“We still have need of reconciliation and justice”

Posted on May 10, 2010. Filed under: News, Reconciliation |

This morning, the Cape Times published an editorial by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and patron of the IJR.  The article focuses on the need for “appropriate conclusion to the TRC process”, as well as the ongoing challenges to reconciliation, justice and unity in South Africa.

Read the full article below!

We still have need of reconciliation and justice

May 10, 2010 Edition 1

Desmond Tutu

It seems like yesterday that the doors of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission closed after handing its recommendations to the South African government. One can scarcely believe that 12 years have since passed and that the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, founded a year after the conclusion of the TRC, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month.

This organisation, among others, has helped to ensure that reconciliation remains part of our national, but also continent-wide, dialogue. Today the IJR works with scores of partners in countries like the DRC, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Kenya – and it has gained international recognition in doing so.

In 2008, the Institute was awarded Unesco’s 2008 Prize for Peace Education – a prestigious international award given before to the likes of Paulo Freire, the Jewish-Arab Centre for Peace in Israel and Mother Theresa. We had never envisaged this level of impact to be attained so early on. Clearly, the Institute has potential to achieve significant further success over the next few years, not only in SA but further afield.

Collaboration between African countries on the issues of justice and reconciliation has become an increasingly important over the past decade. The aim is to create a community of African nations sharing ideas and assisting one another to build fair, democratic and inclusive societies.

It is heartening to see to what extent such collaboration continues to grow, not only through regional organisations such as the AU and SADC, but also between like-minded civil society organisations.

As Africans we need to keep talking about reconciliation, not to cover up the sins of the past and let dictators and their henchmen off the hook, but as a way to bring divided nations together, and to foster dialogue. Many African countries are looking for ways to foster this type of dialogue – the kind that enabled South Africans to negotiate a constitution and conduct a TRC, faults notwithstanding, as a basis for moving ahead.

Here at home, South Africans too need to keep talking about reconciliation, not to keep the divisions of the past alive, but so that our journey towards a rainbow nation can continue. Much remains to be done, both in terms of specific TRC recommendations, but also more broadly in terms of building an inclusive, tolerant and peaceful South Africa – that is at peace with itself, the continent and the world.

I am saddened that, after all this time, we are still waiting for an appropriate conclusion to the TRC process. The government’s lacklustre response to many aspects of the Commission’s recommendations remains a source of deep disappointment. Beneficiaries of apartheid have also failed in adequately acknowledging the generosity of their victims’ forgiveness.

On both counts it was the victims, those brave men and women who came forward to tell their stories, who have lost out. What would it take for the Department of Justice to take proactive steps towards genuine consultation with South African citizens on how to handle the backlog of apartheid-era criminal cases, or unlock the as-yet untouched President’s Fund with its almost R1 billion earmarked for reparations?

In cases where perpetrators failed to get amnesty from the TRC, or chose not to participate at all, the state needs to come up with solutions. We cannot simply let this go, because it would ridicule the amnesty that the TRC granted to those perpetrators who did participate.

On the other hand we also do not want to become mired in apartheid court cases for decades to come – this was precisely the scenario which the TRC was designed to help avoid. We need clear, workable and morally sound strategies, in line with TRC principles, to clear the backlog of apartheid-era cases and to pay outstanding reparations.

For this reason, it was entirely right that a coalition of like-minded NGOs, including the IJR and Khulumani among several others, recently opposed the Special Dispensation for Presidential Pardons – and won. I am proud that our Constitutional Court found in favour of the NGOs and heartened by the fact that there is now evidence of more concrete collaboration between civil society and the government on this crucial issue.

It is unfortunate that it had to take a court case to bring the government to the table, but perhaps this is precisely what the rule of law and democracy is all about. I sincerely hope the government will now take civil society into its confidence and draw on our collective strengths to produce and implement these strategies.

More broadly, South Africans need to work more concertedly towards unity. Perhaps we have begun to take reconciliation for granted. Yet, major socio-economic and racial fault lines persist, as the IJR’s Reconciliation Barometer and Transformation Audits continue to show year after year. Nobody seriously believed the rainbow nation would be built overnight. Yet cynics are keen to point to our lack of progress as proof that, yet again, an African nation will fail.

I continue to believe that SA will succeed, but then we cannot afford to ignore the challenges before us. Inequality, HIV/Aids, violent crime, corruption and quality education for all, are among the most pressing needs. We also need to become far more respectful of ourselves, of one another and of the environment.

We need leaders with vision and moral integrity to show the way, not only by what they say, but by how they deliver, and by the measure of respect with which they treat themselves and everyone around them.

Perhaps the biggest source of disillusionment in South Africa today, is the quality of life on our streets.

South Africans need to ask what happened to the ideals we had at the onset of democracy. In many ways, our society is more violent, greedier and more divided than ever before. This is not to deny the many gains, but the last few years have not been good ones.

Last year the IJR worked with leaders from more than 80 marginalised communities, across several countries, to develop a greater sense of cohesion, self-reliance and organisation in the way that developmental challenges are tackled. This arduous, bottom-up reconciliation work is so necessary if we are to realise our bigger dreams. Few are prepared to do this. Yet, as the IJR facilitators can attest, there are no shortcuts on the road to reconciliation.

To emphasise that reconciliation is increasingly in the hands of ordinary South Africans, IJR awarded its annual Reconciliation Prize for the previous two years, to community-based initiatives.

The first was to community leaders in Masiphumele in Hout Bay for their brave opposition to xenophobia, and the second to the Shine Centre in Cape Town where volunteers, often retired teachers, provide remedial assistance to hundreds of children who would otherwise not have access to it.

It was a way to salute South Africans, white and black, who, through the course of their everyday lives, are making reconciliation a reality in their spheres of influence.

In spite of the many setbacks, we must not forget that we do continue to defy the odds. We have placed our country on a firm trajectory towards future success. In the process, we have gained the respect of many on the continent and in the international community.

A wonderful example of this is our hosting of the first World Cup on African soil next month. We must not lose our way now. The World Cup is an opportunity to emphasise that reconciliation means so much more than building a South African nation; that it is a project we share with all our African brothers and sisters and indeed with all of humanity.

The struggle for justice and reconciliation must continue – here in South Africa but also on the continent more broadly.

The Institute has proved its value in this regard over the past decade. I have no doubt that it will continue to do so during the next decade.

I believed at the conclusion of the TRC that an organisation like the IJR was needed. Today, it is clear this belief was well-founded. It is good to know there are organisations which continue to work steadily towards justice and reconciliation– in good times and bad.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Archbishop of Cape Town, is the patron of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. For more information on the Institute, visit http://www.ijr.org.za

This article originally appeared in the Cape Times on 10 May 2010.

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