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Second Healing of Memories Annual Lecture

Trevor Manuel: Minister in the Presidency: National Planning Commission
Trevor Manuel: Minister in the Presidency: National Planning Commission





Good evening and welcome to all of you.  

It is wonderful to see how many people have turned out despite the inclement weather. It is a great statement of commitment to the Institute for the Healing of Memories. I would like to express a special word of appreciation to Father Michael Lapsley for the invitation to share few ideas this evening.  

Before I came up, there was a provocateur who asked me which capacity I am speaking in and I said I am speaking in my normal maverick capacity.  I’m hoping that we can use that to open up a discussion about fundamentally important issues.  

Part of what I want to say this evening is that issues such as healing and nation building are continuous.  If we fail to understand the continuity, we fail to understand the process.  Over the next few months there is going to be a lot of excitement and enthusiastic discussions as we prepare to celebrate twenty years of democracy in South Africa.  However, remember too that our Constitution will be just eighteen years old.

The Preamble to our Constitution reminds us of the depth of the commitment that we made 18 years ago, to lay the foundation for a democratic and open society, where government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law.  It was a commitment, not an event. It is an on-going pledge that must find place in the context of continuity and must improve the quality of lives of all citizens and free the potential of each person. These are powerful commitments made in our time, by our generation, for successive generations.

When one quotes from the Constitution in this way today, too few South Africans remember it, and because we don’t remember it, the danger is that we risk repeating the past. The Preamble starts with a call for us to remember where we came from. Why else would we have a Constitution? Why else would the transition, shaped by a set of rules, be negotiated in the way that it was? I use the word ‘negotiated’ deliberately. If we examine the values articulated in the Constitution it is apparent that it could not have come from the same side that kept us oppressed, exploited and in a perpetual state of injustice for so long. It is crucial that we understand the context of our Constitution.

Nelson Mandela described our Constitution as a bridge, a fitting image, because it brings us from the past that we lived to our current lives. Part of the reason to recall and remember, in the way that the Institute for the Healing of Memories sets out to do, is because we know and feel that past.  This very Homecoming Centre in the District Six Museum is part of that journey of remembering. However, this bridge takes us from that which we know, to something that is less clear.

The vision articulated in the founding provisions of our Constitution commits us to building a non-racial, non-sexist society. This vision is articulated in detail in the Bill of Rights that is tested from time to time by the Constitutional Court. We have a reasonably clear understanding of how to proceed, yet the detail of that future remains somewhat uncertain.

Knowing the context of our Constitution means understanding that we are responsible for that future. If it is a bridge, the question to be asked is, ‘how do we cross it and how far do people go?’ The further people go, the easier it is to give effect to the commitment to free the potential of every person. How does this happen? It can’t be an event; it can’t be a kind of Instagram moment. It is not something instant. We need to ask ourselves: ‘Who are we? Do we expect leadership or do we expect to lead?’

When we committed to the struggle for democracy, we were prepared to put our lives on the line. Were we leading or were we being led? This is a fundamentally important question to ask, and one that arises again and again. If we were merely being led, then it would be acceptable if we simply committed to the events that led to 27 April 1994 and nothing else beyond that point. If, however, we take a different view and engage with realities, then we need to understand that what we committed to was the process of transformation.

We often debate this notion of transformation because like so much else it is a word that we bandy about without pausing to reflect on its meaning.  One of the Commissioners at a meeting of the National Planning Commission who studied medicine said that transformation is the process from tadpole to frog. It is physical and irreversible. The frog can’t go backwards and say “I want to be a tadpole again, so let me lose parts of what I am.”  

Transformation means that we have an enormous responsibility vested in us. Frequently when we refer to transformation, we talk about what we can measure: How many houses? How may taps? How many electricity connections? How many kilometres of road? It is the type of measurements that people, like the planners in my day job, like talking about. If that is all we talk about however, and if that is our idea of transformation, then nirvana for us must be about ticking boxes. In ‘Hard Times’, Dickens says:

"Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them."

With this ethos, the more we can measure, the better the transformation. It would be about the number of tadpoles into frogs, the number of boxes ticked. But healing is not about ticking boxes.  Transformation and nation building is not about targets.

Author and Nobel laureate Jose Saramago describes the idea of a soul as: “Inside is something that has no name. That something is Us”. I have complete comfort with that definition of the soul; there has to be something like that that defines us. I’ll refer to Madiba again, who spoke about the RDP of the Soul. It is an interesting image, because the RDP at one level is about the houses, roads and taps that can be measured. On another, it is about building that intangible something that has no name. It needs to be built because it is what holds us together as a nation. If we don’t, then we have a fundamental problem in society, regardless of how many houses we build and boxes we tick.

