Letter #9

March 1, 2011

I've just come home from spending the evening with my doctor friend, Kate, who has traveled extensively in Africa and plans to visit every country on the continent. She's covering 10 of them before heading home on a 3-week cruise up the west coast from S.Africa. to Ghana. She's a family physician who has been clear for some time that Western medicine leaves a lot to be desired. She practices in a way that is as effective as the discipline allows while she looks around for what's next.

Table Mountain as seen from Bloubergstrand
(click pic for more pics) Anyway, we are here at the Guest House and have similar tastes and interests. We plan to climb Table Mountain tomorrow for the sunset.

To catch you up on what's been happening with me . . . After debugging my belongings, which took most of Tuesday, I called my cousin's wife's cousin, who turned out to be a phenomenal person. Her name is Nodi Murphy, and she runs film festivals of various kinds all over South Africa. What an alive person! Afternoon, walk, dinner at seafood restaurant (great fish), the bug I got finally letting go enough to reassure me I will recover.

Robben Island
(click pic for more pics)

Next day, Robbens Island. Robbens Island is the place where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his almost 30 years of incarceration as an enemy of the apartheid state. I don't believe I ever fully got what happened in South Africa during the last half of the 20th century, and a good deal of what I've been learning is filling in that knowledge gap forme. It's Cape Town's version of Alcatraz, or was. Today it's a national monument. It's often difficult to get a reservation for a tour, and we're lucky that Vishnu and Sampath, fellow guests at the Guest House, are able to add us to their party for Robbens Is Thursday morning. It was a little disappointing, as our guide was more interested in delivery than in the actual story. He's probably led too many tours. I find out later that the administration of the island has been riddled with incompetence and corruption that exploded about three years ago. It looks like they're still in the process of cleaning it up. I discover, yet again, that having a really good large map and one's own tour guide to explore it for the first two days may be the best way to see any new place.

Thursday afternoon, I meet with Fanie du Toit, (pronounced Toyt), director of the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation. He's a young 45, I would guess, full of energy and welcome, and bright, even radiant, as a presence in the room. He is a peacemaker in the tradition of Bishop Tutu, who founded the Institute along with other members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). That's the body of listeners who arranged for and witnessed the process by which victims of apartheid brutality were faced by their victimizers, including such figures as Eugene de Koch, the head of the government -led death squads. Of course, the top perpetrators, on the whole, demurred and let the next level down take the rap. There are many who authorized and funded criminal behavior who simply receded into the background. Happens everywhere, it seems.

I'm not surprised to learn Fanie has three young children and a full life at home. Now there's a stretch. Go to work, save a country from falling into bloody struggles again, go home and help change diapers.

The Institute's function in this whole truth and reconciliation movement is to negotiate to establish an arena of safety through agreement within which the previously warring and damaged parties can work things out. They call that phase of national life "transitional justice." Fanie's work isn't so much about face to face or individual forgiveness of others. It involves negotiating on a macro level to create the safe forum, within which the face to face work can take place, and also doing detailed research on what it takes to do that. In addition to South Africa, the Institute works with nine other countries to assist them in setting up a structure within which they can heal their national wounds after the horrors of civil war and genocide.

(As you can imagine, Fanie is a figure of some note here, and his willingness to see me and to recommend others to speak proves very helpful in the following days.)

After my interview with Fanie, I rode back to town with Fidi, a lovely woman who heads up IJR's outreach. IJR meets very strict standards of transparency and requires all organizations that it works with to do likewise. Unfortunately, that often appears to be out of reach for most-"oh, we couldn't do that publicly. It's too sensitive". So doing outreach can be frustrating. They're trying to document and record the one on one work of those who are most gifted in this TRC work so that one can learn from the masters for decades to come.

Capetown Pride
(click pic for more) Nodi calls to invite me to attend the Gay Pride kickoff evening at 7 pm, and so I do. 60s and 70s music videos, some of them positively antique, but fun. Lots of food wine, and some interesting folks to talk with, including Bazil (with a Zed), who offers to take me Monday to the township in which he was raised-8 children in a one-bedroom house.

On Monday, I get a firsthand introduction to the "forced removals" as they're referred to. I wasn't aware until recently that starting in the 1940s and running into the 80s, South Africa engaged in a wholesale campaign to completely separate the black Africans from the white ones and also from the "coloreds" and the Indians. These were the four racial classifications.

It would be like going into Brooklyn, taking every family that wasn't white, and forcibly removing them to areas that are basically scrub trees (a few) and weeds, and calling the areas "townships." There was no compensation, and in some cases, developers surged into choice areas in their wake, swept away their houses, businesses, gardens, and all signs of previous inhabitants and built upscale settlements for wealthy whites.

Forgiveness Book
(click for website)
I'm here in South Africa partly to see if our book on forgiveness is something that would be of interest to people in the peace movement, but the damage was so profound here that our process may or may not find a home. Our process involves freeing a person from needing their perpetrator to change in order to complete the forgiveness process. As long as my ability to forgive depends on my abuser choosing to change, I am tied to the abuser. Ultimately freedom involves letting go regardless. However,things are much more complicated for a nation in which one group has so thoroughly devastated the others. Some kind of restitution is in order before authentic peace, harmony, and stability can be established. The more I learn about how profound the damage was that people have endured here, the more complex the issue appears. Navigating the stretch between mercy, freedom, and justice is complex in the grand scheme of things .

Ah well. No matter. This work of ours either will or it won't make a difference, and I'll let you know which it is whenever I get the feedback.

I've decided not to extend my time here. A month is long enough right now, and I'm missing the snows.

In the meantime, lots of love to all,

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