INSIDE Chico State
0 October 21, 1999
Volume 30 Number 6
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Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
Restorative Justice and Reconciliation

Archbishop Desmond Tutu answered questions from the media with humor and wisdom before his lecture on October 8 in Laxson Auditorium.  (photo KM)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu answered questions from the media with humor and wisdom before his lecture on October 8 in Laxson Auditorium. (photo KM)


"It did seem as if we were hurtling headlong to disaster," Archbishop Desmond Tutu said. As South Africans prepared for elections in 1994, people listened to the daily announcements of the number killed. On a day when six or seven people died, "we actually sighed with relief and said, ĆOnly six, only seven people have been killed.' It was that bad," Tutu said. And so he began his exposition of a most remarkable process of reconciliation in South Africa, in a Presidential Lecture titled "Revenge or Reconciliation" on October 8.

Acknowledging the role of the international community, Tutu thanked the audience that filled Laxson auditorium. He thanked the people who had fought for the divestiture of investment in South Africa. This divestiture applied a kind of pressure that the U.S. government had been unwilling to apply. Speaking of the students who demonstrated in the United States, Tutu said, "They helped to change the moral climate in this country."

Then in April 1994, "The world watched with astonished awe as they saw long, long lines of South Africans snaking their way slowly to the polling booths for that historic election." In May, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president. "The bloodbath had not struck us. The bloodbath did not overwhelm us. We did not go over the precipice," Tutu said.

As a democratic South Africa came into existence, a South Africa determined to be non-sexist and nonracial, many people feared they would suffer revenge for their acts of violence, torture, and killing. Instead of the expected "orgy of retribution," Mandela formed the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

Tutu explained, "When countries emerge from a past of repression, there are certain notions that are available as to what course can be followed by that country." One of these is the Nuremberg Trials model, in which those who have maimed and killed face the law and are punished. This was not a viable model for South Africa for several reasons, explained Tutu. In South Africa, there was not a complete defeat of one group by another. An already overburdened justice system could not afford the time or cost of such trials. The right wing of the country had caches of arms, and a bloody war would surely ensue if such trials were attempted.

Another possibility, advocated by many who had been part of the apartheid government, was a general amnesty. Tutu said, "This option was also rejected because general amnesty is really general amnesia. It victimizes the victims a second time around. You say to the victims, Ćwhat happened to you doesn't matter.'"

The Truth and Reconciliation Committee granted amnesty on an individual basis to those who told their story publicly. "It was a fantastic experience to have people come to tell their stories -- people who, for so long, had been voiceless," Tutu said. A woman who survived an attack that killed friends told of setting off alarms at airports because she still carried so much metal inside her body. Yet, she expressed her wish to meet and forgive the perpetrator.

Four officers, three black and one white, who had given orders to fire on a group of people, faced their victims and the survivors of their victims in a tense hearing. The white officer told of giving the order. The tension in the room mounted. He then asked the crowd for forgiveness -- and received it. Tutu said, "There have been many instances of listening to people who have suffered grievously -- people who, by right, should have been driven by anger and bitterness and the thought for revenge. Instead, there was an incredible kind of magnanimity, generosity, and willingness to forgive. I often said in those sessions that one should take off one's shoes. One was standing on holy ground."

For many people, justice is retributive justice, the "eye for an eye" sort of justice. As Tutu pointed out, if this is the only justice, eventually the land is filled with blind people. He believes in restorative justice, whose purpose is healing, "to restore a relationship that has been broken." He explained the idea of ubuntu, botho. Embodying the essence of being human, this is the highest praise one person can give another. "You are warm-hearted, you are compassionate. It says my humanity is caught up in your humanity. I am because you are," Tutu said.

The healing continues in South Africa. Tutu told of a young man, blinded by torture. The young man told his story and afterward was asked how he felt. "You have given me back my eyes," he told the commission. The process of acknowledging what was done -- for perpetrator, for victim -- is a way to acknowledge and forgive the pain of the past without ever forgetting it.

Tutu emphasized the connections among all of humanity. "A person is a person through other persons. You don't come into the world alone. You don't know how to think as a human being. You don't know how to walk as a human being. You don't know to talk as a human being, to eat as a human being -- all that you learn from other human beings. You can't be a human being in isolation. I need other human beings in order to be human."

Tutu's visit to Chico, was co-sponsored by the Chico Holiday Inn, AS. Presents, Tri Counties Bank, the City of Chico, AT&T, Butte College's Office of the President, and CSU,Chico's Office of the President. -- BA


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