I was on a tour through Southern Africa with tourists in 1995, and we arrived at Augrabies Falls just before the rugby world cup started. A room with a television had been set up by the National Parks Board for staff, farmers and other people living in the vicinity of the park.

When Nelson Mandela walked onto the field with a Springbok jersey on, a complete transformation happened in that room. A reluctant initial clapping of hands quickly expanded into joyous applause. Every person in the room, black, white and ‘coloured’, stood up. At that moment, Mandela changed for many people in that room from a terrorist to an icon. People who had feared the New South Africa experienced new hope.

Mandela himself, of course, had changed during his 27 years in prison. He had come to see white people as human beings like himself. He learned to forgive. During his term as president, he was adamant that South Africa belonged to all its citizens, and supported the term “Rainbow Nation” coined by Desmond Tutu.

During that time, as a member of the “Build South Africa Foundation,” I met many black people who, although they were members of the UDM and the ANC, seemed to have gone through a similar process. They were genuinely interested in their people, and in creating a South Africa with equality for all.

But there were many, many other black people who had not gone through that process. They were still filled with hatred and anger. Many of them were determined to get their own back. Sages through the ages, as well as modern psychology, have pointed out that what we see in others is merely a projection of what we deny in ourselves. And so many people filled with hatred became like the ones they hated.

Although deemed evil today, Apartheid initially merely reflected a very general attitude in the West: that white people are inherently superior to black people. The idea of putting ‘inferior’ black people in reserves was copied from what America did with the Native Americans – that is, the few who were left.

What we seldom hear is that many black people harboured and often still harbour a similar sense of superiority over other tribes. A classic example is probably the attitude of many Tswana people towards the Bushmen or San, whom they regarded, and often still regard as inferior.

It seems typical of people who regard themselves as superior to others to maltreat and dominate those whom they regard as inferior. All along the eastern seaboard of Africa Bushmen/San were exterminated and/or taken as slaves by the Nguni tribes moving south. The white colonists did exactly the same. The Zulu people regarded themselves as superior to other tribes or clans, and Shaka subjugated these clans to his empire. Slavery in the West would not have been possible without some black tribes attacking ‘inferior’ tribes and taking their men, women and children as slaves to sell to the Arabs, Portuguese, Spanish, Americans and others. Conquest, colonization, oppression and domination have, in fact, constituted the history of the world.

And so it would be very difficult to find people today whose ancestors have only been oppressed and were not, in some way, oppressors themselves.

Many people today demand restitution by the West. In an otherwise brilliant speech at the University of Stellenbosch, Lovelyn Nwadeyi, like many others, demands that white South Africans must apologize to black South Africans for what went before. Lovelyn specifically mentioned Germany as having done the ‘right’ thing by apologizing for the Holocaust. Some time ago the Dutch Reformed Church officially asked forgiveness. Yet where does restitution start and where does it end? And how can somebody today really apologize for something his or her ancestors did, especially if what they did was ‘politically correct’ in the days they did so? This immediately implies stereotyping: whites are called to apologize simply because they are white, irrespective of what role they or their ancestors played.

The underlying thing here is guilt. There is a powerful modern belief that white people in general should feel guilty for what they did to other races and/or tribes. @RhodesMustFall adherents have become emboldened by what happened at UCT, and now want to extend their aggression to England. The message is clear: white people have been BAD, must feel GUILTY and must PAY! The reason why this movement seems to be so successful is that many white people buy this!

And so we have, for example, many Europeans welcoming the millions of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East with open arms without any thought of the implications. They do so with the best of intentions. Then New Year’s Eve happened, and suddenly the migrants are not so welcome anymore. In typical western style, some countries now want to ‘educate’ the migrants on how they should behave. Isn’t that in itself an attitude of superiority, one that completely denies everything every psychologist knows about human behaviour?

I have mentioned the following quote before. It is by Kenneth Wapnick, the editor of A Course in Miracles. Irrespective of its origin, and whether or not we believe A Course in Miracles to be a valid document, does it not make utter sense? Or rather, does it not feel right if we are honest with ourselves?

