The pressing issues of gender-based violence (GBV) and forgiveness were put under scrutiny during the first virtual Nelson Mandela Colloquium.
Hosted by the Stellenbosch University Museum, in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Museum and held on Thursday, 12 November 2020, the Colloquium brought together academics, students, politicians and interested parties to reflect on these pressing issues.
This annual event aims to advance South Africa's democratic gains and the memory of Nelson Mandela through critical debates on issues such as human rights, democracy, education, freedom and justice.
Opening speaker Dr Tozama Qwebani-Ogunleye, head of the Institute of Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Medicine at the Vaal University of Technology, spoke about Making GBV unacceptable.
“Most incidences of GBV take place in situations where trust has been violated or in places that are supposed to be havens of trust. For example, in the family, at school, work and church. Education and awareness are critical," she said.
Qwebani-Ogunleye suggested certain strategies that can be employed to combat GBV.
She said the perpetrator needs to come to terms with the underbelly reason why their soul is so troubled as to commit such an inhumane act. That person has to take full responsibility for their actions and learn self-love and self-leadership.
“We need to ensure that girls and boys and men and women not only gain access to and complete education but that they are also empowered equally in and through education. The healthier our society, the healthier our gender relationships will be."
Prof Dion A Forster, director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology and chair of the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology at Stellenbosch University, was the second speaker.
He addressed the complexities of the politics of forgiveness among South Africans more than 26 years after the end of apartheid, through his talk, The (im)possibility of forgiveness: Nelson Mandela and the politics of forgiveness in South Africa.
“We need to acknowledge that forgiving someone is a very complex and difficult process. Social identity, issues such as race, culture, religious beliefs and one's current experience of reality play a very important role in how we conceptualise and understand forgiveness and reconciliation.
“Although political apartheid has ended, the lived reality of black South Africans hasn't changed that much. The daily experiences of poverty, racism, spatial separation are still a reality. The injustices of white privilege and black subjugation are still evident in the economic and spatial inequalities of black and white South Africa at present. This is a deep injustice and a reminder of how impossible it might be for forgiveness to take place while we face these social realities."
But Foster believes that forgiveness is nevertheless still possible if these injustices are addressed.
“Forgiveness cannot be achieved without justice. Any account of forgiveness that does not take justice into account is not true forgiveness. It is injustice to those who are expected to give forgiveness," he said.
He urged South Africans to take inspiration from Mandela's life and to “put in the hard work of overcoming our prejudices, deconstructing our privilege and finding ways to live with generosity and freedom so that every citizen can share in the bounty and beauty of this land".