Showing how hatred can be turned to love

Rhodes>Perspective>2014 Archive

Former UCT academic, TRC member and author Pumla GobodoMadikizela is helping foster all-important reconciliation by confronting our past.

How does change come about in relationships? What are the experiences that bring about transformative moments in the relationships between former enemies? Or between the survivors and perpetrators of human rights violations? When these two adverserial sides come together, what are the moments that shift the relationship?

These are some of the questions which preoccupy Pumla GobodoMadikizela, former Truth and Reconcilation Commissioner, UCT academic and author of the bestselling book, A Human Being Died That Night, an account of her prison interviews with apartheid hit squad commander Eugene de Kock, who is serving 212 years in jail for crimes against humanity.

They are also some of the questions she attempts to answer in her latest book, Dare We Hope? Facing our Past to find a New Future.

Gobodo-Madikizela, who is a senior research professor in trauma, forgiveness and reconciliation at the University of the Free State, also tackles the sense of hopelessness which has taken root in South Africa in a context of scandals, corruption and service delivery protests. She argues - as she always has that it is only by confronting our past that we will find ways of forging a new and different future. 'All my work is focused on deepening the understanding of transformation," said GobodoMadikizela.

When we met at her home in Fish Hoek, Gobodo-Madikizela spoke enthusiastically about her position supervising masters and doctoral students at UFS.

She praised Rector Jonathan Jansen for his "incredible" role in transforming the university and felt the campus was completely appropriate for what she's doing. "My focus is trauma and forgiveness, and this comes out of the work and experience on the TRC where I learnt so much more about what's new in this area.

"Until the TRC, there was only one kind of knowledge we had about processes of dealing with the past, and it was mostly based on work related to the Holocaust.

"So the knowledge that was there during the TRC was mainly around what we'd learnt from the story of the holocaust but the TRC introduced new knowledge.

"My work is to probe deeper into this new knowledge about dealing with the past in ways which were unthinkable, before we witnessed the TRC."

Gobodo-Madikizela continued: "Some of my students are doing work that's very close to the work I am doing. For instance, the Rwandan students are interested in changes at the level of the second generation. Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda, they're now taking the lead in defming what kind of relationships they want for their future.

"They are working with the daughters and sons of the men who killed their parents.

Gobodo-Madikizela was born in 1955 in Langa. Her father was a teacher who became an entrepreneur while her mother Was a nurse who later joined her father in running his shop in the area.

She recalls how she never felt she was South African... "even though you can see Table Mountain from Langa, I never really saw it until I was much older and started travelling. Later in my life, I heard people saying how beautiful Cape Town was. When I was in Santa Barbara people said, 'doesn't this remind you of Sea Point?' and I couldn't relate. It was not my city. Only now do I see its beauty."

Gobodo-Madikizela attended the Inanda Seminary near Durban, the country's only private school for black girls. There she became involved in the Black Consciousness Movement. She was expelled from the seminary in Grade 11 for refusing to disclose the names of fellow students involved in organising strikes at the school.

Her parents then sent her to school in the Eastern Cape. She attended Fort Hare University and went on to Rhodes University, where she completed a masters degree in clinical psychology in 1984.

Gobodo-Madikizela became a full professor at UCT in 2010. She moved to UFS in 2012.

A major conclusion she has come to in her work, she said, is the importance of empathy. "While in the past I talked about the importance of forgiveness... it seems to me the real change happens when people begin to open up to regard the other as a fellow human being.

"What I have found is that empathic engagement is the pivotal moment of change. "It can be something the other person does, the way they sit or the way they convey their message in the dialogue, which draws the other person to be in community with the person they hated.

"My focus is on what it is about that empathic change that brings healing to the survivor as well as the perpetrator."

Gobobo-Madikizela related how she visited villages in the south of Rwanda where most of the genocide killings were committed: "I listened to incredible stories of people connecting with people who had left them for dead. They now live in the same village. A survivor sits next to a man who had left her for dead and now they're building their community.

"What is it about that? It is unthinkable and unimaginable and yet it is happening, not only in Rwanda, but here too.

"This kind of toenadering of people after these tragic histories is happening all over the world.

"The question I am interested in is, 'what is the experience of living with and engaging with the person who almost killed you or who killed your loved onesT "The answer would require a week-long seminar, but it seems to me there are mainly two things that are important. The first is that when perpetrators kill, they do so from the position of 'you do not exist in my eyes as a human other'. They dehumanise the victim before they murder him... else they would not be able to kill the victim. So that's the first thing that happens.

"The tragic part of that is the dehumanisation of the self. In this work I found that it is not enough to just say I dehumanised the other. You have to dehumanise the self because a part of the self still recognises that you are a human being like me. So I have to silence the part that reminds me of your humanity and in that silencing I am dehumanising myself.

"In simple terms, I am turning off the voice of conscience and shutting it down.

'Among the people I interviewed in Rwanda, this was very central in my observations about the notion of change... something happens in the other that makes them human: you're no longer the killer, the monster. That's what invites that moment of change.

"When perpetrators feel a sense of remorse, they rehumanise the victims. They're saying, 'now I see you as a fellow human being.' It's a mutual, reciprocal engagement.

"Of course not everyone engages in this way. Some people say, 'I don't want to see my husband's killer,'... but when these possibilities are embraced, there is remarkable change and transformation." Gobobo-Madikizela loves her work in Bloemfontein but considers Cape Town to be home and she returns to Fish Hoek as often as she can.

Article by Sue Segar

Article Source: Sunday Weekend Argus