“What the ego does then, very cleverly, is set up a cycle of guilt and attack, whereby the more guilty we feel, the greater will be our need to deny it in ourselves and attack someone else for it. But the more we attack someone else, the greater will be our guilt over what we have done, because at some level we will recognize that we have attacked that person falsely. That will only make us feel guilty, and this will keep the whole thing going around and around. It is this cycle of guilt and attack that makes this world go around; it is not love. If anyone tells you that love makes this world go around, then he does not know very much about the ego.”

What is at stake is the nature of forgiveness. In the Christian tradition forgiveness has been seen as something we have to do to please God. We were even told to love our enemies, even though God himself had no such inclination whatsoever. It was a case of “Do as I say; not as I do.”

This God, of course, does not exist. It is a human concept that accurately reflects, not who God is, but who the people are (were) who invented it. These people were the patriarchs of two millennia ago or so, and the concept still suits patriarchy to the bone. It is a God that suits people who feel superior to, and want to control and dominate others by intimidation.

Which does not mean that there is no ultimate Universal Intelligence; whatever we want to call It.

The problem is that forgiveness in such a context is nothing other than pretense. Unless we truly feel like forgiving, we do not forgive.

There is a common belief that, if somebody asks for forgiveness for something, the ‘victim’ will forgive. This is a myth. The victim mentality is a deep-seated psychological condition.

This kind of ‘forgiveness’ is based on the equally mythical concepts of fairness and justice. Have the millions of people in jails all over the world really made the world a better place? Fairness is the belief in “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” – the very belief that Jesus came to denounce! After all, have we not seen the effect of ‘fairness’ in the Middle East very clearly? Are we better off because of it?

Jesus spoke about love.

Forgiveness actually has nothing to do with anybody else. Forgiveness is about letting go of grievances. More and more psychologists today help their clients to forgive; not because some holy book says so, but because holding on to grievances causes emotional and even physical pain! Forgiveness is necessary for our own healing!

Now here’s the crux. Forgiveness often does not come easily. Much proclaimed ‘forgiveness’, as mentioned, is pretense, and pretense merely exacerbates the cycle of guilt and anger. Forgiveness is the process of dealing with our emotions.

Here we have another problem. From the day we are born we are overtly or covertly pressurized to deny what we feel. Especially ‘negative’ feelings. “Don’t cry!”, “It isn’t that bad!”, “I’ll teach you to shout at me!” and so on. Because we want to please our caregivers, we start denying the feelings that engender disapproval. And so we start covering up our authentic being with a layer of denied negativity and we learn to pretend to be somebody we are not.

Denied feelings don’t disappear; they merely go ‘underground’, from where they affect our behaviour. In fact this is what happens with everything that we ‘absorb’ from those around us during early childhood. That is why so many people still demonstrate ‘racist’ behaviour, often without the slightest knowledge that they do so, but also why so many other people still act submissively, again without realizing that they do.

One way in which our denied feelings come to the surface is when we see them in the behaviour of others. And so we call them ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’ or ‘dominating’ or ‘rude’ or whatever. We truly believe that what we see in others is there. That’s the whole thing about denial: we really do not realize that we deny! This then often elicits angry reactions, and conflict is the result.

And yet that very conflict can be the key to both forgiveness and healing. When we truly listen to another person’s anger without reacting to it, in other words when we are present, as Eckhart Tolle calls it, the anger simply cannot persist. Anger needs opposition or resistance, without which it loses its power.

That’s what happens in counselling and the facilitation of group process. As simple as that. When a counsellor or facilitator truly listens to an angry person, the anger subsides, and often underlying feelings such as hurt, sorrow or guilt emerge.

The same process can happen within ourselves. By being present with our own feelings, allowing them to be without resistance, the emotions change and eventually disappear. The ultimate outcome, if we are truly willing to get there, is forgiveness. For some it may take a long time.

All anger is a cry for love. By accepting anger without resistance, we return the presence of love. Such an utterly simple process and yet so universally resisted and denied validity!

It seems that Nelson Mandela, in some way or other, went through that process. It was an enormously empowering process, not only for him, but for everybody he came in contact with. I was fortunate to be one of them. He radiated a deep peace which gave hope to both black and white.

Young South Africans are restless. The student protests are likely to flare up again. Some political parties are on an intensifying witch hunt to sniff our ‘racists’, thereby increasing conflict and violence.

There is an alternative, and it’s not difficult. Do we want it?

Filed under In the Light of Darkness