Emory Report

March 30, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 26

Storey speaks of peace and forgiveness in South Africa

Often coming close to moving both his audience and himself to tears, the Reverend Peter Storey, an eminent clergyman from South Africa, spoke passionately at a luncheon March 23 in Winship Ballroom about the wrenching process of peace and forgiveness he witnessed and helped shape in his native country.

A former bishop of the Methodist church in South Africa, Storey co-chaired the multi-party Peace Secretariat, mediating the peace process around Johannesburg during the turbulent time preceding the country's first democratic elections. Following the election of Nelson Mandela and formation of the post-apartheid government, Storey served on the selection committee for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body established to bring South Africa into the future while never forgetting the lessons of the past.

"Without memory, there can be no healing. Without forgiveness, there can be no future," Storey said, reciting a phrase that came to be commonplace as his nation dealt with its collective sin. "None of us could deny that 40 years of hate and discrimination cast a long shadow, and much would depend on how we dealt with that shadow."

Storey spoke plain truth. He admitted that negotiations to set up the new government in South Africa were political, that the architects and supporters of apartheid would not yield power without assurances that they "would not be strung up the day after liberation." Mandela, Storey said, promised amnesty would be made available to these people.

The vehicle for that amnesty was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. After helping whittle down more than 600 nominations to select 25 members and naming Archbishop Desmond Tutu the commission's chair, Storey watched his country undergo a process of spiritual healing he called "unique in human history."

In order to apply for amnesty from the commission, people had to meet four requirements: they had to apply individually, not as institutions or organizations; they had to provide full disclosure of their crimes-"If you killed 12 people," Storey said, "don't tell us about just three"; applicants had to demonstrate their crimes were committed for political purposes; and they had to demonstrate proportionality, that the actions must somehow have been proportionate to the atmosphere of the community at the time. Storey said this final criterion was the most difficult to show.

At first, critics of the commission, many still loyal to the old government, dubbed its proceedings the "Kleenex commission" as witnesses broke down in tears recounting tales of gross human rights abuses and crimes, of children and husbands carried off and murdered in the middle of the night, buried in parts unknown. But as the hours of testimony and scores of victims continued to mount, even the most skeptical of observers began to believe.

Most moving, Storey said, was when victims of violence by freedom fighters came forward to testify. Afrikaners loyal to apartheid spoke of how their families were blown apart by bombs set by anti-apartheid groups, and relatives of both sides wept in the courtroom galleries.

"When people win a war, they don't like to acknowledge they were anything like their enemies," Storey said. "But it doesn't matter how noble and right your cause may be-that does not make you immune to responsibility for your behavior. When people war with each other, the suffering knows no name and no label."

The commission's work has not been the perfect solution, Storey admitted. To ask people whose families were murdered to forego justice and grant amnesty to the killers is at times excruciatingly difficult, he said, but it is a sacrifice they are asked to make on behalf of their country.

"There are some evils far too big for law ever to deal with," said Storey, the seventh in a family line of South African Methodist ministers dating back to 1820. "There are some evils that can only be dealt with by grace. That is the lesson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."

-Michael Terrazas

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