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Maurice Nchabeleng tells the panel and the audience how as a schoolboy he was taken to the room where his activist father had just been tortured and killed by the South African security forces. In that room he was ordered to wash his hands in his father's blood.

Stories like Nchabeleng's are surfacing all around South Africa. The country is trying to come to terms with its past. It is a past marked by apartheid and—as we are now learning—atrocities long hidden from view that are now being brought to light. These stories are horrific, yet told in gritty detail.

The storytellers do not sanitize the events, nor are they permitted euphemisms to cover the horrors. The stories are of people being tortured and killed in unspeakable ways, yet now those ways are being spoken. It is not only victims like Nchabeleng recounting the details of their suffering; it is also the torturers, including high-ranking state officials, confessing their crimes.

Even more astonishing, however, is that these stories are not being told in the context of a confessional. Rather, they are being told on the national stage, and in the midst of national and international debates, as South Africa struggles to come to terms with the burdens of its past. In so doing, South Africa is offering to the rest of the world a test of the power, and perhaps the limits, of the Christian vision of reconciliation. For at the heart of the entire process of confessing the truth about the past is the conviction, and the hope, that a renewed future will be possible that is marked more by reconciliation and peace than by recurring cycles of violence and vengeance. For some, that seems too much to ask. For others, it is the most hopeful sign for political life that ...

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hide thisFebruary 9 February 9

In the Magazine

February 9, 1998

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