CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Glenda Wildschut, who was at Church of the Crossroads yesterday, will be giving a series of talks on Oahu. The professional peacemaker was named to the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995 by Nelson Mandela.
To end conflict and find peace, listen, mediator says
A professional peacemaker says the process of reconciliation after political and ethnic violence requires listening to the perpetrators as well as the victims of human rights violations.
Schedule of Talks
Professional peacemaker Glenda Wildschut will speak at noon Monday at Chaminade University Ching Conference Center, with Hawaiian activist Puanani Burgess joining in a dialogue on "Truth and Reconciliation: Religious Contribution to Peace with Justice."
Wildschut will also speak at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at Church of the Crossroads on "The Pain of Injustice, the Promise of Reconciliation."
The talks are free and open to the public.
Reaching peace starts by seeking to understand who is "the other," said Glenda Wildschut, who was named to the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995 by Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of that nation. Experience on that commission led to her appointment to a United Nations working committee on justice and reconciliation. She has participated in meetings between Israeli and Palestinian politicians, the two sides of the Northern Ireland conflict, and parties to strife in Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
"If we don't understand 'the other,' we don't have a context in which we can begin to engage with each other," she said. "I've been amazed and surprised when they begin to talk to each other, how (former enemies) begin to find commonalities, begin to find that we all have human needs. We begin to realize there is very little that separates us."
Her professional career began as a psychiatric nurse who worked with victims of political torture and detainment during racial warfare in her country. She was a founder of a torture treatment center in the 1990s.
"Torture is all about dominance, power over the powerless and dehumanizing the other so the person you torture is not a human being, it's an object. That's why it can happen."
She now conducts "Healing of Memories" workshops, dealing with "people who have been damaged by conflicts of the past, and we all have been." The format is to bring two sides to the table "to share their stories, uninterrupted, without prejudice, just listen to each other's stories. It is a way to break down barriers that very often were artificial."
Last month Wildschut was at a UNESCO conference in Paris where she and other speakers discussed ways for peaceful integration of people who are leaving strife in their homelands and migrating to Europe where both the host cultures and new residents are struggling with their differences. Some of the evils of South Africa's apartheid, the political and social segregation that had blacks living in settlements and required to show identification cards to enter towns, and detainment without arrest are ideas being reborn in nations afraid of new arrivals.
The South African commission heard testimony from 26,000 people, representing a larger number of groups and families, about incidents between 1960 and 1994.
The perpetrators had the opportunity to apply for amnesty, which required them to give full disclosure of the murder, torture, abduction and other violence they committed. Of the 9,000 who applied for amnesty, 6,500 were granted it. The national prosecutor is proceeding with cases against about 2,500 people, she said.
"I think, after any conflict, there needs to be a truth recovery process. I think there are many instances in this country where there needs to be a truth recovery process," she said. One such case, which she has researched, is the infamous U.S. Public Health Service study in Tuskegee, Ala. In the 40-year study of the effects of syphilis, 400 African-American men infected with the disease were watched for its effects but denied treatment.
"Truth recovery" goes beyond an apology from the perpetrator, Wildschut said. "We need to know the story, what impact the violation has on the victims. We need to know the motive and intention of the perpetrator.
"What happens after the apologies? After forgiveness, do we turn away from each other and get on with our lives, or is a relationship established? What is the nature of the relationship?"
The peacemaking traditions of indigenous people in South Africa are tapped by the contemporary commission, an aspect Wildschut said has interested Hawaiians she met this week. "I would very much like to learn more about the Hawaiian situation."
The healing workshops are secular, but they end with a liturgy that weaves the beliefs or spiritual positions of participants with the themes raised in the workshop.
"We celebrate what is life-giving and sustaining, and let go of those things that are destructive and take life away."