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The Journey

Truth and Reconciliation

By Jennifer Youngman

Excerpted from "Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Coming Out on the Side of Grace," United Methodist Women's 2011 youth spiritual growth study.

Nelson Mandela is a Nobel Prize winning anti-apartheid activist who was once imprisoned for his actions and later became president of South Africa. Apartheid was an official policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination in South Africa to keep the minority white population in power. In other words, it was government-sanctioned racism against nonwhites.

Ubuntu: The idea that “my humanity is inextricably bound with your humanity."

Even in his almost 20 years of imprisonment, Mandela worked against apartheid. As civilian, prisoner and president, he has dedicated his life to reconciling his country. He was freed from prison after the abolishment of apartheid in 1990, and he became the country’s first black president in 1991 with the first multiracial elections.

Certainly, Mandela could have grown bitter. He could have given up on the idea of reconciliation between the races. He could have been angry and joined revenge efforts. However, he believed fully in Ubuntu, that “my humanity is inextricably bound with your humanity.” Another way to express the meaning of the word is to say, “I see all that you are as you see all that I am.”

Mandela spoke and wrote that there is no path to wholeness unless you tell the truth about what happened, make appropriate amends and restitutions, and look toward a reconciled future together. He made the hard choice to seek a new way forward instead of seeking revenge for the past.

Mandela organized the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which would be the organization to work systemically to heal the country and bring about a new future for South Africa. The years of apartheid were devastating, and the country was torn apart.

After apartheid, Mandela’s journey focused on a path of healing and wholeness for his country. He established the commission to allow people to tell the truth about what happened. People who had been abused or tortured or who’d had family members killed were able to testify and tell their stories. Those who had been perpetrators were allowed to testify and seek amnesty. The commission’s work sought restitution or reparations for victims as well as amnesty for those convicted of crimes. Mandela believed that this was truly the only way forward from such a devastating period of South African history.

Last Updated: 04/14/2014

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