Facing the past - a must for social change

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Earlier this week Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, an acclaimed academic and author, discussed her paper entitled: “In search of Human Solidarity: Transcending the Boundaries of the Self and the Meaning of Moral Imagination” at a psychology department lecture.

Prof Gobodo-Madikizela in her presentation was simple and precise and said: “We need to open up and talk about the past.” She further said “our silence leads to alienation.” She believes that South Africans need to stop being in denial of what occurred in the past.

She argued that this avoidance of being reminded about where we come from is among all South Africans, black and white. Germany, for example, accepted its atrocities and is still paying repatriation to Israel and the former East Germans.

Coming to the South African situation, she said, those who benefitted in Apartheid do not want to reach out to others. They want the past to be left behind while claiming to have worked hard for their wealth. Prof Gobodo-Madikizela, a firm follower of Emmanuel Levinas, believes that every South African has a responsibility to the “other”.

She strongly argues that in South Africa, lives of those affected by apartheid system have not changed. Instead, it is becoming worse. The politicians and the new elite, on the other hand, are all getting richer.
This will soon lead to more violence and uprisings. The recent public servants and service delivery strikes, and the current challenges on President Zuma’s government are signs of people being impatient.
The Constitution is under fire because the freedom it seems to offer is benefitting a few elite while trampling in the rights of others. The current government, unlike that of Nelson Mandela, lacks and has abused ubuntu. “What has happened to the spirit of human nature?” she asked.

Turning to the youth and students, Prof Gobodo-Madikizela challenged them to be engaged in social issues. Youth, as the next generation of leaders, needs to be purposeful. They need to stand up for what is right, and to freely engage in difficult public debates.

Future leaders must be aware that the rage of the masses is awakening. The government and the new elite have not delivered any changes to the lives of the many South Africans. Many who were mass banished to homelands are still living in those conditions whereas the perpetrators enjoy better life. Their trauma is re-enacted in many ways.
She warns that people engage in violence because they have nothing else and their lives remain the same. Using Amy Biehl’s story as a case study, two murder accused of that American anti-apartheid activist are still working in the Amy Biehl Foundation. Though very difficult to work and face Amy’s mother every day, they have come to accept the past while focusing on the future.

Phumla Gobodo-Madikizela, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Cape Town. She is a former Rhodes University Masters student in clinical psychology (1984). She became well-known for her role in the TRC’s Human Rights Violation Committee. Her book, A Human Being Died that Night: A Story of Forgiveness sought to forgive Eugene de Kock, to encourage ‘the great forgetting’.

Prof Gobodo-Madikizela was being honoured with a social change award by the Psychology Department as a prominent member of the psychology community who contributed immensely to social change in South Africa.