The principles of our Constitution embody all that we fought to achieve in our democracy and serves to define us as South Africans beyond the obvious. It is this essential collective, our soul, that, while hard to define, we know instinctively.

Erich Fromm writes about how people respond to circumstances and the conditions for human change, saying:

"I suggest that human character can change if these conditions exist:

Firstly, we are suffering and we are aware that we are,

Secondly we recognise the origin of our ill-being.

Thirdly, that there is a way of overcoming our ill-being, and

Fourthly, we accept that in order to overcome our ill-being we must follow certain norms for living and change our present practice of life."

These conditions are easily stacked together. They are rational and clear.  We know that there is something that is wrong in society. That knowing process is about conscientisation and about understanding what is wrong. Second is understanding the origin of it. Third is knowing that we can overcome it and fourth is understanding that it is not just about what other people do. It is about us changing to change the circumstances that confront us. When we talk about healing, context is important, and using the same issues and metaphors of yesterday are not going to find resonance.

I’d like to draw on three experiences which in many ways define some of the new challenges of context for us.

The first is a difficult story.  It is a story of a mother called Ellen Pakkies. She lives in a place called Lavender Hill. This place is near Muizenberg, on the sand. There is no hill, there is no lavender. This woman lives in a particular environment, which is important in the context of transformation. There is shelter made of bricks, water, electricity, a school nearby.  All of the things you can measure are there. Her son Abie was a tik addict. For people who don’t know what happens in the lives of addicts, come on a journey on the Cape Flats on any day of the week. The addicts’ need for this drug is so great that it destroys them, they steal everything from their homes and so they destroy their families too. And it is not just in the Pakkies household but all over Lavender Hill, all over Manenberg and Bonteheuwel and Hanover Park and Mitchells Plain and increasingly in Gugulethu and Khayelitsha.

The story of Ellen Pakkies is that she strangled her son and killed him. The questions of context here are: If this is a new kind of enemy, where are we in this healing process? How do we respond to these new challenges? Where is our sense of solidarity?

The second story is also of a woman, let’s call her Nomakazi Mgudlwa. She lives in Makhaza in Khayelitsha where she had settled after coming from the Eastern Cape not so long ago. She came in hope of finding employment and feeding her family. Day after day, she and her partner go out to look for work and come home to their children to explain that there is no food because they have not found work. Day after day. And because of certain more recent horrible campaigns, poverty has a particular snub. It has a smell of hunger, a smell of porta-potties. It has a smell of alienation.

In the same way as with Mrs Pakkies, questions arise in respect of Mrs Mgudlwa:  Where are we? What kind of solidarity do we extend? Where is the healing process? Where is the hope? Who leads and who responds?

The third story could be a story of a worker anywhere. Dumisa Ntsebeza has been working on Marikana issues and he can confirm that on the mine there were about 14 micro-lenders trading and there wasn’t a single worker who took home more than 50 percent of their net earnings. Everywhere, unsecured lending has become the order of the day. People borrow, sometimes for crises like a family funeral or to get the worker back home to Lusikisiki from Marikana, and sometimes people just borrow. People borrow because somebody says, “why not?”, and the “why not” has happened in a way where workers are being impoverished in the process. So regardless of how much you demand or settle on in a strike, you are not going to survive on what you earn.

It begs the questions: Where are we? How do we understand this context? When we look at and engage with the reality of micro-lending in South Africa, we must try to understand how injustice finds resonance in the lives of ordinary working people.

So where are we? Do we have context or are we still thinking about the context of the past? Are we thinking just about an apartheid reality, defined by laws? Have we forgotten that the Constitution requires us to unlock the potential of each person? If it is about the unlocking the potential, then surely what we should be doing in this context of the healing of memories must be to engage with what makes people un-free. I have touched on just three examples of what makes people un-free. I have chosen three because in every case, we who are conscious must have our senses respond to these realities that confront people in their everyday lives.  If our Constitution is just a distant memory then we will fail to heal because we have failed to understand the process of continuity and context. If the value of our Constitution is just contained in that moment in May 1996, then it is a high watermark and everything has receded from there. That is not what processes of healing and processes of nation building are about.

The National Development Plan represents an opportunity to rethink some of these challenges. I have the great privilege of being able to lead this process of rethinking what our Constitution represents. How do we give it life? We may quibble about jobs and how we are going get there and debate a range of issues; all of that is acceptable. What we must acknowledge, in good conscience and in trust, is that we need to give this generation and successive generations an opportunity to try and lift this country back to that watermark, defined by the process that brought about the Constitution.

If we accept that, then we can deal with the content. How we take issues forward must be driven by values and that is what our Constitution gives us. When we don’t live out these values, don’t engage with them and don’t ask the tough questions, when we think it is all about political parties, then we fail to understand our reality. We fail to understand our responsibility to successive generations.  

