Talking about our difficult histories and conducting respectful and caring dialogue with others has been healing. What stands out for me as a descendent of Nazi parents and now, as a benefitting white resident in South Africa is the opposite: silence. It is the inability of many who accepted the apartheid ideology of discrimination, exclusion and violence to speak about their choices. Post-Nazi Germany was just like that for many years. Denial, excuses and deep-seated shame covered the country like a suffocating blanket of silence.
From my own experience I know how destructive to oneself and to others silence, un-acknowledged shame, guilt, pain and anger are. When I finally dared to talk openly to friends, students, teachers and social workers in South Africa and listened to their stories I felt the healing power of our shared humanness through respectful and open dialogue.
There are many transformation activists in South Africa today to whom young descendants of apartheid, the ‘born after’can turn for guidance and courage. Young white people can be inspired by the humanity and grace of black South Africans who overcame the massive trauma of oppression, exclusion, torture and dehumanization. And young black people can find a willingness of an increasing number of young whites to listen, acknowledge and learn to grow together.
I have always yearned to touch the beauty of the human spirit as shown here in South Africa by the survivors of apartheid: their grace, equanimity, and forgiveness. Thank you for opening doors and shining your light for those of us who seek inner freedom from the bondage of perpetrator heritage and being willing to engage for change.
I am grateful for the lasting friendships with women and men across the spectrum of diversity who have made it their life’s purpose to work towards equality, human dignity and the pursuit of prosperity shared by all. South Africa has offered me a way to heal old wounds. Creating opportunities for constructive society building instead of complaining and criticizing depends on how we cast our eyes and focus our hearts.
There are many white people in South Africa today who are disappointed with government officials who have slid into corruption and greed. For some people, it reinforces old stereotypes while others withdraw into feeling victimized or disillusioned. Fortunately, many move forward with their vision of reconciliation.
I believe that irrespective of how freedom and democracy are honored or abused, it does not absolve us as present and second generation descendants of perpetrator cultures from facing and accepting our history and the choices we made then and now, and taking responsibility by working actively towards reconciliation.
Many wonderful small and large initiatives are organized by both white and black leaders for humanity, offering young ones guidance and hope for their future. We may yearn for new iconic leaders to help us navigate. Let us look around and search within our communities to find leaders of thought and action. Such inspirational forces can be found in many places. If we rally around them we will increase the momentum of all of us to build an inclusive South Africa and transform diversity into opportunity.
It takes time, and we should not lose patience or hope. It took more than thirty years after the Holocaust, for Germany to experience a wave of opening up by individuals who started to work through a painful and shameful history and this work still continues today, seventy years later.
It should not have to take thirty, forty or fifty years for us here. We live together. Every day is filled with a multitude of small and large opportunities for dialogue and for standing up and acting as responsible citizens and proponents of human dignity, peace and harmony.