Returning to peace is something we can do together

Recently, I had a community member ask me to address an article on the police brutality that was occurring in the United States, as many seemed to be thinking and talking about it. What I offer today is a look at how the government of South Africa healed, as best it could from apartheid, and the brutality the white government inflicted upon the native African (Bantu) population. I believe we all can learn from their example, even in our every day experiences of dealing with the meanness from others that comes into our lives.

Apartheid is a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on the grounds of race. It was in effect in South Africa under the National party from 1948 until 1994, when the first all-race elections occurred. Apartheid not only forcibly separated the Africans from the whites, but placed the Africans in 10 different “bantustans”, or homelands, and sold their holdings to whites very cheaply. Their idea was to keep the Africans separate and in poverty, so no one majority would form to threaten the National Party.

That’s the first lesson for the day: Separation weakens a group. Unity strengthens it.

Segregation was enforced by the National Party’s government militia, which became more and more violent. The world was watching, and the United Nations General Assembly denounced apartheid in 1973. In 1976, thousands of black children in Soweto demonstrated against the Afrikaans language requirements for students, and the police opened fire with tear gas and bullets. This prompted the UN to impose a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa. In 1985, the United Kingdom and USA restricted trade to South Africa to encourage them to change.

Second lesson: Sometimes you need outside help.

F. W. de Klerk’s presidency repealed many of the apartheid restrictions. He released Nelson Mandela from prison in February 1990, and worked with him, which led the way for the election in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected as head of the African National Congress, which led to a coalition government with a nonwhite majority.

So how does one heal from 46 official years of victimization? A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed December 16, 1995. It still exists.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed the commission’s first meeting. He had an invisible cultural ally: Ubuntu.

Just as the first Hawaiians lived the concept of aloha (from the Hawaii Revised statutes) “Definition of Aloha Spirit State Law [§5-7.5] “Aloha Spirit.” (a) “Aloha Spirit” is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force …” (and there is much more.)

In South Africa they live with the spirituality, or philosophy of ubuntu. One who lives with ubuntu is held with greatest respect. Tutu describes it in the book “Believe” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Blue Mountain Arts, 2007.

“This concept has two parts: The first is that the person is friendly, hospitable, generous, gentle, caring, and compassionate. In other words, someone who will use his or her strengths on behalf of others — the weak and the poor and the ill — and not take advantage of anyone. This person treats others as he wants to be treated. And because of this they express the second part of their concept, which concerns openness, large-heartedness. They share their worth. In doing so, my humanity is recognized and becomes inextricably bound to theirs.”

“Because we need one another, our natural tendency is to be cooperative and helpful. If this were not true we would have died out as a species long ago, consumed by our violence and hate. But we haven’t. We have kept on despite the evil and the wars that have brought so much suffering and misery down the centuries. We have kept on because we strive for harmony and community, a community not only of the living but also one that honors our forebears.

This link to the past gives us a sense of continuity; a sense that we have created and create societies that are meant to be for the greater good and try to overcome anything that subverts our purpose. Our wars end; we seek to heal.

“But anger, resentment, a lust for revenge, greed, even the aggressive competitiveness that rules so much of our contemporary world, corrodes and jeopardizes our harmony. Ubuntu points out that those who seek to destroy and dehumanize are also victims-victims, usually of a pervading ethos (cultural beliefs), be it a political ideology, an economic system or a distorted religious conviction. Consequently, they are as much dehumanized as those on whom they trample.”

It can be summed up as lesson three: “If I diminish you, I diminish myself.” If I hurt you, take advantage of you, victimize you in any way, I am being smaller than I truly am. And also, if I amplify you, I amplify myself. Beholding goodness and dignity in you reinforces it in me.

As the Hawaiians have ho’oponopono, a system to make past wrongs and misunderstandings right, the TRC was given the task to make things right. Compassion had to be felt for both the victims and the perpetrators on both sides…the perpetrators who had lost their way, and forgotten that they all belonged to the one human family.

Tutu spoke at the TRC’s first day in Dec. 1995, “We will be engaging in what should be a corporate nationwide process of healing through contrition (genuine sorrow for the harm caused), confession and forgiveness. To be able to forgive one needs to know whom one is forgiving and why. That is why the truth is so central to this whole exercise.

“But we will be engaging in something that is ultimately deeply spiritual, deeply personal. That is why I have been appealing to all our people — this is not something just for the Commission alone. We are in it, all of us together, black and white, coloured and Indian, we this rainbow people of God. That is why I have appealed to our different communities of faith (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu etc) to uphold the Commission in fervent prayer and intercession that we may be showered with the divine blessings of wisdom, courage and discernment.”

The TRC developed 3 divisions:

1. The Human Rights Violations Committee that investigated the claimed human rights abuses. When violations were identified they are referred to …

2. … The Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee that provided victim support to ensure that their process restored the victims’ dignity; and to formulate policy proposals and recommendations on rehabilitation and healing of survivors, their families and communities at large.

3. The Amnesty Committee took applications from perpetrators. If they were granted amnesty (often by proving that they were under direct orders to do a task, without any added violence on their part) They might be freed from prosecution for that particular act.

Part of the process was that the victim had the opportunity to tell the perpetrators how they, their families, and community were harmed by the actions. This included the Bantu attacks on white officers as well. When the perpetrators saw the scars, the damaged families, the orphans, the grieving … the victim’s humanity was brought into the equation. Ubuntu, or Aloha, or Oneness does its work.

The movie “In My Country,” based on the book “Country of my Skull” by Annie Krog demonstrates the process. I was deeply moved by it. It does have an R rating for violence.

The process of many courts today is based on finding out who is right or wrong, and applying recommended sentences or fines. More and more (including Kauai) are using mediation with neutral mediators as a way for both sides to face each other and tell their stories, and work out personal agreements.

There is also a specialized version of it called Victim-Offender Mediation, with 1,330,000 hits, so its time has arrived.

On Kauai, juveniles who break the law have the opportunity to use Hale Opio Kauai’s Family Conferencing program, which is a form of victim/offender mediation. Yet, I see the real task as creating a true sense of aloha, ubuntu, or oneness in our country, teaching that “as you get better, I get better, and that if I take advantage of you, I hurt myself.”

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Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org For more information about Hale Opio Kauai, please go to www.haleopio.org

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