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What we can still learn from the South African experience.

Truth and Reconciliation is a profound process that takes longer, costs more, and is messier than one can imagine.  Here is one story from the South African experience:

After Apartheid ended in South Africa, a white police officer named Mr. Van der Boek was put on trial. The court found that he had come to a woman’s home, shot her son at point-blank range, and then burned the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby. The woman’s husband was killed by the same men, and his body also was burned.

Unfathomable Cruelty and Indignity

I can’t fathom the source or the energy needed to fuel such cruelty. But more unfathomable is the surviving woman’s response (the mother of the son and wife to the husband murdered and burned). What must she have thought and felt as she sat in the court room being burdened and re-traumatized by evidence?

A member of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission turned to her and asked, “So, what do you want? How should justice be done for this man?”

How is Justice to be done?

That’s the right question, isn’t it? What is justice; how can it be achieved; how does it look different from mere retribution and punishment? But the judge asked “how should justice be done for this man?” – not – “for this surviving woman.”

What would this wife & mother say in the face of such murderous cruelty that further caused indignity to her husband’s and son’s remains?

I want three things,” the woman said confidently:

“I want first to be taken to he place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.

Become my Son!?

My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, for Mr. Van der Boek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.

This is truly a breathtaking request. We can finish her sentence starting with “I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I” – fill in the blank!

  • So I can get him to feel the crushing poverty I live with.
  • So I can have him feel the full void of my loss with no husband or son.
  • So I can have him feel every distrusting eye scrutinize him as the minority in our ghetto community.

But no; she finishes her request with “so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.”  How much love does she still have?

And I could not find if Mr. Van der Boek could possibly receive such love. Did he come out, as she asked, twice a month to spend the day with her for the sole purpose of receiving what ever love she may still possess?

Finally, Forgiveness

And finally, I would like Mr. Van der Boek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van der Boek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven.

From Michael Wakely, Can It Be True? A Personal Pilgrimage through Faith and Doubt

Become my Child

This is what Abba, Father does to us as He adopts us into His family against the evidence of disgust, and opposed to the demerit of our unworthiness.  When you are aware of this, how can you enter His arms to be convinced that you can be truly forgiven? And more, how can you enter His arms to be adopted as His child?

Here is a hint: When you are ready, be led…

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received… brought about your adoption as His children. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Forgiveness cannot be demanded

I am not naive enough to think that it’s all good in South Africa, or that forgiveness should be given for it is expected, or that forgiveness should be given because it does as much to release the forgiver and it does the forgiven (for a contrasting view, read “You may free apartheid killers but you can’t force victims to forgive“). But as the woman in the above noted story alluded, forgiveness is possible when we recognize our own status as forgiven people.


Consider this in light of Nation Aboriginal Day, and our own need for Truth and Reconciliation.