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Justice South African Style
an article by Tony Dominski

BOOK REVIEW: No Future Without Forgiveness, 1999, by Desmond Tutu, 287 Pages, Doubleday, New York.

Give amnesty to murderers? Forgive torturers? As crazy as it sounds, this is exactly what happened from 1995-1998 in South Africa via its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission was established to enable the nation to make the transition from apartheid to a new democratic state with a universal recognition of human rights.

"No Future Without Forgiveness" published in 1999, is Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu's personal memoir of chairing the commission. The Commission granted amnesty to human rights violators, including anti-apartheid activists, in exchange for the truth about their crimes. Amazingly, many hardened military and police officers asked for and received forgiveness for their crimes.

For victims, the Commission offered a chance to be heard plus modest but symbolically important reparations. Many of the 20,000 victims who submitted affidavits found comfort in being able to tell their stories to a sympathetic audience. Families of victims obtained some comfort and help in rebuilding their lives by learning about the fate of their loved ones.

Tutu often used to say that the oppressor was dehumanized as much or more as the oppressed. A memorable case in point is a wife's tale about how her husband, a rank and file South African policeman, lost his health and sanity due the secret acts of cruelty he committed on the job.

"No Future Without Forgiveness," is unique in its clear explanation of the theory and practice of restorative justice. The book's message is wonderfully summed up by a mother who forgave her daughter's murderer: "I had finally come to realize that real justice is not punishment but restoration, not necessarily of how things used to be, but how they really should be."

DISCUSSION

Question(s) related to this article:


Israel/Palestine, is the situation like South Africa?, Would a Truth and Reconciliation Commission help?

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LATEST READER COMMENT:

The following discussion concerning the Presbyterian divestment from companies aiding the Israeli occupation of Palestine was received from The Tikkun Daily.

Editor’s Note from Rabbi Michael Lerner: We invited the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement and J Street, both of which have opposed the Presbyterian divestment resolution, to respond to those who support the Presbyterian resolution. Neither agreed to do so. Tikkun has sought to be a safe space in which both sides could present their thinking. But it’s hard to get the two sides in the Jewish world to sit together and discuss the issues, since anyone who supports even the very limited form of divestment proposed by the Presbyterians is, as J Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami said recently in explaining his opposition to any form of Boycotts, Divestments or Sanctions, crossing “a red line” and hence, in the view of the Jewish establishment, automatically suspect of being anti-Semitic. We believe a public debate is a more healthy way to conduct this discussion, and so we are disappointed that neither J Street nor the Reform Movement accepted our invitation.

Presbyterian Divestment – A Jewish Perspective
by Cantor Michael Davis, Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council

The first time I wore a kippa and talit outside of a synagogue setting was four year ago outside a hotel in downtown Chicago overlooking the Chicago river. I was singing with a group of my colleagues, local Reform cantors, to protest the mistreatment of hotel workers. I had the privilege of getting to know worker leaders, edit a national clergy report into worker conditions and organize my fellow clergy in Chicago. This was an exciting time – we took over the lobby of a Hyatt hotel with a flashmob, met with senior executives, collaborated with Christian clergy, traveled to other cities and on and on. . ...more.


This report was posted on June 3, 2003.