The NDP offers us an opportunity to consider issues differently and to take forward those values. It is a risky process because in drafting the NDP we address the idea of active citizenry and of leadership in a way that counteracts the “Big Man” notion of these concepts. It may be a reflection of our own past, characterised by being active in small organisations that we brought together and where we raised issues.  

It may be that because that struggle was so hard won, when democracy was finally entrenched with the adoption of the Constitution, some 25 months after the first elections, there appeared to be the demobilisation of civil society. It was not announced, nor was it a cataclysmic act; over time it simply changed from the form that we knew. We took the view that we could leave decisions to others; we outsourced our responsibility. The difficulty is that healing is not something you can observe in a nation at a distance. You have to be an integral part of it.

Where are we in relation to the questions we face? Part of our challenge is to ensure that politics is not the administration of people and things. That is something that happens once every few years, with elections. If that is all that we have become then we haven’t begun to understand the processes that gave rise to what we cherish in our Constitution.  

In that great book written by our host, dealing with the past he writes: “Our generation is bedevilled by the unfinished business of previous ages that has come back to haunt us”. Part of our responsibility is to understand that revolutions remain unfinished until you have people take up challenges, engage with them and give them life. Constitutions are just words on paper until we have people who take up those values and engage them and give them life. We need to be able to channel ideas and at the same time understand that people are not always going to respond to this in a way that we think they might. It is a risky business but it is a risk that we must take. If we don’t, then those values in the Constitution that bring us here this evening are deferred.

Langston Hughes wrote:  

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore –

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over –

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

What happens to a dream deferred is part of the question of the healing that has brought us here this evening. We know that the Constitution has given us direction. Our own memories, our own experience of struggle, have given us an appreciation of what is required. Collectively our own generation must now look at ourselves and say, “We are not doing enough.” Part of what we need to be doing is engaging with difficult issues like ensuring that people have hope.

Where does Mrs Pakkies get hope?

Where does Mrs Mgudlwa get hope?

Where does that worker without money having worked 60 to 70 hours a week get hope?

Hope is the one entity that we must bring into discourse.  The big challenge is not about “them and us”. It is about “us and us”.  The big challenge is to bring back the continuity of struggle and the big challenge is that the people who have come through this process and might be sitting on top of the wall now never kick the ladder away.

That is what I think the process of healing might be about.

Thank you.

Response to Minister Trevor Manuel  Prof.  Marion Keim, UWC 

Thank  you, Minister  Manuel for  your deliberations on a topic that is very close to our heart.  I will only share some short observation and would  like to comment on  few  aspects:

1) Role of Civil society    

2)  Youth leaders to succeed in Nation Building  

3) Places where we learnt about life, culture, resistance and strengthening of our character   

The Role of Civil Society

The National Development Plan  (NDP) speaks about creating safer communities, about nation building, it speaks about active citizenship and social activism amongst other points.

The Minister says the Plan has been adopted by virtually all political parties  and warmly embraced by a myriad of  civil society organisations

The Western Cape Network just had its first Peace Forum on Friday 13 October and when asked about their main challenges in their own lives, in their lives of their families, communities, and country, Healing was a cross cutting  challenge for all and mentioned by participants from all cultural groups. Healing and trauma were identified as factors that hinder   us to believe in ourselves and others,  trust in ourselves and others,  become active citizens,  engage in social activism  in creating safer communities and nation building and implement  the NDP.

There are a number of Challenges

1) Do we really understand our own brokenness and how we  act that out in our relationship with others?

2) Do we know what is needed for Healing ?  What is needed for individuals families, community, the country to heal?

3) We know the challenges, they are outlined in the NDP but do we have a strategy of how we can heal?

Prof Marion Keim

Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza was also a Respondent

4) -Do we know HOW we can work together rather than in opposition or competition to achieve Healing?

5) What is the role of civil society/NGOs in SA today?

6)  What are the requirements for healing, how do we address them in our communities?  And how can civil society and the state work together in that regard?

7) Do governments view Healing and Peace programmes as integral catalysts or contributors to social or economic development and to a peaceful society?  

8) Does HEALING AND Peace education have a REAL role on their national agenda?  

9) Are Healing and Peace a PRIORITY area in terms of funding and education?

10) Do Government departments join forces with other governments departments and non-governmental organisation to address  the challenges with regard to   healing, peace and development?

John Paul Lederach says about reconciliation, that what is needed is truth justice, mercy and peace.- Peace alone  is a big challenge.

