The Concept of True Reconciliation

“In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.” Nelson Mandela

I recently returned from a vision trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where I went to lean in, listen and learn about the apartheid narrative in relationship to peace-making and unity-building. It was a disruptive and also beautiful trip all at the same time. Cape Town is surrounded by some of the most breathtaking ocean and coastal scenery in the world and is unique in that it is the place where two oceans meet – the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. Its lush landscape reminds you of what paradise could look like. But, below the surface of all this splendor lies a disrupted narrative that isolates, divides and controls people.

Here are a few simple facts about the story of South Africa in recent decades:

Apartheid (Afrikaans: “apartness”) was a policy that governed relations between South Africa’s white minority and non-white majority, which sanctioned racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-whites. The practice of apartheid was extended under the government, led by the National Party from 1948-1994.

In 1993, a new constitution – one that enfranchised blacks and other racial groups – was adopted. In 1994, an all-race national election was held and resulted in a black majority government, led by prominent anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela. Nelson’s compelling vision was to seek and offer forgiveness, rather than seeking revenge for the wrongs suffered. This should have marked the end of legislated apartheid. What I discovered – and what I found disturbing – was that the spirit of apartheid is still very much alive and well with economic and social effects today. How can this be? Is history destined to repeat itself?

I have come home more curious and with a personal syllabus of books, articles, documentaries and videos to continue my learning. I want to gain a better understanding of what really happened that led up to apartheid and what ensued during those years. Perhaps more importantly, why hasn’t apartheid been totally eradicated today?

One of the most profound things we did during our stay in Cape Town was sitting around tables with different people, hearing different narratives, processing out loud, and even allowing differences of opinions to be shared respectfully. Many questions and perspectives were thrown out and interestingly enough, answers and solutions were not always expected. Just the relishing of the opportunity to dialogue and discuss with old and new friends was sufficient at times. I learned a lot during those times around a shared meal or cup of coffee.

I found myself processing one thought that continually came to mind – and even still – is the concept of true reconciliation. What does it mean to be reconciled and to live undivided and in harmony? Did the dismantling of apartheid create reconciliation and a more united nation, or was the result just more division? As I have already stated, digging deeper you will find a common belief that apartheid is still very much alive today and South Africa is just as divided as in the past.

So, I ask us all a few questions. There doesn’t always have to be an answer. Maybe the best place to start our learning is with questions.

  • Can true reconciliation happen with only forgiveness?
  • Is it enough to forgive without the willingness to make reparations and own what was done?
  • What role does repentance play in reparation?
  • How transforming is it to give others their “rights” without giving them “opportunities” to live them out?
  • And on a personal note, where am I creating divisions and boundaries that hinder others who are different from me from flourishing?

What do you think? Will you give yourself permission to ask these questions of yourself and of others? Will you invite others around the table for dialogue and understanding? You never know what amazing insights might be gained and the transformation that could happen in your own life! When we seek reconciliation with a heart entwined with the heart of God, true reconciliation can give birth. How much better would it be to seek to be reconciled and help others be reconciled to the heart of God!