Signs of hope in a nation still healing from brokenness

Presbyterian Peacemaking Program travel-study seminar in South Africa

November 13, 2014

South Africa Constitutional Court

Matt Gaventa, a member of the Peacemaking Program's travel-study seminar in South Africa, examines the doors of the constitutional court building in Johannesburg. —Courtesy of Presbyterian Peacemaking Program

JOHANNESBURG

Following the end of Apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as President in 1994, South Africa established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

The TRC was a unique three-part Commission with a mandate “to establish a complete picture of the apartheid past (1948-1994), to facilitate the granting of amnesty to perpetrators who applied to the TRC, and to establish the [w]hereabouts of the victims, inviting them to relate their own accounts of the violations they suffered and to recommend reparations measures.”

These three committees were responsible for fulfilling the Commission’s mandate in the search for truth, pardon, and forgiveness. Desmond Tutu privileges the role of theology in the development of the TRC.

He writes: “Theology helped us in the TRC to recognize that we inhabit a moral universe, that good and evil are real and that they matter...This is a moral universe, which means that, despite all the evidence that seems to be to the contrary, there is no way that evil and injustice and oppression and lies can have the last word. For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate.”

Two of the most meaningful visits during our time together in Johannesburg were a tour of Constitution Hill and the new Constitutional Court, and a meeting with the Khulumani Support Group. These visits were an opportunity to hear about South Africa’s continued endeavors at peacemaking and reconciliation following the conclusion of official Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings.

What I discovered at Constitution Hill were a series of symbolic architectural designs that wove the trauma and pain of South Africa’s Apartheid past with the present endeavors at reconciliation, with hope for the future.

Bricks from a violent prison were salvaged for use in the new Constitutional Court that seeks to protect the human rights and dignity of all South Africans.

Images of each of the constitutional rights of South Africans are carved into the wooden doors of the court.

Beautiful sculptures in the front entrance resemble the trees that are central to traditional African reconciliation and justice proceedings.

Ground-level windows in main courtroom allow those gathered there to view the feet of people walking by outside, reminding the court of its responsibility to uphold the value of transparency.

Anyone is welcome to observe ongoing proceedings, and the press is given open access as well.

In conversation with Khulumani Support Group staff, we were able to witness the ongoing advocacy from civil society who help lift up the voices of the sometimes forgotten and still vulnerable victims of the Apartheid system.

Through the arts, opportunities for counseling, legal support, and other training models, victims are encouraged to make their voices heard in a process that evokes the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The work of the Support Group and similar programs continue to bring hope and tangible successes in the effort to reconcile a nation healing from brokenness.

Jessica L. Hawkinson,the daughter of a PC(USA) pastor, graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2013 and is currently assistant for worship and mission at First Presbyterian Church, Lake Forest, a 1,700-member congregation in suburban Chicago, and is completing the PC(USA) ordination process. She worked for two years at the Presbyterian Ministry to the United Nations, lived in London and Amsterdam on study abroad programs, travelled to the Middle East as part of a Presbyterian study team, and was part of the planning team for the recent Mosaic of Peace conference in Israel and Palestine, organized by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.