January 06, 2006


The story of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is fascinating. How is it possible for people sharing such a violent and horrifying past to move on, and share a country? The key is forgiveness.

Bill Moyers asked Bishop Desmond Tutu about the TRC; "But how could people who had been hurt so badly forgive their tormentor and become friends?"

Tutu said, "No, often they could not become friends. Forgiveness doesn't mean you become friends. You may need to say 'I forgive you, but I can never see you again.' "

When someone hurts you, in terms of simple justice, they have given you something--they have given you the "right" to hurt them back, to right the injustice-- an eye for an eye.

To FORGIVE at the most basic level, he said, is to relinquish that right: it is to say, "You hurt me and you have acknowledged it. I now relinquish my right to retribution. I will let you walk away, and then I never want to see you again."

Tutu said, 'The teenage daughter of one of the four African National Congress activists who were burned to death alive in their car, found out that the police were the perpetrators. We asked if forgiveness was possible. You could hear a pin drop in hall that was jam-packed to the roof. She said quietly, 'Yes we want to forgive but we just want to know whom to forgive'. How fantastic to see this young girl, still human despite all efforts to dehumanise her.'

'... when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred.'

'Retribution leads to a cycle of reprisal, leading to counter-reprisal in an inexorable movement, as in Rwanda, Northern Ireland, and in the former Yugoslavia. The only thing that can break that cycle, making possible a new beginning, is forgiveness. Without forgiveness there is no future.'

Finally, Tutu on leadership:

"The leader is the servant. So leadership is not having your own way. It's not for self-aggrandizement. But oddly, it is for service. It is for the sake of the led. It is a proper altruism."


At January 07, 2006 10:45 PM , Blogger Kate said...

If/When I become an Anglican or Episcopalian, Desmond Tutu will be at the top of my list of reasons to convert.

He is a prophet who we need to listen to.

At January 08, 2006 1:40 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

I find it shocking that Bp Tutu has the gall to insist that such a thing as forgiveness is possible and the vision to know how to go about it. Or you could say faith in place of gall. True grit & leadership.

At January 08, 2006 4:03 PM , Anonymous Tim said...

good post. Truth and reconciliation accomplishes so many things. defuses some of the violence in that society, but also keeps alive the memories of those who died. If it wasn't for that commission how else would I be reminded of the activists who died in that fire?

My favorite quote from Bishop Tutu is when he recounted how he got letters from Americans saying things like, "I pray every morning in the forest near my house for an end to Apartied" and he said, "when I read things like that I realized we had already won, I said to myself, 'how can the Apartheid regime hope to survive? people are praying for its end in the woods in California' "

It almost sounds sarcastic, but it is a faith that makes my spine tingle

At April 28, 2008 2:08 AM , Anonymous kelsey said...

i disagree this isnt as easy as they put it out to be. tutu should get what he deserves, and as for anyone else you break the law you should know what risk your taking


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