Once upon a time an individual hurt you. Once upon a time a group of people hurt you. Once upon a time your community hurt you. Once upon a time others watched as you were hurt. You have every right to feel the way you feel! But I wonder… what do you do with your memories, emotions, and thoughts? What do you do with your mistrust, anger, pain? How do you heal when you and your loved ones continue to suffer? Who is to blame? Even if you know who is to blame what does that healing look like? If it is true that holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, how do you forgive those that have hurt you? These were the thoughts and questions I had as we arrived at Robben Island and met with Mr. Kgotso Ntsoelengoe, a former prisoner of Robben Island from 1984 – 1991 who is working as a tour guide.
I was amazed and shocked as I heard that he returned to give first-hand experience tour as a way of healing. “I cannot live on this island but I do this as an example that forgiveness is possible even to those that have been oppressed and that we can live together as one”. Wow, that sounds amazing but how does that look like. I cannot do that, I told myself as I pictured the experience of the 4722 prisoners of Robben Island, Mr. Ntsoelengoe and Nelson Mandela who served 18 years in Robben Island.
How can Mr. Kgotso Ntsoelengoe and people like Nelson Mandela forgive those that have destroyed not only their lives but have caused historical trauma, which will be felt for years to come, I asked myself as we visited Nelson Mandela’s cell. I could not picture how someone can stay in such a small space, separated from his family and friends, manipulated, and hurt walk out modeling and talking about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult thing to do for me even when I am aware that I am not only hurting myself but also my kiddos (the next generations) by holding on to the pain, anger, mistrust, and resentment. From the first day during my interactions in Western Cape, I observed whites’, coloreds’, and blacks’ work together and even when asked reported for the most part that forgiveness was and is a must for the community to heal and stop the cycle of trauma. How do they do it?
During this visit to Robben Island I cried, released some pain, and created space for new experience. I wonder if this trip is going to be this intense most of the time. I thought we came to learn about social work from international perspective. Why do I feel like this trip is going to mirror some things I may not be expecting? I said I am ready but am I truly ready for this?