Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Truth in Translation

Happy Birthday, Dad.
A most vivid example of both tolerance and intolerance thrust itself into my consiousness when Barbara and I went to see Truth In Translation a week or so ago at SMU. This is a play about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), as experienced by the diverse group of translaters who interpreted the testimonies of both victims and perpetrators into the 11 languages spoken in the country. The TRC was set up by South African president Nelson Mandela to help the country deal with the aftermath of the terrorism, violence, torture, and other human rights abuses that happened during the struggle to end apartheid.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission offered an opportunity for anyone who felt they had been a victim of violence to come forward and be heard. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony in exchange for amnesty from prosecution. Throughout the play, pieces of actual testimony emerged through the voices of the tranlators. Their reactions as they listened to and repeated the testimonies of both victims and perpetrators painted a vivid picture of the range of emotions the testimonies brought out. Their interactions with each other, as members of the various cultures within South Africa, portrayed a microcosm of what the country itself was going through.

One of the most striking things about the evening was when we entered the lobby prior to the play. There were dozens of poster-sized banners, each portraying the story of one of the people who testified before the TRC. What was striking was that many of the people who had been victimized or who had lost loved ones had forgiven and had even developed a relationship with the person who had victimized them. There was one particular quotation that struck me, although a couple of weeks later I can't reproduce it verbatim. The context was that a woman had developed a friendship with the man who had murdered her father. The essance of what she said was that forgiveness was a journey; there were days when it was very difficult to forgive and days when it seemed that forgiveness was not needed, but that it was an ongoing journey and not something occurred once and then was bottled up and put away.

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