|Versorg deur: Kabous Meiring, Johan Pienaar en Susan Samuel|
Abstract from a paper delivered at the third annual conference of the Uniting Reformed Church in partnership with the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology: Justice and Social healing, August 2006.
A critical element of the South African public discourse and societal self-talk is the role of reconciliation and dealing with the psychological impact of a violent history, as well as the violence of current challenges presented by crime in all communities.
At the heart of the conversation in this regard lies the concept of restorative justice, which seeks to establish avenues for restoring balance and integration in society following a conflict, instead of an exclusive focus on punitive justice. This approach impacts on issues of societal healing, the concept of restitution, challenges of restoring equality in the spheres of economy, gender and race, and land reform, amongst others.
As part of the debate, how young people respond to these issues must also be questioned. Some observations and directives exist.
1. A first observation is that young people are increasingly living in a context of access to information and thus live with the continual process of deciding whether to engage with our history, and if so, with whom and how. Due to a political system that allows the voices of the “other” to be heard, the advances of technology and the freedom of the media, young people are able either to deny or to interact with the multiple histories of our country and therefore must take responsibility for the choices they make and the doors they open or close. We see that young people are increasingly doing so.
2. Secondly, it is becoming apparent that young people generally are fully aware of the impact of history on their context and locality in society – both in formal and in informal arenas. The need for reflecting on history in an integrated way seems to be growing, and the source for this approach lies with the democratic principles on which the struggle for justice and liberation were founded. Thus the aims of dignity, justice and unity present core values shared by young people from all communities. The integrity of history thus lies secure in memories built on sustainable values.
3. A third observation is the intention of young leaders to engage one another honestly beyond those categories used to systemically divide people in South Africa in the past, and that often kept boundaries between people intact, such as political, religious, racial/colour, class, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. It seems as if a growing trend exists whereby young people are searching for a reconstruction of language not to avoid the difficult themes of the present, but to find the bridges to cross them. One could even speak of a process for the innovation of language.
4. A fourth observation naturally builds on the previous one, as it becomes apparent that young people feel the need to discuss issues of identity. And yet, this need comes with a very real condition, which is the need to explore and find multiple identities not in preparation for diversity, but specifically in conversation with diverse notions of identity and codes of ethics. Thus, in their search of language to fit their time, categories of identity that indicate shared humanity are becoming trendy, e.g. we find T-shirts printed with names of townships and artists performing in strange locations all over the country with diverse cultural co-performers.
5. A last observation must be that young people in all communities increasingly seem to want to take responsibility for socio-political discourse and development of society. The expressed need and various initiatives to create dialogue on societal issues among various youth subcultures is indicative of a spirit of belonging and a belief in the real possibility of change and progress. Most encouraging is the fact that progress to bridge the contextual divides between communities is indeed being made with social dialogue initiatives and through the arts.
It is thus my contention that young people today in general will not hesitate to commit to the legacy of Oom Bey and many other leaders who called for social healing and reconciliation. Young people in general have the capacity and intuitive skill to be able to move beyond those messages and voices that still pronounce categories of division between communities. I believe that young people in general are quite simply joining initiatives that explore difference and initiate dialogue with the strange and the unfamiliar.
And yet … I often share the foreboding that young people are not really sold on acting on this potential for restorative practice and reconciliation.
This may be the result of such dynamics as a society’s focus on the creation of wealth, the perceived lack of a cause for activism for young people today, the remaining inequalities that disallow people to meet across boundaries, the remaining presence of destructive politicking, the lack of local community dialogue on issues of reconciliation, and even the lack of role models and older-generation leaders to show young people the way.
It is often argued that young people hold all the potential to bring life and energy to a process of change and growth, and yet young people are, at the same time, charged with irresponsibility, self-interest and apathy.
I would argue that this contradiction is the result of youth development initiatives not responding to the concept of integrated development, where young people are not kept as a separate unit within planning and programme delivery.
The said contradiction may also result from young people not being viewed primarily as a resource in their own development, but rather as only the (often ungrateful) recipients of aid and development initiatives. Especially regarding leadership roles within organisations and movements, it is often apparent that young people make up the “fodder” and are not seen as fit to be generals or captains in the battles – of course citing lack of experience, we get away with it, and often improper power relations which inhibit integrated and significant youth development in the long run remain uncontested.
