Many ugly and unfair things were done to blacks under apartheid. The miracle that some people do not believe happened in 1994 is that black people, generally, forgave whites for their sins.

They chose to let bygones be bygones, release the hurt and trust that the gesture would significantly contribute to nation building and reconciliation. The alternative would have been to cling to the hurt and humiliation and become vengeful beasts that would have plunged the country into a race war without winners.

There are no winners in war.

The apartheid regime waged a relentless war against black people that left thousands dead and countless others with deep scars in their souls. But still the mightiest military state in Africa did not win the war.

Black people who espouse and live out the philosophy of ubuntu – African humaneness – have refused to allow hurt to poison the future that so many died for, including children.

Many people throughout the world found it unthinkable that white people in South Africa could get away with murder, rape and land theft, literally. But through the grace of African people, they did. For those still wondering what the 1994 miracle was, it was the self-effacing forgiving spirit of black people.

In fact, the miracle was not the peaceful election or rise of Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected leader of a fledgling nation. It was the generosity of black people, in general, to let go of bitterness and anger.

They intuitively knew that if they were to cling to desires of revenge to hurt and humiliate white people, they would be allowing what whites did in the past — to control black behaviour and attitude. White people cannot be hurt by black bitterness and anger. What these negative and useless emotions do is poison black lives.

Anyone who harbours feelings of revenge and anger to hurt others is carrying a heavy burden in their souls.

Unfortunately, there are some black people who are mad and angry at those who inflicted trauma and pain on them. These include men like HF Verwoerd who is dead and gone for over 50 years.

Some black leaders are bitter and angry at this man who is no longer living. Even his apartheid project has collapsed. It is bad enough that Verwoerd designed apartheid that stunted national development and destroyed black lives for 50 years. But Verwoerd is as dead as his apartheid project. They will never return.

Tempting as it is to want to prosecute people like FW de Klerk, Adriaan Vlok and their apparatchiks, black people must not allow themselves to be hurt by staying angry and revengeful.

This would be a serious setback to the journey they’ve made towards self-healing in the last 25 years.

When black people forgave white people, it was not because they were not aware of what happened in the past. It was done for black people themselves. Forgiveness was a gesture of self-healing and taking responsibility for controlling the past.

Those who want to control the future must control the past. They must retain power to define and interpret what happened in the past.

Forgiveness should have released black people from being victims and prisoners of negative emotions. It should have freed blacks from pain and anguish.

When blacks are bitter, angry and feeling revengeful in the name of seeking justice and redress, it is not whites who hurt. Instead, black people are hurting themselves. The victims and prisoners of this desire for justice, whatever that means, are black people.

When whites waged battle against indigenous people to take over the land and control its resources, they thought they would stop black people from self-determination and freedom. They believed black people would never assume leadership to determine the destiny of this country.

But today we know that whites were fooling themselves. Apartheid and white supremacy were failed projects from inception.

Black people, whether they realise it or not, control the destiny of this country. They have the power to decide to drag it back into the past or move it forward.

No one epitomises the spirit of forgiveness better than the late first president Mandela who was imprisoned for almost 30 years. This is one man could have been bitter, angry and full of vengeful thoughts.

But he did not let that injustice steal his destiny. He befriended the lowest white apartheid apparatchiks, learned the oppressor’s language, redefined himself, refocused his vision for nation building to move South Africa forward and thus claim his rewards.

There is no telling where this country would have been if he was bitter, angry and filled with revenge in his heart. There are many others who were not as lucky as Mandela to see freedom. They were brutally murdered. There are others who are buried in unmarked graves and some whose families do not know where they’re buried.

But black people cannot allow this brutality to take control of their thinking and feelings, now. They have overcome the enemy – which was a system designed to dehumanise them. Today, the destiny of black people is too great for them to cling onto bitterness, anger and revenge in the name of justice. The world is looking at black people to give it a human face.

Another living example of this spirit of forgiveness is Reverend Frank Chikane whose clothes were laced with poison. Like Mandela, Chikane allowed apartheid police chief Adriaan Vlok to wash his feet, forgave him and moved forward with him to build a new society.

As Martin Luther King Jr preached, “Either we live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.

Forgiveness is not about forgetting where we come from and the hurt and humiliation black people were subjected to under apartheid. It is not about being nice to De Klerk and giving him awards. It is about black people letting go so they can channel their energies and time to nation building and social cohesion, to leave a better world with a human face for posterity.

There are valid reasons to be bitter, angry and full of revenge. But it was not black people’s fault that white people were marauding thugs who went around the world turning others into slaves. The colonial project was approved by white kings and leaders in Europe. Blacks had no control over that.

What was done to them as a result was wrong. Forgiveness does not mean that white history will be glorified or ignored. It will be captured to show the levels that man can descend to. What happened can neither be forgotten nor excused.

Black people have every right to nurse their pain to heal themselves. But they have to learn to let go to focus on the future they suffered for.

The people of Mandela have a destiny to fulfil. They cannot falter now. The journey of healing themselves and those who hurt them must continue.

That is what Mandela would expect of black people.



Sandile Memela

Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic, columnist and civil servant. He lives in Midrand.

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