'This thing called reconciliation…' Forgiveness as part of an interconnectedness-towards-wholeness

13 Dec 2010

Regular reference is made, within the discourse around the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to the fact that ubuntu, an indigenous world view, played a role in the process. This paper tries to show that despite these references, important analysts of the TRC (as well as many South Africans) had insufficiently accounted for this worldview in their critical readings of the Commission’s work and therefore found aspects of the process incoherent and/or morally and legally confused. I am not arguing that the TRC was not a deeply flawed process, but want to establish how powerfully this indigenous world view brought a coherency that not only enabled the TRC to do its work without incidences of revenge, but imbued politically and legally trapped concepts with new possibilities. The pervasiveness of this world view within eg. the second round of TRC testimonies is noticeable and show how often the critique on the TRC fails to take this dominant role into account and how many, seemingly contradictory or confusing, positions become coherent when regarded within this worldview. This view of interconnectedness, consistently expressed throughout the life of the commission, has wide implications for the interpretation of healing, the asking of amnesty, the rehabilitation of perpetrators, the interdependence of forgiveness and reconciliation in the process of achieving full personhood within a healed society. In the footsteps of Richard Bell, this paper locates this world view within a particular framework formulated as ubuntu by Desmond Tutu, as communitarianism by Kwame Gyekye, as ethnophilosophy by Paulin Hountondji etc. The paper also tries to understand how this interconnected moral self is formed and who the community could or should be that influences this moral self.