Where are your scars? The Struggle for Reconciliation
How does one commence recounting two days of intense social, religious and political debate on Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice in Conversation with Religion and exploring Scriptural understanding for Reconciliation?
On 20 July, the delegates and Academia were welcomed to the Odeion of the University of the Free State, in Bloemfontein, by Rev. Maniraj Sukdevan, the Dean of the Faculty of Theology, Professor Francois Tolmie and Bishop Mlusi Mpumlwana.
The first three panels of Academia shared their insights on religion and the social environment and the various religions and spiritual movements were represented by Dr. Mathole Motshekga (African Traditional), Dr. Phillip Christensen (Baha’i), Advocate Antony Osler (Buddhism), Dr. Frank Chikane (Christianity), Prof. Pratap Kumar (Hinduism), Prof. Faried Esack, Rabbi Gideon Pogrund (Judaism), Ms. Morgause Fonteleve (New Age and Pagan Movements) and Master Thau-Thau Haramanuba (Rastafari). Each panel was followed by a session of questions and answers from the various academics, religious and political personas as well as the public.
Dr. Alan Boesak introduced the second day’s discussions between Civil s Society and Academia, with a speech that will remain imprinted in my psyche as a memorable moment of awakening and complete understanding about the responsibility of every individual citizen (irrespective of the spiritual walk they are on) to contribute towards our country’s future, social and moral stability through the vehicle of Reconciliation.In a bid to ensure true and lasting Reconciliation, the University of the Free State has embarked on a series of Inter Religious Forums, which have culminated in this Conference and in the prospected publishing of a book containing the papers submitted by the Academia on the matter of Religion and Reconciliation.
Two intense days of learning about our different spiritual paths in a climate of respect, acceptance and equanimity, were mind-blowing, but most of all, this conference became for me an everlasting moment of goodwill and co-operation manifested through discussion and acceptance of diversity, as well as the acknowledgement of responsibility by everyone towards the future generations and the achievement of successful harmony and Reconciliation. Yes, the spirit of these two days will ever live in my heart.
I was invited by the University to write and submit an Academic Paper from the standpoint of Paganism and the New Age Movement. My paper and speech revolved around our goal for the realization of “at-one-ment” with the Divine and our fellow citizens, irrespective of race, social status, gender or creed and furthermore delineated the pro-active and courageous efforts of the Pagan community in working extensively towards the education of the public (through publications, documentaries, radio interviews, letters of protest, cooperation with schools and engaging with government departments), focusing on the elimination of the negative stereotypes and the persecution of those who through customs, belief and crime have become perfect targets and scapegoats for witchcraft related violence. The Melville Mandate and the 30 Days of Advocacy Campaign against Witch-hunts were given as examples of Pagan commitment to address Human Rights Issues, social and religious discrimination and the consequences thereof.
SAPRA and the SAPC have, in the spirit of Reconciliation, repeatedly engaged the Gender Equality Committee, the Lawyers for Human Rights, the Human Rights Commission, the Department of Education, the Department of Safety and Security, as well as the Traditional Healers Organization. By making avail of the freedoms afforded to everyone by the Bill of Rights, Pagans have not only protected their rights, but also ensured through their actions and letters of protest, the protection of rights elsewhere.
Furthermore, I mentioned that Reconciliation for Pagans is not about expiation of sins and the propitiation of God’s favour. It is rather the message of “at-one-ment” with our brothers and sisters on different spiritual walks through acceptance of diversity and without feeling threatened by other cultures or spiritual expressions. Both the Pagan and Rastafari contingents voiced the need to remember that our group-personal religious doctrines are simply ideologies and philosophies based on our understanding of scripture and the legitimacy we accord our Book or the “Word of God” within the parameters of our own personal spiritual reference. These Scriptures are inspired, but they ARE NOT the Divine itself. They are GUIDELINES that may be utilized in the construction and expression of our understanding of the Divine and how to reflect It in our moment for moment living.
The different Academics also expounded on the fact that politically speaking the respect for our country’s ethnic, cultural and religious diversity should be viewed as a multicultural mosaic, without therefore the promotion of any particular path, philosophy or religious ideology above the next. Equitable status has been accorded to each without distinction by the Bill of Rights and we should remember that every citizen’s rights are enshrined therein.
Our cultural and religious diversity should continue to be endorsed and celebrated. Observation of where legal, religious and social authorities have not addressed the past properly, show that events have left scars and mind-sets which have become hereditary; prejudices and injustices pass down from generation to generation and nothing has essentially changed. Yes, history has a tendency to repeat itself, and as man resigns himself to the mastery of his own faulty logic, succumbing to lower impulses and the need for revenge, the maelstrom of negativity continues to suck in the energies and nullifying ground-breaking efforts and alternative solutions and possibilities which affect the quality of life for everybody, generation after generation after generation. It was agreed that the preservation of our Nation’s diverse cultural backdrops should be every spiritual leader’s mission as well as the encouragement of their various congregations to strive for harmony and the understanding of all other forms of spirituality.
My paper also emphasized of the fact that tolerance is not acceptance. Tolerance implies “putting up with”, despite disapproval, and until the disapproval is removed from the hearts of men and women in our country, until hubris is no longer the flavour of self-made justice and validation, superstition, hatred, violence and persecution will continue un-arrested.
