Thursday, February 09, 2006

Not In My Country

Last night, after our date, K and I finally watched a movie we'd rented almost two weeks ago (ah, Blockbuster, how do we abuse thy trust). We kept remembering and not being in the mood for a serious flick, but last night we decided to just watch it already. And it was astonishing.

In My Country
is based on a book called Country of My Skull (the name of the movie in most countries). It explores the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, a post-apartheid airing of wrongs and a hope for bringing South Africans together after that horrific period ended in the nineties. The hearings sought to give the victims of apartheid a chance to tell their stories and face their tormentors. They also sought to give the wrongdoers amnesty of they were willing to give full confessions and could also prove that they were following orders from their superiors. K and I knew something of apartheid coming in, but not much. Both of us were blind-sided by the powerful message of the story.

The two lead characters in the film are a white Afrikaner woman (a poet turned journalist) and a black African-American man (a journalist) sent to cover the hearings. They have a lot of discussions about whether this amnesty is even right - shouldn't the blacks be given financial reparations and the whites all be implicated in the wrong done in their name by their peers? Here is a nation where the large majority of the people lived in fear (or worse actual conditions) of unprovoked incarceration and torture with no recourse provided to them under the law. FOR FORTY YEARS. Now it's time to rebuild the country, and they are willing, the vast majority of the country is willing to grant amnesty to their enemies.

As soon as the movie was over, we both turned to each other with the same thought at the forefront of our minds: This would never happen here. The concept of forgiving your accusers and not forcing them to face financial, social, and psychological ruin for what they did? Does not compute. And this in the vaunted "Christian Nation." We live by the majority here, and they had a majority - an overwhelming one, really - yet they abided by the rules of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, told their stories, and forgave the people who ruined their lives and those of their families. How brave. How unbelievably beautiful. How truly Christian of them.

Talk of virtue is seems so prevalent in contemporary American Christianity. I think if you just listened to the way we talked and preached, you'd think we had the corner on that market. Even when we're claiming we have a long way to go, we're still firmly convinced we know it better than anyone. So I ask, why is it that in a country where so many profess to be believing Christians that forgiveness seems so rare and definitely impossible in any arena of politics?

I'm sure that the movie took liberties with the real stories. I'm sure that some of the information I've found (in a cursory, one-day internet search, mind you) is flawed or downright wrong. But I want to know more. I want to learn from these amazing people whose voices the film tried to relay. And I want to know why my own people seems so unwilling to champion that virtue of forgiveness.

And I want you to watch that movie and read the following passage from a site on truth commissions throughout the world (including one conducted in Argentina in my short life there!). It's so noble, so beautiful that it makes me cry:

"Archbishop Tutu was the driving force behind the commissionĂ‚’s work. He created the framework through which the work of the TRC was understood. He made little attempt to separate his work on the commission from his spiritual beliefs, often referred to as Ubuntu theology. Ubuntu is the traditional African notion 'which affirms an organic wholeness of humanity, a wholeness realized in and through other people.' Desmond Tutu merged this traditional thought with Christian values of forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation. This ideology led to a subtle pressure on those who testified to forgive those who had committed crimes against them, as according to the ubuntu ideology it was only through forgiveness and the recognition of the humanity of the wrongdoer that testifiers could fully reclaim their own humanity. The driving philosophy behind the TRC was the idea that 'Reconciliation is only possible if we build on the foundation of truth. Amnesia may be comforting, but in the end it will prevent reconciliation rather than promoting it.' (Archbishop TutuĂ‚’s Pressclub speech, 21 October 1997). The creators of the TRC also believed that providing victims with the truth would facilitate the healing process." [Source]


Plankiest said...


Don Quixote said...

I visited Robbenisland when I was in South Africa. That was were Mandela and other dissidents were held. It was a truly emotional experience. The tours are given by EX-INMATES. If you want to hear about injustice, go there.

It IS amazing to compare the ability to forgive that the South Africans have to that of the people of the U.S. It shames me.

One thing I might point out, however, is that South Africa has the HIGHEST standard of living and is the CLEANEST of all African Nations. This is because of English rule. This does not excuse what was done, but it does point out that the South Africans HAVE benefited some from that dark time, even though they suffered a LOT more.