“No Future Without Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu

tutuBorn in South African on October 7, 1931, Desmond Tutu grew up during a time of great pain and chaos. Despite growing up in a country that actively discriminated against him due to the color of his skin, Tutu was able join the Anglican clergy and graduate from college. Eventually he was elected as Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, where he was able to help guide the country through the transition into democracy. Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 along with many other awards over the years for his defense of human rights.

In 1995, a year after the apartheid had ended, Desmond Tutu was appointed as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by President Nelson Mandela. This commission had the mandate to “provide as complete a picture as possible of the gross human rights violations that happened” (page 91) between 1960 and 1994. As one could image this was a daunting task for a variety of reason, not the least of that the commission only had two years to complete the task. Tutu’s book “No Future Without Forgiveness”, published in 1999, is a look back over the years of the commission, attempting to explain some of their actions as well as to promote the power of forgiveness in breaking the cycle of violence.

To this end, Tutu starts off the book with a few chapters exploring the cultural background of South Africa during the apartheid years. Special attention was given to the emotions and worldview of the black, colored and Indian members of South Africa sociality as their voices have normally been squelched. After lying the ground work, Tutu goes on to explains why and how South Africa decided upon launching the TRC in the first place. For example, why did the newly elected black African government choose to offer amnesty instead of pursuing criminal charges like in Nuremberg (War World II’s war criminal court)?

Following this discourse on why the TRC method was chosen, Tutu embarks on one of the best sections of the entire book. Namely, he answers the question of justice in light of the amnesty being offered: “Are the miscreants not going virtually scot-fee, since all they must do is give a full amount of all the materials facts relating to the offense?” (page 50). Drawing on both his heritage as an African and his theological training as a clergy member, Tutu weaves an agreement showing how true justice is more than just punishing someone for the wrong they committed. It is about “ubuntu”, the “healing of breaches, the redress of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships, a seeking to rehabilitate both the victims and the perpetrator, who should be given the opportunity to be reintegrated into the community he has injured by his offense” (page 55).

After explaining the why’s and how’s of the TRC, Tutu spends most of the book telling the stories of the commission. Stories about some of the most horrible human rights crimes in world; crimes committed across a nation with the simple goal of making one racial group more powerful and rich than all the others. In an interesting twist, these shocking stories serve as a turning point in the book as they are coupled with some of the most powerful stories of forgiveness known to history. Fathers who forgive the men who tortured murdered their children; families who forgave those who killed and burned their loved ones while holding party next to the burning corpse. The combined natures of these stories serve to both explain the situation more fully as well as to make the reader’s personal grudges seem petty and dumb.

To that end, Tutu spends the last chapter elaborating on the concept of forgiveness and the freedom that comes from forgiveness. His hope is that people will grasp the power of forgiveness and apply it both to their private lives and in their society. As he states on page 279, “true forgiveness deals with the past, all of the past, to make the future possible…we have to accept that what we do we do for generation past, present, and yet to come. That is what makes a community a community or a people a people – for better or worse.”

In conclusion, Desmond Tutu’s book “No Future Without Forgiveness” is a great exploration into the concept of forgiveness while bring to light some of the why’s and how’s of the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Tutu does a great job a highlighting both the successes and failures of the TRC while keeping the overall message consistent. It is definitely a book to be read throughout the world, especially within the church as it helps put feet to Jesus’ commandment to love and bless one’s enemies (Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27-28).