AntjieKrog, internationally acclaimed poet, author, journalist and academic, was quoted in an interview this week saying:
“Every South African has an imprint of a powerful black man, on behalf of a collective, reaching out, forgiving whites, as a collective….Thus, every white and every black person has a memory of a powerful black man extending a hand to whites, but none of us has any image of a powerful white man in a definitive gesture of asking forgiveness.”
Truth. And when I read these words my heart literally smote me. And then it shattered in a million pieces at the tragedy of an opportunity to make things right that seems lost forever. The regret and the grief at the lost opportunity of an unqualified apology:“Oh my God, I am so sorry for my part in this, I am so sorry for your suffering.How can I work to fix this?”
There is such integrity in being able to speak these words. It is a deeply courageous thing to do, to own one’s mistake. But who is there even to do this now on our behalf? On my behalf?And I want to stand in the gap and say “ME! I will say it! Here am I, send me!”But who am I to say this? And even if the collective desire is there (and for many, many it is) who is the white leader who can speak these words in a way that will make them count? WHO? There is no one who I can think of. And there may never be again. And this is a tragedy and a travesty of monumental proportion. Have we forever lost the opportunity to own this mistake?
A serious evil was allowed to take place in South Africa and it has resulted in ongoing hardship and pain for the majority of our people. And although we may not have been alive when it started we are nevertheless compelled to first acknowledge it, then own it, then strive (calmly and intentionally) to do everything we can to dismantle that hardship and pain (which hasn’t gone away and isn’t going to unless we make it).To prevent it from following us into the next generations. And we should acknowledge that this is difficult, and that we are sometimes afraid and immobilized by the enormity of it all. But this shouldn’t stop us because we are a nation of people who epitomize courage and vasbyt/nyamezela and that fabulous “boermaaknplan’ness” that we alldo so well.
Eliminating the hardship and the pain is not something that can be done exclusively through government policy. It is not something “somebody should do something about”. It is my responsibility. And yours. We need to initiate this process ourselves and then participate wholeheartedly in it without swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism. And we should start today where we are with what we’ve got. And we should do so as if our lives depend on it. Because they do.