On truth and reconciliation

Susan Hayward talks about what happened in post-apartheid South Africa.



Susan Hayward talks about what happened in post-apartheid South Africa.


I think religion and religious resources are particularly well‑suited to address the issues that arise in the aftermath of violent conflict. The very idea of reconciliation is a very Christian, a very religious notion. It’s about transformation and it’s about redemption, which are very Christian concepts. And moreover, the needs in terms of bringing communities together, of healing individuals and communities who have suffered a great deal and experienced a great deal of loss, are things that spiritual resources, spiritual ideas and processes, can lend a lot to.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is a wonderful example of that. The very notion of a transitional justice and a reconciliation process that is based on ideas of confession or of testimony, and of forgiveness, and of reconciliation are based in part on Christian ideas of what’s required in the aftermath of violence or in the aftermath of conflict or in the aftermath of some sort of a brokenness or wrong. And because both sides of the conflict there were primarily Christian and were deeply religious, there was a shared narrative and a shared theological frame that could be used to bring people together and to drive this movement.

And so what Desmond Tutu and other religious leaders were able to bring in terms of theological language and framework and spiritual rhetoric and spiritual practices – including song, including prayer – in the midst of the truth and reconciliation process was incredibly transformative and powerful, and relevant for that context in which both sides of the conflict were Christian. It might not be as relevant in other places, where conflict divides are across religious divides.

What’s also remarkable about the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa was not just the spiritual or ephemeral qualities of religion that were brought into that process, but also the very practical institutional resources that the church brought. So being able to ensure that people throughout the country, through local churches, were able to tell their stories, were able to participate in the truth and reconciliation process, were able to have processes for healing within their local communities through the churches is part of what made it so effective in reaching so many people.