Gobodo-Madikizela, Pumla: Of Victims and Perpetrators (english/englisch)

Gobodo-Madikizela, Pumla: Of Victims and Perpetrators (english/englisch)
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Witnessing Ubuntu – the Human Moment; Witnessing Outrage – Escape the Guilt?

In the first part of my paper I present a conceptual examination of the process of ‘bearing witness’ about trauma and especially what I refer to as the ‘unfinished business’ of trauma. I argue that witnessing about trauma can open up an ethical space in which the possibility of reciprocal expressions of empathy between victim and perpetrator is created. Using an example that illustrates the process of forgiveness offered to a perpetrator and captured in a short video clip from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), I clarify how remorse and forgiveness are linked with empathy. I argue that empathy and forgiveness do not deny the horrific deeds or set them aside as such; by showing remorse the perpetrator is showing his human side. This becomes an opportunity for the victim to integrate the human elements of the perpetrator who may have been perceived as irredeemable “other” – a monster – so that the perpetrator becomes less threatening, and more attuned with the victim’s human identity.
I conclude the first part of the paper by arguing that this turn to perspective is the essence of ubuntu, the empathic movement towards the other. It is an experience of transcendence beyond oneself, but one which is inspired by the dynamics of intersubjectivity in the engagement with the other.
In the second part of my presentation I will contrast the forgiveness dialogue illustrated in the first part with an example of a public display of outrage against a perpetrator by a woman who is second generation Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who was brought up with white privilege under apartheid South Africa. I consider the dynamics of the woman’s public display of outrage directed at a white perpetrator and explore the following questions: Is her outrage a result of her sympathetic identification with the victims of apartheid? Or is it perhaps an expression of outrage against the injustices of history? Or does her outrage represent an unconscious denial of her own guilt for having benefited from the oppressive system of apartheid? Whatever the reasons for her outrage, the effect is the breakdown in the empathic bond, a state of affairs which is the breeding ground for hatred and vengeful engagement and, potentially, a repetition of cycles of violence. In my conclusion I suggest that forgiveness in politics is the only action that holds promise for the repair of brokenness in post-conflict societies, particularly if, as in South Africa, victims have to live together with perpetrators and beneficiaries in the same country.

(Kongress: "Identitäten: Ich bin..., Ihr seid..." Gefährliche Selbst- und Fremdbilder und ihre Wandlung zu kollektiver Intelligenz - Aus der Kongress-Reihe: Konfliktfelder - Wissende Felder, Würzburg, 09. - 11. Mai 2008, Vortrag, englisch, 60 Min., 1 CD / 1 DVD)
 

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