Free to change the course of history

Publish date 28-03-2021

by Renato Bonomo

Didn't they have any feelings? Why did they just kill everyone, everyone? Without leaving even a witness. So now no one knows the true story. Thus Cynthia Ngewu on April 26, 1996 during the second hearing of the South African Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. Cynthia had just told of the discovery of her son's death and the painful recognition of her in her morgue. Her son Christopher was one of the many young black men brutally killed by the Boer police during a demonstration against Apartheid in 1986. Within a few years, South Africa changed profoundly.

Mandela was released in 1990 and astonished the world with a famous speech in which he proposed a new phase of reconciliation and pacification between whites and blacks. In 1994 he even became President of the Republic after having contributed together with former President De Klerk to the abolition of racial segregation. Here is the point: the liberation of Mandela and the end of apartheid could have led to a massive revenge of the black population against the Boer one. But this did not happen. Thanks above all to Mandela's choices, the desire for reconciliation prevailed over that of revenge.

Between 1995-1998 he chose to set up the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation to mend the terrible tears that had divided South Africa. Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu was called to preside over what many historians have called an extraordinary experiment in reconciliation and national unity. The purpose of the commission was to give a voice to the victims of all sides and identify the culprits who, if they recognized their crimes, would receive an amnesty. Getting the victims to talk meant recognizing their suffering and dignity. Mandela understood that suffering that cannot be heard generates violence but when it is accepted it can change the destinies of peoples for the better. The South African case allows us to think about history in a different way than the one offered to us at school.

History is not just a long list of events mostly of a political and war nature but the occasion to discover how human freedom can change the course of events. Investigating human behavior and the context in which it occurs, we discover that what seems inevitable is not at all. Once an event has happened it cannot be changed, but when it is generated we discover that men always maintain sufficient freedom to direct their behavior towards new and alternative horizons. Mandela and many South Africans have fully experienced this freedom by pointing out new paths, away from hatred and fear.

Renato Bonomo
NP January 2021

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