Mpho Tutu van Furth describes a painful miscommunication that took place during South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process:
‘I am sorry. Forgive me’ were the words the perpetrators said. I am taking responsibility for what I did and what was done at my command or in my name. But what the victims heard was not the same. They didn’t hear the words the perpetrators said. They heard the words of the translators instead. ‘Ndicela uxolo.’ But that’s not the same.
The English ‘I am sorry’ wraps the plea in the logic of individuality and the English ‘Forgive me’ underlines the same. What I have done was done only by me and thus is only my responsibility. This ‘I am sorry. Forgive me’ is all about me.
But the old ones heard a different word. ‘Ndicela uxolo’ means ‘I ask for peace.’ It is an ubuntu apology and it is about we. ‘I ask for peace’ sees our interconnectivity.
‘I am sorry. Forgive me’ means set me free of the guilt and the shame that has burdened me. Decide to wipe the debt slate clean for me.
The old ones heard ‘I ask for peace’ and they offered forgiveness as peace based on ubuntu reciprocity. They gave their forgiveness as space to plant the seeds of a better future for the whole community. . . .
Ubuntu peace is peace between us and peace within each of us. Ubuntu forgiveness is peace that heals. . . . When the old ones heard Ndicela uxulo . . . they heard perpetrators asking for hope for a better ‘we.’ They heard an appeal for healing for all of us and the space between us that is community. They heard an appeal for a healing of the fabric of life.
Tutu van Furth explains how ubuntu peace moves beyond verbal apologies to sincere action and reparations for past harm:
Without reparations ‘I am sorry. Forgive me’ asks victims to pick up an eraser and walk through the past eradicating the injuries that perpetrators inflicted so that those who wielded the scythe of destruction can be released from the guilt for their cruelty and their greed, their prejudice and violence, while preserving the benefits that their behaviour has bestowed on them and their children. Without reparations forgiveness has no ubuntu, and it heals nothing. . . .
The ubuntu understanding of forgiveness is that forgiveness cultivates justice and bestows peace. . . .
The forgiveness we once offered you would build justice where cruelty had lived. Our forgiveness was born and bred in ubuntu. Later we came to understand and see that forgiveness for you had its home in individuality and could not understand the logic of community. So forgiveness for you was what set you free of all responsibility for us.
But reparations have made a new place for us to gather. Reparations have started to reveal what it takes for all of us to heal and to step into God’s new creation.
Mpho Tutu van Furth, Forgiveness and Reparation, the Healing Journey (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2022), 72–73, 74–75, 75–76.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Fania Davis on African indigenous justice.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 4, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Meadow (detail), 1972, photograph, California, public domain. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 11, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: Seeing what is. Acknowledging. Clearing the air. After the vines are ripped from the wall, allowing new growth.
Story from Our Community:
With 4 kids, a husband recently fired from a job he loved, and my stressful work in tech—my family is searching. I look forward each morning to the beautiful teachings in the Daily Meditations reflecting love, forgiveness, and community. I take that little nugget of sunshine and share it with my family. What a gift! —Mary A.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.