Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tutu Speaks On Issues Regarding Race In South Africa, United States

BIG RAPIDS - Naomi Tutu delivered a stirring presentation about issues related to race and racism that included her experiences growing up in apartheid South Africa.

The daughter of 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner and legendary civil rights activist Desmond Tutu, Naomi addressed those in attendance in G. Mennen Williams Auditorium on Tuesday morning. Included in the crowd were Ferris State University students, faculty and staff as well as students and teachers from several local schools. Tutu was greeted by a rousing reception as she stepped to the podium on the Williams Auditorium stage in Big Rapids.

"It really is a pleasure for me to be here at Ferris State," said Tutu said following a standing ovation and a special introduction from fellow South African native and Michigan College of Optometry faculty member Avesh Raghunandan, who followed up an opening statement from Ferris President David Eisler, that welcomed everyone to FSU.

Tutu opened her presentation by talking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as South Africa's method of moving from apartheid to a democratic society. As part of her opening statement, Tutu discussed the massive human rights abuses that took place during apartheid and eventually the compromise (TRC) that helped the country to move from the bitter, deadly and racist history toward what South Africans hoped would be a more positive future.

"Racism is one of those things, one of those dark places in our community, in our society and in our country that we don't want to face up to," she said. "What the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did for South Africa, in starting our healing, was to ensure that as South Africans we heard the whole story of South Africa."

She went on to explain more about the TRC.

"The TRC gave us an opportunity to find out about those who perpetrated human rights abuses, those who applied for amnesty and the dark side of our South African history," Tutu said. "The TRC also gave us an opportunity to see the greatness of human beings who exited in our country.

"One of the other responsibilities was to hear the stories of those who were victims and survivors of human rights abuses. We sat and listened to stories that were wide ranging," she added.

Tutu shared stories to illustrate the horrors of apartheid (including one about a woman who wanted to know who killed her father and one about a mother who, on television, saw her son's body being dragged by a police van with a rope tied around his feet and being described as a terrorist who had infiltrated the country). People wanted to know who committed these crimes and who ordered such crimes.

Tutu explained, through such powerful examples, how the TRC helped heal some of the wounds of apartheid and take steps toward a stronger and more democratic country.

Later in her presentation, Tutu talked about education about slavery

"We can't heal from experience by pretending it didn't happen, it wasn't as bad or it was just a small part of our story," Tutu said. "The only way we heal and move forward is by telling the truth and telling the whole truth."

Her final statement was a powerful one.

"South Africa has a long way to go in moving from the legacy of apartheid, but I think what the TRC did will start us on that path in a way that we have not seen anywhere else in the world," Tutu said. "In 18 years since our first election, in many ways I think South Africa is healing from the wounds of racism more than this country. The wounds remain, but the healing has truly begun."

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