Confronting the past to free the future

The‭ “‬wounds and scars‭” ‬of apartheid’s atrocities‭ – ‬forced removals,‭ ‬the pass laws and a range of other human rights violations‭ – ‬have remained largely unattended to in the‭ ‬24‭ ‬years of democratic government,‭ ‬Dr Mamphela Ramphele argued.

She presented studies to support the contention that‭ “‬unprocessed excess suffering undermines human potential and the capacity of individuals to participate in shaping their future‭” ‬and asserted that the humiliation and abuses of the apartheid era were still defining social relations today.

However,‭ ‬over the centuries,‭ ‬there were examples of nations that had found ways to heal historic wounds,‭ ‬Dr Ramphele said.‭ ‬Referring particularly to post-feudal Scandinavia and Germany after the fall of the Wall,‭ ‬she identified six closely related lessons.

  • Sustainable change begins with each individual developing a‭ “‬higher consciousness‭” ‬of what it means to be human.‭ “‬Personal development of individuality,‭ ‬respect for self and others needs to infuse our spiritual and daily practices.‭”
  • There is a need to create opportunities‭ – ‬in our schools and faith communities,‭ ‬for example‭ – ‬for circles of healing and learning,‭ ‬that facilitate the honest‭ “‬inner work‭” ‬of confronting the damage that persists.
    We must understand the historic-cultural patterns of our nation and how these shape our personal experiences.‭ “‬We need to confront the continuing assumption of the identity of the victim of the past that undermines our power as citizens to take ownership of our democratic dispensation and shape it into‭ ‬.‭ ‬.‭ ‬.‭ ‬the future we would like to inhabit.‭”
  • We must perform the task of institutional and organisational reform,‭ ‬taking ownership of institutions in order to allow our culture to speak through them,‭ ‬and enabling people to identify with them.‭ ‬Historical-cultural features of the nation could generate a form of spirituality,‭ ‬she argued,‭ ‬contrasting this with‭ “‬the profound sense of emptiness‭” ‬felt by many struggle veterans who sacrificed their youth for a society to which they cannot relate.
  • Social solidarity and cohesion require real investment and a form of socio-economic transformation exceeding the‭ “‬inadequate and inappropriate instruments‭” ‬of black economic empowerment.‭ ‬This includes incentives for investment in under-developed regions and well-executed land reform..
  • Consideration of a solidarity tax or‭ “‬other fiscal equalisation measures to root out poverty and promote inclusive development‭” ‬should be coupled with a new ethos of public service built on accountability,‭ ‬transparency and effectiveness.