I spent the Easter weekend visiting three of the major battle grounds in KwaZulu Natal. Blood River where the Boers triumphed over the Zulu; Isandlwana where the Zulu triumphed over the British and Rorke’s Drift where the British fought off the Zulu.
Hearing the stories told from different angles has made me acutely aware of the complexity of the history of South Africa. The ways in which each people remember these days is so different. And in each case the victors claim that the victory was evidence of the God’s favouring of their endeavour (or the ancestors support).
Each history is deeply scored on the memory of those whose ancestors lost blood on those battle grounds. The ‘truth’ lies somewhere in between it all. But the question remains – how do we make a single nation out of these (and a good few more) peoples?
It seems to me that the telling of these stories is an important part of the identity of each group. We need to allow for the retelling of the stories as they are. We need to honour the significance of these stories to each people. We also need to hear the stories of those who lost those battles. And then we need to find a way to celebrate together. We need to find a common goal.
This project of reconciliation is no different from two hurt people trying to overcome difference. It is just at a slightly more complex level. The story of the hurt that we tell is real for each person. The extent of the hurt of the victim is usually greater than the intent of perpetrator. But frequently the victim needs to tell their story as they perceived it, and to have the story heard.
Forgiveness begins with an acceptance that the story of the perpetrator and the story of the victim are necessarily different. And reconciliation is only possible once the grace of forgiveness has taken hold. It isn’t simple.
There are two distinct challenges of our time. Firstly, to find ways in which anger can be expressed without resorting to violence and destruction. Secondly, to learn to listen to the story of another’s pain without defensiveness.