Healing the past
We asked Dr Iyanla Vanzant, ordained minister, lawyer, spiritual life counsellor and the award-winning author of several New York Times bestsellers, how South Africans can heal the wounds from its apartheid past, from which it still suffers.
As a nation, how can we as a nation let go of the past?
Well, that takes on a whole new meaning in SA. How do you let go of a lifetime of people telling you you’re less than they are? How do you let go of that? How do you forgive that? I do know that forgiveness is the spiritual laxative that will cleanse you of everything. However, in this situation, it really requires a compassionate heart.
Can you explain further?
You’ve got to be empathetic towards people who live with so much anger, fear and rage that they oppress others in their own land. You know that goes beyond ignorance – that’s fear in its ultimate expression. So you really have to be compassionate.
How have you handled your own experiences of racism?
As a person of colour in the USA, I forgave racists because that much anger was a danger to me, my health and my mind. That’s why I had to forgive them. Not because I said: “What you did and how you did it was OK.” I had a double whammy being both African American and native American. I’ll never forget, when I first went to the reservation when I was about 30 years old and saw the way my people lived, I was horrified. But I also know they’re not victims, just like people here in SA aren’t victims.
But people in SA were victims of apartheid.
They were victimised, but they can’t have the consciousness of being victims. It’s necessary to lift the community, the family and the ancestral lineage; to have enough compassion and empathy to forgive and let go of the anger isn’t for those who inflicted apartheid – it’s for the people who experienced it so that they can be elevated.
In terms of forgiveness, it's very difficult to stomach people who show no remorse, particularly in the South African context, where many people have been wronged by the past.
But you don’t forgive to get remorse. You forgive to clear your heart. Think of what Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu says about plucking out the eye of everybody who offended us – if we did that, there’d be a lot of blind people! Because I’m sure there are some people you’re not even aware of having offended. You need to think: who have you offended? Who’s hurt or in therapy because of you? So you don’t forgive to create a change in the other person. You forgive to create a change in yourself. And, ultimately, it will catch up – or not.
To read the full version of this story go to page 130 of the September issue of DESTINY