, as well as its successes, drawbacks, and crises that almost derailed the whole thing.

I knew this when I started reading, and again I knew what kinds of things had been going on during apartheid (including routine torture and abductions), but when I got to part where the book quoted a person who was applying for amnesty, saying what he had done, and he was torturing someone for information, and shoved a knife up the victim's nose... well, then I felt a knife going up my nose. and I had to leave the book for another time!

finally I have come back to it, with enough distance but not too much, and I'm glad I read it. (and no, it wasn't full of that kind of thing (examples of torture), but of course it had to have some in there so the reader had an inkling of what they were dealing with.) it is a book full of promising ideas and concepts that I hope make people think. it gives options that are too often overlooked in the world today, and sadly they're the options that might just work. nobody is going to say that South Africa is a perfect place now, with rivers of chocolate and fields of lollipops, but they have a peace that is working. and that's saying something.

I give it a 5, because I think it is so important and needs to be read. and thought about. and applied to our lives. I think we could all find a little more peace if we tried.

see also http://miasbooklist.blogspot.com/2006/12/long-walk-to-freedom-nelson-mandela-no.... ( )
  moiraji | Feb 20, 2008 |
This is an excellent book and I was struck by a number of key themes.

1. The sense of fear that hard-line elements within the white security forces would refuse to accept the negotiated agreement and might launch military action which would be disastrous for everybody. This fear largely accounts for the huge concessions that the ANC made to the former security forces, concessions which are still controversial within the majority population.

2. His treatment of restorative and retributive justice. The latter, which dominates western cultures, is punitive and individualistic. The former is far more common in Africa (Tutu links it to ubuntu) and involves restoring harmony to the community and seeking the greatest good for all in the community. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission may have been the pragmatic result of the fear of military action by hard line whites, but its spirit was that of restorative justice.

3. Tutu almost seems more sympathetic towards the torturers and murderers who stood up and admitted, "I did it!" than to the huge number of whites who benefited from the apartheid regime but, when it fell, rushed to claim they never supported it and didn't know how bad it was. It is a lesson in collusion which is repeated again and again where people benefit from the abhorrent or illegal actions of governments which claim to act in their name. ( )
  johnthefireman | Jan 27, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385496907, Paperback)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu stands alongside Nelson Mandela as one of the most iconic figures of the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. As archbishop of Cape Town throughout the 1980s, Tutu came to symbolize dignified, rational opposition to the iniquities of the apartheid regime, a faithful irreverence for unjust authority that led to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. In 1995 he took up his greatest challenge, as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the remarkable yet harrowing attempt by South Africans to come to terms with the gross violations of human rights committed throughout the apartheid era by offering amnesty and forgiveness rather than punishment and dismissal.

No Future Without Forgiveness is Tutu's remarkable personal memoir of his time as chair of the commission. It records his insistence of the need to discover a "third way" in the healing of the national psyche and his powerful belief that "we can indeed transcend the conflicts of the past, we can hold hands as we realize our common humanity." Tutu's characteristic humor, resilience, and compassion are evoked in a way that demonstrates how essential they have been to his unique political style--and his ability to get results where all others failed. He recalls the darkest days of apartheid's "vicious awfulness" when, preaching about God's authority, he was "frequently tempted to whisper in God's ear, 'For goodness sake, why don't You make it more obvious that You are in charge?"'

No Future Without Forgiveness could be profitably read alongside Antjie Krog's equally compelling Country of My Skull, as it considers the emotional toll that such a process of national soul-searching has had upon its participants. As Tutu himself points out, "It is a costly business to try to heal a wounded and traumatized people, and those engaging in that crucial task will perhaps bear the brunt themselves ... we were, in Henri Nouwen's celebrated phrase, 'wounded healers.'" --Rachel Holmes, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:16 -0400)

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The establishment of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a pioneering international event. Never before had a country sought to move forward from despotism to democracy by completely exposing the atrocities committed in the past and achieving reconciliation with its former oppressors. At the center of this unprecedented attempt at healing a nation has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom President Nelson Mandela named as Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. With the final report of the commission having now been published, Archbishop Tutu offers his reflections on the profound wisdom he has gained by helping usher South Africa through this painful experience. In No future without forgiveness, Tutu argues that true reconciliation does not come easily nor by merely denying the past. More than repeating platitudes and trite theories about forgiveness, he puts forward a bold spirituality that recognizes the horrors people can inflict upon one another and yet retains a sense of idealism and realism about reconciliation. With a clarity of pitch born out of decades of experience, Tutu shows readers how to move forward with honesty and compassion to build a newer and more humane world.… (more)

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