However, most critically, the logical conclusion to explain the reason for the young people not acting on the general readiness for integration is the lack of opportunities to bring them together. As much as young people from diverse religious, cultural, political and other backgrounds may share a need for and an intention to interact on socio-political matters, they simply do not get around to doing so – they don’t know how, where, with whom, when and with regard to what they should come together.
Thus, the broad-based praxis of restorative justice comes to an end – “dit sneuwel” – not in principle or intention, but in the logistics of a society’s daily diary.
The /Xam prophet /A!kúnta sings a true word on the rebirth of life, a song that I wish to read as a narrative for the rebirth of a nation in the generation of young people today. Here follows the Afrikaans translation:
’n klein warrelwindjie waai/ hy waai die volstruis se vere/ hy waai ’n klein volstruisveertjie in die lug/ ’n volstruisveertjie met bloed aan/ die klein veertjie val warrelend uit die lug/ val in die water/ word nat in die water/ die veertjie kry ’n bewussyn van water/ die veertjie word vleis/ kry vere, sit vlerke aan, kry pote in die water/ stap uit die water/ baai in die son sy veertjies/ jong veertjies want hy is klein/ swart veertjies want hy is ’n mannetjiesvolstruis/ soos die veertjies droog word, begin hy loop/ en maak sy stywe beentjies los/ hy maak sy voete sterk/ want sy voete moet twee velskoene word/ terwyl hy loop, gaan lê hy/ so verhard hy sy bors/ want sy borsbeen moet been word/ hy stap weg/ omdat hy volstruisie is/ hy eet jong bossies/ omdat hy volstruisie is/ omdat ’n kein warrelwindjie ’n veertjie in die lug gewaai het/ ’n veertjie met bloed aan.
– die sterre sê “tsau”, /Xam-gedigte, Antjie Krog
If, then, we are to speak of restorative practice and the youth of our country, what will be the cornerstones of the narrative we write? What indicators may we find that will whisper the genesis of what will be said of my generation a thousand years from now? What, then, must be the lines we follow as we explore and localise models and methods of social healing and reconciliation for young people in our communities, institutions and congregations?
Allow me, in conclusion, to venture some proposals for your consideration.
1. A narrative of social justice, restorative practice and healing must be driven by, defined by and maintained with a sustained programme of social dialogue. At the heart of this process lies the promotion and protection of the dignity and equality and the potential for restorative justice required for healing, resilience and societal health in our country. The art of dialogue that may guide our efforts to discover the self and celebrate the other must remain our weapon against the casting of stones of self-interest or vengeance.
2. Furthermore, a narrative of integration becomes possible in the process of exploring those identities that voice the similarity between peoples of diverse histories while strengthening the joyful clarity of personal identity. This potential for young people today lies in the journey – by everyone – of exploring a uniquely African identity with all its intricacies, shapes, incarnations and array of sound and colour. Not as a set of requirements for belonging, but as a matrix of celebration of locality and context.
3. Our narrative of social interaction and the process of forgiveness and justice further require overt and conscious efforts to invent and find new structures of language – new ways of voicing truths; of speaking; of hearing - linguistics that moves beyond the set categories we use to describe people, history and reality; linguistics that without compromise uses language that sets people free from limiting labels. This road of imagination lies close to the intuitive nature of young people and has never been as possible as it is now in our country – give them the challenge and they will rise to it.
4. A final whisper on a narrative of restorative practice must be the uncompromising commitment to move beyond boundaries – to search and find those stories, histories, realities and spaces that we call the strange, the unfamiliar, the unknown, and reach out, meet with and listen them, to us. However, this requirement for our narrative becomes most challenging and prominent with those stories, histories, realities and spaces we think we’ve already explored and know completely.
The narrative I plead for, then; the narrative I see growing in my generation; the narrative I believe we have a calling to in our world, is the narrative of dialogue, the narrative of mass connection.
That is our task. That must be our caveat. That must be our accord.
LitNet: 15 Augustus 2006
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