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Whose memory? Whose justice? A meditation on how and when and if to reconcile.

Dorfman, Ariel
June 4, 2015

Source: (2010) The 8th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg, South Africa. 31 July.

It was only after Salvador Allende died in a military coup in 1973,
only after I went into exile, when I started to wander this earth like a
makwerwere, that the name of Mandela gradually became a primary beacon
of hope, a sort of home to me, now that I was homeless. By the seventies, of
course, he had already solidified into a symbol of how our spirit cannot be
broken by brutality, but his significance to me also grew out of the collusion
of the twin twisted governments that misruled our respective people. The
apartheid government that imprisoned him and his fellow patriots and denied
them and millions of South Africans their basic rights, turned out to be one
of the scant allies of the South American dictatorship that banished me and
was ravaging my land. Vorster and Botha were the pals of our
Generalissimo, Augusto Pinochet – they exchanged medals and ambassadors
and pariah state visits, they sent each other admiring gifts, they shared weapons and intelligence and even tear gas canisters. I could continue with
many unfortunate and shameful examples, but one intersection of South
African terror and Chilean terror should suffice: in 1976, the year of the
Soweto massacre, we were suffering a slow massacre of our own, the
Chilean junta and Pinochet were making infamous around the world the
system of disappearing people, arresting them and then denying their bodies
to desperate relatives. Both dictatorships sought to create through violence a
world where no rebel would dare to step into visibility, would dare to rise
up. So my increasing reverence for Mandela in the seventies and eighties
cannot be separated from the fact that his people and my people, the people
of South Africa and the people of Chile, were bent on a parallel quest for
justice against a brotherhood of enemies who wanted to disappear us from
the face of the earth, as if our very memory had never existed. Even so, it
was not until Chile regained its democracy in 1990 and Mandela’s release
that very same year, it was not until both his country and mine and indeed
the world began to wrestle with the dilemmas of how you confront the
terrors of the past without becoming a hostage to the hatred engendered by
that past, it was not until both South Africa and Chile were forced to ask
themselves the same burning questions about remembrance and dialogue in
our similar transitions to democracy, it was only then that Madiba became
more than a legend to me and, with his wisdom and pragmatic compassion,
grew into a guide for contemporary humanity. Because those of us who had
struggled against injustice were to learn that it is often more difficult to
listen to your enemies and forgive them than it was to suffer their atrocities,
learn that it may be morally more complicated to navigate the temptations
and nuances of freedom than to keep your head high and your heart beating
strong in the midst of an oppression that marks clearly and unambiguously
the line between right and wrong.(excerpt)


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