Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela worked closely together in the 1990’s at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. (This photo was taken in 2013).

Revenge or reconciliation – on how to act after historical trauma

Morality begins when freedom is questioned. For example your freedom to avenge a wrong committed against yourself. This is one of the conclusions in a new book that explores what it means to human in the aftermath of mass trauma.

South Africa, Namibia, Burundi, Rwanda – there are lots of countries where victims and perpetrators of gross human rights violations live side by side. And, of course, not only in Africa. In a new essay, South African psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela analyses strategies that can help individuals and communities deal with these traumas. She also looks at ways to restore dignity to victims and enable perpetrators to be accountable for their crimes.

Professor Gobodo-Madikizela draws examples from two sources. Firstly, from her own insights from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa, where she served as a Human Rights Committee member from 1995 to 1998. Secondly, from Simon Wiesenthal’s book The Sunflower in which he, partly based on his own experiences as a holocaust survivor, deals with the possibilities and limits of forgiveness. The essay concludes with a critical reflection on philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’ ethics of responsibility.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela advocates dialogue and face-to-face encounter between former enemies. “Managed carefully, this kind of dialogue can help victims, perpetrators and the descendants of these groups to take first steps into the light of hopefulness”, she concludes.

About the book

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela        
What does it mean to be human in the aftermath of historical trauma?
Re-envisioning The Sunflower and why Hannah Arendt was wrong

The Nordic Africa Institute and Uppsala University, 2016

Read the e-book version

The book is part of the Claude Ake Memorial Papers, a series that commemorates the work and legacy of Nigerian political scientist Claude Ake (1939-1996). Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela held the Claude Ake Visiting Chair in Uppsala, Sweden, in the fall of 2015.

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