On a recent Sunday morning, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, delivered a sermon in the Dutch Reformed Church in Pretoria.
During the preceding week, TRC hearings in Cape Town revealed a covert military program that developed chemical and biological weapons. The scientists who ran the program testified that they tried to develop a substance to sterilize blacks, considered a plan to poison President Nelson Mandela, and doctored screwdrivers to conceal syringes filled with fatal fluids.
Standing in the edifice of the Afrikaaner church that provided a theological basis for apartheid, Archbishop Tutu invited whites to apologize. "I think this last thing" - revelations about the program - "has knocked the wind out of the sails of quite a few of those white people who thought somehow that the TRC had it in for them," Tutu said in an interview in his Cape Town office a few days after the sermon. "And so I said, 'Is a leader out there somewhere who will - without trying to be clever - just say, we did all of these things. Sorry.' "
The Rev. Ockie Raubenheimer, a Dutch Reformed minister, then told the congregation that he and five other ministers had asked themselves where they had gone wrong. "We looked each other in the eyes and asked what we could have done to prevent these [apartheid] misdeeds. Where did we fail? I have been a minister of the church for 20 years. I was a chaplain in the Defense Force." At that, his voice broke. Tutu embraced him.
It was inevitable that in a commission run by an archbishop, reconciliation would take on the hue of Christian forgiveness. Mr. Mandela may have intended this when he appointed Tutu chairman. But the archbishop makes no apologies for his theological approach. "Reconciliation, forgiveness, confession are not the normal currency of politics," he says.
"If you are in earnest about a catharsis, a therapeutic experience ... it's healing of memories, it's healing of attitudes, it's healing of heart, it's healing of spirit. Any other kind would be superficial, would be almost spurious, if not positively dangerous."