Excerpted with permission of U.S. Catholic. In late 1995, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was looking forward to hisretirement when South Africa's President Nelson Mandela appointed himchairperson of the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. "Whocould ever say Mr. Mandela nay?" Tutu recalls. "My much-longed-forsabbatical went out the window, and for nearly three years we would beinvolved in the devastating but also exhilarating work of thecommission." For Tutu, the South African experience is a sign of hope to theworld. "The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ puts the issuebeyond doubt," he says. "Ultimately goodness, laughter, peace,compassion, gentleness, forgiveness, and reconciliation will have thelast word and prevail over their ghastly counterparts. The victory overapartheid is proof positive of this truth."
You have said that sometimes, as you were listening to thetestimonies, you caught yourself wondering whether God must not havesecond thoughts about having created humanity. God took an incredible risk creating us. And when I look at theawful wrecks that litter human history, I imagine God surveying itall--seeing how his children treat their sisters and brothers--and weepingover his creation. Certainly, there is a great deal of evidence thatmight make God rue his decision. Although as humans, we are all formed by nurture and by nature,in the end we still have a choice to make. The killers could have chosendifferently. They didn't, and the glory of our God is that God does notstep in to stop them. God just has the pain of a parent who sees hischild go badly wrong but must respect the child's free will to choose. But there's also a great deal of evidence that makes God say itwas worth it. As God looks at people like a Mother Teresa, a MartinLuther King Jr., a Gandhi, or a Nelson Mandela, he must rub his handsin divine satisfaction and say, "Don't you think it was worth all ofthis pain and anguish to have produced wonderful people like these?And I was really surprised myself that, at the end of thewrenching process that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was,there was an incredible sense of hope. Because of the nobility of thehuman spirit and the marvelous magnanimity of nearly all the victims whotestified, we also got the sense that, yes, we humans are capable of agreat deal of evil, but we are fundamentally good.
Tell me more about the grace you witnessed in the people who testifiedbefore the commission. It was fantastic. One such example occurred in our hearing about anevent that had happened in Bisho in Ciskei, where 28 people had beenkilled by soldiers of the Ciskeian Defense Force (CDF) who opened fireon an African National Congress (ANC) demonstration. We held one of ourhearings in Bisho. The hall was packed to the rafters, and many whoattended had either themselves been injured on that occasion or had lostloved ones. So you could imagine the tension in that hall. _______________________
A key leader in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa,Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. He has served as theAnglican archbishop of Cape Town and as president of the All AfricaConference of Churches. For the past two years, Tutu has been a visitingprofessor at Emory University in Atlanta while also lecturingthroughout the world. He is the author most recently of "No FutureWithout Forgiveness" (Doubleday, 1999).
The first person to speak was the former head of the CDF, who riledvirtually everybody by talking in a tone that came across as arrogantand cynical. So the tension rose even further. Then the next group of witnesses consisted of four officers in thisdefense force. Their spokesperson said, "Yes, we gave the orders for thesoldiers to open fire." You could just feel the audience become reallyhostile and angry. But then this soldier turned to the audience and made an extraordinaryappeal: "Please forgive us, please. The burden of the Bisho massacrewill be on our shoulders for the rest of our lives." He was white andthe three other soldiers were black, and he went on to plead with theaudience: "Would you please receive my colleagues back into thecommunity?" It was unbelievable, unexpected. You could sense the presence of graceright there, because that audience, angry as they had been, almostimmediately turned around and broke out in incredible applause. Herewere people who were limping, who were shot, some had lost children orother loved ones, and they could applaud. You couldn't have choreographed it. It was just spontaneous. The peoplecould quite as easily have booed him. ...At our very first meeting, the widow of one of the so-called Cradock Fourtestified. The Cradock Four were ANC activists who were ambushed by thepolice and killed quite gruesomely. She described how they had beenwaiting anxiously for their husbands and not getting any news, when onechild saw a newspaper with a picture of a burned-out car and said,"Mommy, this is daddy's car." She then described how she went to thehome of her friend whose husband was also among the four, and then shejust broke down and let out an unearthly scream. In many ways that cry, which was broadcast throughout the land, came tosymbolize the commission--a cry from the depths of anguish. We had begunthis process where people could open their hearts and expose the anguishthat had remained locked up for so long. It would cause considerablepain, but it was also going to help people heal. Then the daughter of one of the Cradock Four told her story, and whenshe finished, I asked her whether she thought she would be able toforgive the people who had done this to her father. She was quiteextraordinary, she was still a teenager, and she spoke very quietly, butwith remarkable dignity. She said, "We would like to forgive, but wedon't know whom to forgive." The truth eventually surfaced when the police officers who were involvedapplied for amnesty before our commission and disclosed the ghastlytruth of how they had murdered the four. It's been an incrediblejourney. What makes the kind of forgiveness these victims showed possible?Wouldn't a desire for revenge be the more "natural" reaction? We have to keep reminding people that we are the beneficiaries of a lotof praying. I think Christians are strange creatures, because it seemswe pray for miracles, but then we're surprised when the miracles dohappen. The other part is rooted in what we refer to as ubuntu, the African viewthat a person is a person through other persons. My humanity is caughtup in your humanity, and when your humanity is enhanced--whether I likeit or not--mine is enhanced as well. Likewise, when you are dehumanized,inexorably, I am dehumanized as well. So there is a deep yearning in African society for communal peace andharmony. It is for us the summum bonum, the greatest good. For in it, wefind the sustenance that enables us to be truly human. Anything thaterodes this central good is inimical to all, and nothing is moredestructive than resentment and anger and revenge. In a way, therefore, to forgive is the best form of self-interest,because I'm also releasing myself from the bonds that hold me captive,and it is important that I do all I can to restore relationship. Becausewithout relationship, I am nothing, I will shrivel. That is also a very biblical understanding: God is community, God isrelationship, God is Trinity. God can't exist in isolation.