Beauty & Grace: Mbeki, Hoffman and the power of stories

The substance of the Seriti Commission is important. But those of us who watched a remarkable moment of grace yesterday when Advocate Hoffman was overcome with grief will have been reminded of why this country is so special.

"Engrave this upon your heart: there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you heard their story." –Mary Lou Kownacki

We are a nation that knows how to tell a good story. In our founding years we spoke about angels and demons, about Davids and Goliaths. We told stories that filled in the gaps for those who wondered what had happened in long years of exile. We told of burning flesh in lonely velds. We talked about sons who went missing, and daughters whose genitals survived electric shocks. We told stories so that we could move forward.

Once the official era of story-telling was over, we turned to spin and telling tall tales. We are now well into a period in which the news transfixes us. We call into the radio to talk about what politicians steal from us and how businessmen lie to us. We are outraged when the latest story is printed about the burnt flesh of a child, about the lost head of a woman. But our talk is cheaper than airtime. Yet somehow, our capacity for listening to one another, for really understanding each other, glimmers beneath the muck.

The Arms Commission is about muck. It is about the hunt for dirt and lies and under-handed deals. It is about the new South African obsession for the truth. Where once we sought to know what happened in our past, how our loved ones disappeared…

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