Tutu: Dialogue essential to healing history’s wounds

Naomi Tutu, activist against global racism and sexism, presented “Truth and Reconciliation: Healing the Wounds of Race” to over 200 people in Kendall Hall.

Tutu is the daughter of Archbishop of South Africa Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Pulitzer Peace Prize.

He won the prize for boycotting international investment in South Africa to end apartheid and champion human rights.

Tutu’s theme was the model of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was set up after the end of apartheid to heal the new South Africa.

This end to apartheid is applicable to the global healing of the wounds of racism.

Tutu also claimed that this model begs further examination and discussion before the United States possibly attacks Iraq in its war on terror.

“The most important thing I learned from the TRC was that all people have hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations,” Tutu said. She explained that after apartheid there were two opposing views in South Africa.

One was to offer amnesty to everyone, which was countered by those supporting a version of the Nuremberg Trials to punish those who perpetrated human rights violations under apartheid.

TRC’s three branches were a compromise that offers us a model.

The Human Rights Committee heard cases of victims seeking reparations from the government, and the Reparations Commission decided the amount, Tutu said.

The Amnesty Committee was the most controversial, however.

It offered complete amnesty to perpetrators of human rights violations if they truthfully admitted their crimes. Tutu said she thought this was too lenient.

“How hard is it to tell the truth if you can go free?” she asked.

But after listening to perpetrator after perpetrator caught in a lie and sentenced to jail, she realized the truth was hard because, “people had to admit the truth to themselves, to their families and friends about who they had become.”

Tutu said it was hard for everyone to hear the truth.

“We had to face the truth of who we had become as a nation, the hatred that apartheid had built,” she said.

She said she learned two things from TRC.

The first is to always ask “What would it take to turn me into them, to know I would not have been a torturer and murder?” she said.

Tutu admits it is hard for her to answer, and she can see how whites who were born into the system and taught it was God’s will could easily lack the courage to oppose apartheid.

The second is to always seek the truth about who we are, what we do and who we have become.

TRC put the issue of race on the international table where it is always talked about, while in the United States everyone is afraid to speak of race.

Tutu said people must face their role in history. Because racism is a part of history, she said people need to be open to discussion or wounds will go unhealed.

This self-aware truth led into her question of the United States’ involvement in Iraq.

“The world is a place of great challenge and opportunity,” she said.

“We refuse to look at our history, and act as if events in 2003 have no connection to 1980, as if there is not foundation in the past,” she said.

“But the truth is we keep laying those foundations,” she added.

Tutu said that in South Africa the United States was known to stand against communism, so whites used this label to get American support.

She sees the same thing happening with the United States’ war on terror.

Every country can label its internal opposition as terrorist so America will blindly support those in power and not listen to why these people oppose their government.

Tutu asked why the history of the United States’ decision to support, arm and look the other way at human rights violations committed by the Taliban and Saddam Hussein is never considered.

“We continue to sow seeds to challenge new generations, because we don’t tell the truth to ourselves and hear other people’s truth and concerns,” Tutu said. “Why speak of justice and democracy in a world where people live with dignity if we are unwilling to hear the fears and aspirations of others?” she said.