Furthermore, both Pagans and Rastafari made it understood that despite the long drive for Reconciliation, the freedom of religion, belief, opinion, etc., we have not yet experienced the desired climate of acceptance. Pagans have fought to make avail of our country’s progressive legislation. This has been achieved through laboriously maintaining a constant eye on the press, fighting to maintain our rights every time they are infringed, writing and distributing Pagan Literature in order to educate, and finally also through the courage and dedication of leaders who continue to pioneer towards acceptance in the public eye, so that we may be able to practice our religion out in the open without having fear of being ostracized or persecuted.
All the delegates agreed that religious groups should be encouraged to get directly involved in the promotion of reconciliation through service to the community, cultural centres, interfaith discussions, workshops and actions that bespeak a change of heart and the transformation of mind-sets which have hitherto promoted social injustices. Compensation, apologies and counselling, though integral part of the re-conciliatory process, are worthless if not followed by demonstrable penitence and an adaptation to nobler actions and higher ways of thinking that will engender acceptance, compassionate action and show us the way forward. If we wait for forgiveness to happen before we commence to interact, Reconciliation might never take place.
Not all of the Speakers agreed that Scripture could be used to promote Reconciliation, but all agreed that the restitution of respect and dignity to women, religious minorities, the weak, young and the elderly, the economically dis-empowered can easily be promoted by spirituality and compassion. Wisdom and true spirituality know no dogma. They embrace the good in all and promote understanding and cooperation.
Justice and Equity are at the heart of the re-conciliatory process, but Justice is de per se not sufficient. Conflicts cannot be overcome solely through mediation and negotiations. Durable solutions will largely depend on relationships spiritual leaders will forge between the protagonists and the addressing of issues of social, economic and religious inequality. Reconciliation is the healing process from deep emotional wounds. To be successful, the change we desire must be internalized. Scripture and spirituality can inspire people to embrace the inner transformation, but every one of us has to accept our responsible part in this process.
It is not whether justice is done, but it is rather a matter of how justice is achieved which can promote harmony and a positive outcome of the situation.We owe the people of this country more than a practical approach to the tragedies of the past by focusing on the real issues in the present and by developing modes of reparation for healing through spirituality.All present agreed to take this process a step further by creating a healthier social, economic psychological environment where the vicious cycles of anger, hatred, suspicion, resentment and revenge are replaced by the desire for at-one-ment.
I would like to close by paraphrasing a few thoughts and ideas aroused by the conference.
A lot was spoken about how religion and politics were segregated after 1994 and how today we “sit met die gebakte pere”. Dr. Boesak quoting a colleague said: “we did not prevent a revolution in 1994; we only postponed it “and the general consensus of the public and the delegates was that reconciliation had not been achieved and that the political climate therefore was precarious and potentially dangerous.
At the Dignitaries’ dinner (held at Pimento’s Restaurant on Campus) the Political Leaders and Academics present (all previously disadvantaged under the Apartheid era who took part in the Struggle) expressed their concern for the absence of religious leaders involved in the post Apartheid struggle for Reconciliation as well discussed the University of the Free State’s commitment to strive for a new form of “humanity” being instilled in the hearts and minds of the young students through Interfaith Discussion Forums and opening the Faculty of Theology to other religious paths other than Christianity.
Dr. Boesak also made us take note that the role of a government should be gauged by its ability to protect the rights of the less privileged and that it is from that perspective that we ought to make our contributions towards the process of Reconciliation. He also brought to our attention that South Africa has created the most unequal society in the world (with reference to class difference; worse even than Brazil), which is unjust, unsustainable and inhumane. He furthermore added, “and the people have found us out!”
Dr. Boesak also recounted a conversation that he’d had with Alan Paton (author of Cry the Beloved Country) during the days of Apartheid, in which Alan expressed a concern that he was standing on the periphery of the struggle and was not involved. Dr. Boesak tried to pacify his colleague, saying that he wrote about the struggle, but Mr. Paton continued this way:
“When I one day die and am standing before my judge he is going to ask me.”
“Where have you been Alan”
“Down on Earth, doing this and that, writing, living.”
“And where are your scars?”
“But I don’t have scars, Lord”
“You don’t have any scars, Alan?” God asked incredulous.
God was utterly flabbergasted. “So whilst you were living on Earth, you did not find anything worth fighting for?”
This story Dr. Boesak told made me think deep and hard! And I am still thinking.
Impressions and Reflections
Dr. Mathole Motshekga – a very approachable and true leader of the people, with a deep understanding of African Traditions and a strong belief in Reconciliation. He will present Government with a copy of the book in which the Academic Papers, speeches and debates will be recorded and published.
Dr. Alan Boesak – a phenomenal orator, a man dedicated to the struggle, a golden heart and champion of the people.
Master Thau Thau Haramanuba – a brilliant mind, a freedom fighter who does not spill blood, a God who speaks in song (“who feels it knows it, Lord”). *(1)
Father Pat – a Catholic Priest who privately conversed with me and never once leveled a word of criticism or tried to redirect my opinion but who chose to discuss our common points instead.
Arden Fenris – a Pagan Man who demonstrates all nine noble virtues, a champion for the Pagan cause, someone I am proud to stand next to.
Rev. Maniraj Sukdevan – Head of the Department of Religious Studies, the humble and dynamic brain behind this Conference as well as courageous helmsman of this Academic drive towards Compassion and Reconciliation through Spirituality.
*(1) Master Thau-Thau’s speech was packed with key phrases which also appeared in some Bob Marley songs which literally made me sing inside.