Recently the Pillar for Peace Report was launched at the UN based on an analysis of over 4000 data sets  and it thus the first empirical framework  and aims to measure positive peace. The  report  tells us that there are 8 pillars for Peace  which are equitable distribution of resources, low level of corruption , free flow of information, acceptance of rights of others, high level of human capital,  sound business environment,  good relationship with neighbours   well-functioning government ,   

Where are we honestly with regards to each  of these pillars ?

South Africa  has an active civil society which is trying to be in constructive dialogue with government.

We sometimes seem to have a apprehensive Government where NGOs have a difficult standing , and many  of them struggle.

We need Healing at grassroots, level, support the work of NGOs and to develop  a Culture of and for Peace  and Healing together!

The Minister speaks of the nation building process failing if we do not generate “cadres of leaders” to take ownership and responsibility and he speaks of  South  Africa’s  need for  leaders throughout society  to work  together  and who speak out for Ubuntu. How do we achieve that?

We need to look at building of values and peace education for youth.  

We need a Culture of Peace and Healing .  How do we achieve that?

In terms of value building for the next  generation especially the generation which grows up without good role model in the absence of parents and grandparents, we should consider  

  1. Peace education in schools for them to become true change agents.
  2. We need e.g. to include Physical education in all our schools!!!!  It was abolished in 1990  from our schools as a subject.  Give all  youth the change to participate in a healthy activity, learning about fair play, respecting the opponents and work as a team which contributes to Human Rights.
  3. Intergenerational story telling
  4. Peace education should include- exploring and promoting the Pillars of HEALING, what are they? Self reflection , trust, values such as kindness, grace, equality, empathy  and care , so that  we can  give effectiveness to the Human Rights  the Minister mentions in our Constitution,  responsively, interactively and consciously!
  5. Education of leaders that will speak and act in the spirit of Ubuntu and gives back to his/her community. And in my work with young people they want to do that.  to be involved  and of value but our communities often do not allow them due to the unsafe places they are.

The Minister asked when and why have we stopped caring for ourselves, for each other and our environment.  

I tend to disagree with the Minister here as I think  this needs  to be unpacked,  we have never stopped caring. But when you ask young people like my 2nd year students)   it is hard for them, they feel the system fails them in terms of  a community they do not feel safe , but also mention , lack of a caring  leadership,   and high level  of corruption

“Healing means the creation of an empty but friendly space where individuals can tell their story to someone who can really listen with real attention.” (Henry Nouwen)

There is a lack of these spaces in South Africa.

The Minster speaks about places where we learnt about life, culture, resistance and strengthening of our character. How can that be achieved and how can it be facilitated?  Safe spaces for youth to meet and interact are not there, Little multicultural healthy events to meet as a united community .

Yesterday evening I was able to experience of Healing when 500 people  from 12 different communities ( young & old , men & women  came together for the 10th session for course on HIV Aids and me. Archbishop Makgobo was also there and we were humbled by the experience.

The Minister is are right   when  he asks , when last year we head a leader speak about Ubuntu,  but civil society org consciously or subconsciously  is working with this concept every day  for making a difference  to  your collective  wellbeing.  

Women in particular are the pillars of communities.

Yes we all have to work together  for the NDP to be a success  I look forward to the next phase which I assume will an Action Plan with clear  roles and responsibilities and  indicators for  success  otherwise it is like the MDGs everyone wants it, approved of it but in 17 years we are far from succeeding and  have little measurable outcomes.

In terms of Healing is even more difficult to measure and one cannot create a policy around it.  Healing is a slow process, and let’s face it: It is hard work, but we must never stop listening.

We have people in the audience today who have been working in the field of trauma and healing in NGOs all their lives. Working with our civil society organisations  allows me to see active citizenship and social activism on a daily basis.

The implementation of the National Development Plan is not  a top down but an organic bottom up approach  so that  in 17  years we can look back and say :We were part of this Journey of Healing!  Monitoring  and  Evaluation are of great importance.

We have 4 Nobel Peace Prize  winners  in South Africa  and we need to  live up to their vision . “Our Vision is a Democratic Society” said  Albert Luthuli  on 1 February 1958. He continues:

I believe that our vision of democracy in South Africa will be realized, because there is a growing number of people who are coming to accept the fact that in South Africa we are a multi-racial community - whether we like it or not. I am not prepared to concern myself with such questions as: "Where have you come from?", "Do you come from the North?" or "Did you come from Europe?" It is not important.

What is important for our situation is that we are all here. That we cannot change: We are all here, and no one desires to change it or should desire to change it. And since we are all here, we must seek a way whereby we can realize democracy, so that we can live in peace and harmony in this land of ours.

About Us

The Institute for the Healing of Memories seeks to contribute to the healing journey of individuals, communities and nations. Our work is grounded in the belief that we are all in need of healing, because of what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what has been done to us.

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    Cape Town, 7708, South Africa

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