After South Africa's stunning shift from apartheid to democracy in the mid-1990s, the work of creating a viable nation began. South Africa's new leaders saw their nation not only as one composed of legislative, infrastructure, and commercial concerns, but one with a deeply wounded soul that needed to be healed.
In No Future Without Forgiveness, Desmond Tutu tells the story of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), formed to address the countless crimes against humanity committed on all sides in apartheid's dark history. Rather than burden the new nation with potentially endless criminal trials â?æ¨‚Äú wherein the accused are constrained to defend themselves against the threat of imprisonment and victims can only expect state-mandated retribution as a form of justice â?æ¨‚Äú the TRC gave victims and the accused the opportunity to simply tell their stories. Tutu shows how letting victims and perpetrators face each other as humans fostered courageous acts of penitence and forgiveness that serve as symbols for their nation and the world.
Tutu offers a faith-filled, largely positive portrait of the work of the TRC, but does not gloss over real barriers to true reconciliation. Neither does Northern-born Irish President Mary McAleese, the author of Love in Chaos (which has a foreword by Tutu). While Tutu's book looks at national reconciliation through the lens of Christianity, McAleese's focuses on the Christian imperative to forgive through the lens of Northern Ireland's move to reconciliation. McAleese makes the political personal, exploring not only a nation's effort to find forgiveness, but the individual's hard path to it. That path is well-worn by the author, who has herself endured Northern Ireland's violence and who has responded, in part, with a personal spirituality practiced through Catholic clergyman John Main's Christian meditation. McAleese enhances the richness and complexity of her ideas with the darkly beautiful imagery of Irish and other poets and writers. Both McAleese's and Tutu's books make offerings out of the hard-won experience of finding love in the rubble of fear and chaos.
Reviewed by Maryann Gorman, editor-in-chief of ASTM Standardization News.