06 November 2018 | Story Eugene Seegers

Why an annual Tutu-Jonker lecture?

This annual event was proposed several years ago as a prestige
lecture within the faculty to honour two prominent theologians in recent South African
history: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prof Willie Jonker,
both of whom are recognised for their reconciliatory efforts. Its aim is to
enhance interest in recent theological developments and to stimulate academic
discussion within the Faculty of Theology and Religion itself, thereby furthering a
welcoming culture at the faculty, embracing diversity and embodying reconciliation.

Read about last year’s lecture by Dutch theologian and Desmond Tutu Chair at the
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Prof Eddy van der Borght, entitled Religions and
reconciliation of conflicting identities:


WATCH: Annual Tutu-Jonker Prestige Lecture

We all have our stories. We live narrated lives, co-witnessing each other’s existence. Storytelling and narratives have long been considered a key part of our individual identity.

This message formed the core of the Faculty of Theology and Religion’s annual Tutu-Jonker Prestige Lecture, titled Traumatic Memory, Legacies of the Past, and Contemporary Ruptures, presented by Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Research Chair: Studies in Historical Trauma and Transformation at Stellenbosch University (SU).

But without memory, no story could be told, said Prof Gobodo-Madikizela, “because memory helps to link experiences ... with other events in one’s life.”

Psychological trauma, though, like the surgeon’s knife in the hands of a butcher, profoundly disrupts the storyteller’s memory, making it intensely difficult for a victim to consign the traumatic event to their past. Because of the disruption brought about by trauma, these traumatic experiences are continually relived in a range of ways, since the victim is unable to assimilate them into their narrative memory, and into their life story.

Drawing lessons from the TRC archives

Twenty years after the TRC delivered its final report, Prof Gobodo-Madikizela returned to the archive of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), on which she served, drawing attention to not only the work of the TRC, but also the opportunities to study, understand, and theorise anew about these experiences and concepts. Her purpose in returning to this archive was threefold:

  1. To explain how the TRC became a site which allowed for new insights into how some of the complexities of memory play out after years of historical trauma, leading to new knowledge production,
  2. To remind especially the young scholars in the audience of the rich vein of information that is housed in the TRC archives,
  3. And thirdly, to return to the issue and revisit the question of recovering from ‘brokenness’ after experiences of historical trauma (introducing the concept of ‘reparative humanity’).
2018 Prof Pumla Tutu-Jonker

Tania Rauch-Van der Merwe (Occupational Therapy),
Prof Puleng LenkaBula (Vice-Rector: Institutional Change,
Student Affairs, and Community Engagement), and
Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela at the
Tutu-Jonker prestige lecture.
Photo: Eugene Seegers

Academic and scholarly opportunities

“There’s something ... we are missing as South Africans: Understanding that the scholarly discourse on forgiveness, apology, and remorse really emerged from our work in South Africa,” said Prof Gobodo-Madikizela regarding the pioneering work done by the TRC.

Prior to the work of the TRC, research into major atrocities such as the Holocaust did not even mention the possibility of forgiveness or the effect of remorse. Prof Gobodo-Madikizela bemoaned the fact that emerging scholars in South Africa are not engaging with the wealth of information available for research in a variety of disciplines here on our home soil.

She called for a new form of investigation into this archive and these works, to better understand the “complicated questions about our past, our present, the conflicts and tensions between us”, converting these into something much more creative, leading us to new insights into the existing knowledge.

“How do we become human again after so much tragedy? After so much that has happened in our country, how do we restore wholeness?” she asked.

Elaborating on the broader concept of ubuntu, an ethic of deep care for the ‘other’ that is embedded in traditional African societies, Prof Gobodo-Madikizela concluded, “Love and loss may provide a way out of violence. Ultimately, love and loss are what is shared. From the perspective of ubuntu, all people are valued as part of the human community and worthy of being so recognised. Mutual recognition is fundamental to being a fellow human being. To quote Archbishop Tutu: ‘A person with ubuntu is open and available to others. ... My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.’”

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