3 Questions around Identity


Today has been another rich, full day in South Africa, and I absolutely must get to bed.  So, instead of a full post, I thought I would just pose five of the questions that I have been wrestling with most today, in light of what we have seen and done.

1.  We went to the District 6 Museum:  this is a museum commemorating the forced uprooting of the diverse, vibrant population in this particular areas of Cape Town, and then the demolishing that happened in order to make it a “White Group” area.  The question for me here is, How do you fix something like that?  Can you give people back the land, displacing others?  Can you pay people for having experienced something like that?  When a wrong is so egregious, how do you go forward?

2.  Then, we had a great conversation with Mary Burton, from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, and the leader of Black Sash, an activist group made up of whites women, active in the eighties.  She had a very different take on forgiveness than Bishop Tutu does–she feels it was much rarer, and more incomplete, in a way, I think.  The picture is more sober through her eyes.  So, here, I was pushed to ask, Can there be a future without forgiveness–contra Tutu?  Maybe there needs to be–in too many cases, forgiveness just isn’t possible….

3.  Then we went out to Robben Island–that was really something to see.  Our guide was a former prisoner there himself–his name was Kgotso Ntosoelengoe.  It was amazing to hear from someone who actually had been there with Mandela and could talk in the first person about the routine and what life was like.  So here, I couldn’t help but wonder, what would I do in a situation like that–forced to work in a lime quarry, ruining my eyes doing completely meaningless labor?  What kind of men were these, that it brought out the best in them, and not the worst?  It’s quite amazing, when you think about it.

Lots of other thoughts as well, about identity, an individual’s perspective coming out of his/her own experiences–how that is and isn’t “true”–and issues of land, and home, and a sense of belonging.  All of those were so tested by apartheid.

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