So i know i said i would share three sections of the book ‘Begging to be Black’ by Antjie Krog that i have just finished, but i couldn’t not share this bonus piece [which EVERYONE should read, regardless of where you are from] and then you really should get hold of the book, because four short extracts do not do it justice… but this is powerful stuff, prepare yourself…
This is from a trip Antjie did to Turkey and more particularly, Istanbul:
‘We walk down the street toward a recommended place called Güllüoğlu, established many years ago and still using a recipe for baklava, so we are told, brought from Damascus.4
‘Why does it sound so wonderful, a recipe from Damascus?’ I ask.4’The place of revelation, scales falling from Saul’s eyes,’ suggests the professor, as we pass a large demonstration taking place under massive police presence.
‘It is such a relief that my country has said sorry,’ he says. ‘At last the discussions about reparation have begun.’
‘It somehow seems to me that it is easier to say sorry when you are in power and in the majority. It is very confusing with us. Instead of whites being asked to pay back, they were asked to step back. Instead of being taxed, they’re being blamed.’
The baklva is indeed an experience worth a thesis. Three small wedges arrive on a plate. After the first mouthful we fall into sublime silence – no talking, no academic thinking, only deep, intense, empirical abandon. Our tongues verify the menu: the syrup of Turkish baklava is made not from honey but from special sugar; the pistachios super-finely grated on top were handpicked in Barak; the butter in the pastry comes from Şanlıurfa. It is sheep’s milk butter ‘made clear’ in the heat of the sun.
We sit enraptured. Speechless we drink the Turkish coffee. The money we hand over seems immaterial. The professor goes to a bookshop and I rush back for my panel discussion with a Turkish journalist and a Greek journalist who uncovered mass graves and atrocities on Cyprus. Their governments don’t like this debunking of ‘official explanations’, ad the two journalists are being harassed in terrible ways. Both of them look anxious and stressed out.
My input starts with a quote from Cynthia Ngewu, one of the mothers of the Gugulethu Seven, which I used in my book about the Truth Commission:
This thing called reconciliation… if I am understanding it correctly… if it means this perpetrator, this man who killed [my son] Christopher Piet, if it means he becomes human again, this man, so that I, so that all of us, get our humanity back… then I agree, then I support it all.
‘Let me set out what this amazing formulation says: it says that Mrs Ngewu understood that the killer of her child could, and did, kill, because he had lost his humanity; he was no longer human. Second, she understood that to forgive him would open up the possibility for him to regain his humanity, to change profoundly. Third, she understood also that the loss of her son affected her own humanity; her humanity had been impaired. Fourth and most important, she understood that if indeed the perpetrator felt driven by her forgiveness to regain his humanity, then it would open up the possibility of the restoration of her own full humanity.
‘In the TRC final report, Mrs Ngewu’s response on prison sentences for the perpetrators reads as follows: “I think that all South Africans should be committedto the idea of re-accepting these people back into the community. We do not want to return the evil that the perpetrators committed to the nation. We want to demonstrate a humanness [ubuntu] towards them, so that [it] in turn may restore their own humanity.”
‘This was being said at the end of a century dominated by revenge: that to punish would be to perpetuate inhumanity. Analysing the sentences in TRC testimonies about forgiveness, one picks up how both literate and illiterate black people formulated forgiveness in terms of this interconnected humaneness.
‘What I am trying to say is that Christianity (or human rights, restorative justice, or, for that matter, the theology of Tutu and the politics of Mandela) is not simply linked to, or an add-on to, a kind of African interconnectedness, but is in fact imbedded therein.
Interconnectedness forms the interpretive foundation of southern African Christianity, and it is this foundation that enabled people to reinterpret tired and troubled Western concepts such as forgiveness, reconciliation, amnesty and justice in new and usable ways.
‘In other words: these concepts moved across cultural borders and were infused and energised by a world view of interconnectedness-towards-wholeness to assist people to break out of their past and make a new future possible.
‘So what would be the difference? Christian forgiveness says: I forgive you because Jesus has forgiven me. The reward will be in heaven. “African” forgiveness says: I forgive you so that you can change and I can begin to heal and all of us can become the selves that we were meant to be. The reward is here on earth.
‘Forgiving is therefore never separate from reconciliation, but the first personal step. It demands a response from the forgiven one, to change, to become human, to share. Forgiveness is thus not an uninformed embrace of evil, it is not a miracle brought about by an individual, but an interconnected act that makes a changed relationship possible, a future, a new way of being.’
But I see the audience sitting in front of me: a fierce gleam of hurt, anger and bitterness in their eyes. The world will never learn anything from Africa, my friend Sandile Dikeni once said. We are just something cute, a mask to hang in a television lounge, but we will never be recognised for having contributed something worthwhile to the world.