Africa to Canada, truth is basic to healing

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 8, 2005

In last week's column, globetrotting Stoney Nakoda elder Tina Fox, of Morley, praised the reconciliation she witnessed between Hutus and Tutsis on a recent trip to Uganda. Yet the political corruption and need for healing in Africa continue, she said.

There was one thing she could do to stand in solidarity with her hosts, she said: "to keep on retelling their stories" of truth and forgiveness.

Well, Tina, our coffee companions are obviously listening.

From Edmonton, Leanne Forest, a regular at our table, wrote: "Tina's courage and example (back to school, off to another continent to be part of a world-wide wellness movement – Wow!) leave me feeling hopeful that change may indeed come about some day."

Cochrane writer/linguist Elaine Phillips, originally from South Africa, was also deeply moved by Tina's stories. "I've seen this happen before, in connection with South Africa under Nelson Mandela," she wrote.

She cited the story of a white police officer who confessed before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission his horrific part in the murder of a woman's son and husband and burning of their bodies. The elderly widow's response was full of grace, requesting only that the officer retrieve her husband's ashes so that he could have a proper burial, and that twice a month the officer spend a day with her in the ghetto so she could lovingly mother him. (This amazing story is detailed in Philip Yancey's book Rumors of Another World, pp. 223–24.)

"We as South Africans listened and watched in shock as the events of the past decades came to light," Elaine commented, "but because of forgiveness, healing could begin."

Speaking of the land of Nelson Mandela, Pieter Horn may have the distinction of being our most distant e-mail coffee companion. Pieter wrote that our recent columns have been "particularly relevant for us in South Africa where racism has been outlawed by our constitution, but a lot still needs to shift in people's attitude, both black and white."

In fact, he said, "in many cases racist attitudes have hardened."

To counter this, he helped start up workshops on honest conversations on race and community-building. He even forwarded Tina's and other recent columns to workshop participants.

One of those participants, a former guerilla fighter, told Pieter the other day, "Hurts or hates that we do not transform, we transfer to others."

South Africa's neighbour Zimbabwe is urgently in need of just such transformation. Under the racist regime of President Robert Mugabe it teeters on social and economic collapse.

Zimbabwean coffee companion Eddie Cross, a farmer and human-rights advocate, wrote the other day from Bulawayo: "Things are really tough now. This country is literally closing down."

This country, once regarded as the breadbasket of Africa, "closing down"?

There's virtually no fuel, water or food available any longer, and soap, salt, sugar, matches and cooking oil are nowhere to be found, Eddie wrote.

Underlying this collapse is Mugabe's policy of taking the most productive agricultural lands away from (predominantly white) farmers and giving them as political favours to his (agriculturally ignorant) supporters.

About this side of the African scene, coffee companion Yovella Mizrahii responded with cynicism: "I often wonder if there will ever be healing and economic advancement on that continent."

Yovella works with African immigrants in Canada, she said, and has little sympathy for those who play the blame-game, in spite of the legacy of European colonialism reminiscent of North American First Nations history.

Both "were wronged by the actions of Europeans in the past, but in this day and age Africans and First Nations people are the ones who are responsible for their own healing and economic growth," she wrote.

Because of Tina's words, Yovella is "a little bit more optimistic."

As I see it, Tina's strength, like Mandela's, lies in her stress on honesty as basic to forgiveness and healing. Indeed, I too believe there can be no hope of inter-ethnic reconciliation when truth is ignored – or lies believed.

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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