Today we met with Professor Piet Meiring. He is a professor of Theology and also served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa. He’s someone who was a part of the attempt to heal what could be healed post-apartheid. His work, and the work of the TRC, resulted in 27,000 people having their stories heard, and for some, finally finding peace. Professor Meiring is a rather humble person; he preferred not to start the interview by telling about himself but rather asking us what we had done and seen on our trip. Once his stories and the treasure of memories of his time on the TRC started, there was no mistaking that he was of the highest caliber of person.
Professor Meiring told us the story of a person who was seeking amnesty for his actions during apartheid. This individual wanted to meet with one of the people he had wronged. The woman in question was the mother of someone who he had personally killed and whose body he had burned at the stake, while he and his comrades had a barbeque. They then dumped the ashes of the person in the river. As a result, the family had nothing to bury. He had done all of this, and now he wanted to meet with that family to apologize. He now believed that Jesus had died for his sins, and he had made his peace with God, but he needed to make his peace with the people he had wronged. The mother said she wanted nothing to do with him but that she would tell her family and let them decide because she was not the only one hurt by his actions. She went home and the brothers said that they wanted to meet this man and soon enough the whole community wanted to see him. So, they met. They filed into a church filled with anger and spite, wanting to tear down and destroy this man. He got up on the podium and repeated his reason for needing to meet them; he felt ashamed by his actions. The whole church was silent until one man in the back stood and walked down the aisle. He came right up and said, I will forgive you. Just like that the whole community stood and a queue formed and each one came and forgave him. The brother of the man he killed came and said that even though he had killed his brother, he would be his brother now.
I think that story encapsulates the power the TRC had to reconcile and foster forgiveness and peace. I also think that interviewing Professor Meiring was a fitting end to our journey. We started by interviewing Thulani Mabaso and hearing his struggle against apartheid. We then interviewed Mamphela Ramphele who gave us insight into how the movement succeeded. We went to Botshabelo and into Langa and Soweto and saw the scars that apartheid left behind, and then we interviewed Piet Meiring who gave us information about how South Africa is trying to rectify and heal. He showed us the beautiful future being built by the rainbow people of South Africa.
Today we saw a rhino but that isn’t the headline. Before coming to the Black Rhino Safari Lodge, we had the chance to sit down with Piet Meiring, one of the members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In this interview, we were able to find out about what it was like trying to repair a country left broken by apartheid. We also learned how it felt to be in the field trying to find solutions and reparations for the atrocities committed. One thing that stood out to me immediately was when he stated that listening to people’s accounts of how they were wronged under this unjust system was so psychologically draining that the members of the commission and translators were offered therapy.
The interview touched our hearts. I learned so much hearing about the power of forgiveness and the healing that comes from having your story told. I’ll leave you with the words of one man who got to tell his story to the TRC. He said that when he was locked up the officer torturing him said sneeringly, “You can scream as loud as you want, no one will hear you.” When he told his story to the TRC, he smiled knowing that the whole world could hear him. His voice was no longer silenced.