Home Activities Regional Activities Southern Pacific Reflections on Responsibility and on the Charter
Forgiveness and Natality
Being in South Africa for the Charter of Human responsibilities’ meeting reminded me of the links between South Africa and New Zealand. I remembered that the influential Governor, Sir George Grey was a Governor in Western Australia and South Africa as well as New Zealand in the period between 1837 and 1877. Grey’s colonial governorship reminds me of a shared 19th century history of dividing whites from natives/blacks and of appropriating land and wealth to whites through indigenous dispossession.
1981 was a pivotal time in New Zealand history, when the antiapartheid struggle here culminated in stopping the Springbok rugby tour. After that New Zealand began to attend to the racist history of our own country.
Last week our newspapers reported the visit of the Deputy President of South Africa, Phumzile Miambo Ngcuka, visiting NZ as a prelude to establishing a South African consulate here again. There are 45,000 South Africans in New Zealand. A well known anti-apartheid activist, and now anti-neoliberal globalization commentator remarked that ’the colour of leadership may have changed but little has changed for black South Africans’.
Critiques such as this seem unmindful of the complexity of the negotiated settlement of 1994 and the decision to proceed with economic growth in order to support the goals of restitution. In South Africa, we were given first hand accounts of the ANC led democracy when we met representatives of groups such as trade unions, South African Council of Churches, an ANC Member of Parliament, the Grail Social Development Programme, near Capetown.
Jeremy Cronin, an MP in the ANC government, spoke to us of the ideals of the South African constitution and challenges of the negotiated settlement which included the securing of inalienable private property rights. In concert with the directness of Jeremy’s exposition Ruth Hall, a land rights researcher at the University of Capetown, explained the delayed and inadequate process of land restitution due to the state having to buy back land at market prices.
The inability of the state to expropriate land because of the agreement to protect private property, as well as pressures from conservation and commercial interests (such as land in golf courses), exposed the compelling and often competing arenas of justice and economic interests. Free market and social justice goals seem incompatible, as social justice analysts have said. We saw in South Africa what we see all over the world: economic growth in conflict with social and environmental responsibility. Yet revolutionary change brings the expectation that revolutionary ideals will materialize: that after the radical evil of apartheid responsible governance by revolutionary leaders will deliver on social justice goals.
We heard of the goals for restitution of land, health care, education, and that these have fallen far short of the mark and are being re-evaluated, but it is hard to condemn these failures given the penetration of apartheids violence into the torn fabric of South African society.
In the process of restoration, the ethical concept of forgiveness was highlighted in South Africa in a way that I did not expect: forgiveness as natality. Hannah Arendt associated forgiveness with natality as rebirth through new action. Forgiveness as natality allows for release from the condemnation of ill that has been done, and new action to include redress for the consequences of brutal injustice. New actions become possible when those who suffer and those who cause suffering are released from the grip of revenge and ongoing reactive destruction.
Forgiveness was not explicitly discussed, rather it emerged in the space between many voices, where words cannot speak (as Edith Sizoo has noted). Listening to the prison guard on Robben Island, to Anita Marshall speaking of endemic sexual abuse and violence in townships, to Elroy Paulus’s conviction of building a responsible civil society gave glimpses of the complexity of reconciliation and communicated among many things, an extraordinary will to be released from the consequences of apartheid.
My reflections on the presentations took shape through a book by a New Zealand anthropologist, Michael Jackson, who did field work in Sierra Leone as well as Australia. Experiences of war and of aboriginal displacement in Australia are interpreted in terms of suffering, loss, belonging, forgiveness... which resonate with South Africa.
Forgiveness, like responsibility, is above all relational. Forgiveness, like responsibility, is an ethic that builds a bridge from the past to the future. Both denote responsiveness, but responsibility carries a certain demand, or accountability.
The restoration of human wellbeing in a context of safeguarding human rights, the restitution of land, establishing a context for responsibility, and now, meeting the demands of environmental sustainability are values expressed in the Charter of Responsibilities.
The principles of the Charter of Responsibilities lead towards integrating the economy, people, land and oceans; the call for integrated systems is also articulated by indigenous people as fundamental to sustainability. These concepts are touchstones of ethical governance and Responsibility and South Africa deepens the imperative of it. In a country where the land is being mined to death, where people are separated and deprived, and where remorse might be paralyzing, natality restores a sense of wonder and a future.
Those who spoke as witnesses to anguished and celebratory dimensions of the historical present have become inscribed into our work on Responsibility. The ’waka’ image above represents the vessel from the Pacific for navigating long journeys. The carvings at the front, on the prow, symbolize origin and destination, places of arrival and departure on a journey: they inscribe ’marks’ of landings and voyaging. In navigating the journey of responsibility, the marks of our own places are joined by inscriptions from our host countries: Greece in 2003, Chile in 2005, South Africa in 2006.
Forgiveness as natality is inscribed as an ethical and gracious quality that is needed in charting a course of Responsibility.