What Mandela and Tutu wanted was for people to forgive rather than to seek revenge. They were asking blacks to forgive what the whites had done to them. They were asking blacks to forgive what other blacks had done to them. They were asking the whites to forgive what the blacks had done to them. For Desmond Tutu, this idea of forgiveness was at the center of his Christian faith. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission held meetings around the country. One of its meetings took place not far from Bisho, where in 1992 a demonstration had taken place. The demonstration for free political activity had been organized by the African National Congress. The march had ended with 28 unarmed protesters being killed by a group of soldiers. The commission hearing took place in a hall that was filled with those who had been injured or who had lost loved ones in the massacre. As the soldiers told what had happened, the blacks became very angry. The audience became hostile. Tutu reports how the senior army officer then turned to the audience and asked for forgiveness. He said that his soldiers were sorry. He said that the massacre was something his soldiers would have to live with for the rest of their lives. He asked the relatives and friends in the audience to forgive what they had done. The crowd, which up till then had been hostile and very near to lynching the soldiers, applauded. The soldiers had been honest and had openly told their story; through their senior officer, they had asked for forgiveness. The black audience, having been asked to forgive, did so.
Another hearing of the Commission dealt with a bomb blast that had taken place in 1983. Twenty-one people had been killed and 219 people injured. The bomb had been planted at the headquarters of the South African Air Force by a black South African. Neville Clarence, one of the 219 people injured, attended the hearing. He had been blinded by the bomb blast. The man applying for an amnesty, Abooker Ismail, apologized for planting the bomb. During the course of the hearing, Clarence went over to Ismail and shook hands with him, saying that he was ready to offer forgiveness. The two men shook hands. Their long handshake appeared on the front pages of many South African newspapers. As at the Bisho massacre hearing, there was no revenge or retribution, only reconciliation between people and forgiveness.
In the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Tutu saw forgiveness and reconciliation again and again. This for him was the route demanded by his Christian faith-he felt that in following this path, he was following the example of Jesus. Desmond Tutu says that people, despite the awfulness of their deeds, remain children of God with the capacity to repent and to be able to change. . . . This is a moral universe. . . . [T]here is no way that evil and injustice and oppression and lies can have the last word. . . . It is in our best interest that we become forgiving, repentant, reconciling and reconciled people because without forgiveness, without reconciliation, we have no future.
Tutu hopes that other countries might follow the same path as South Africa and its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He suggests that God wants others to look at what happened in South Africa and to follow its example. He suggests that God wants to use South Africa as a symbol of hope for other countries caught up in violence and turmoil. He often says that what happened in South Africa could act as a model for what could happen in Israel/Palestine. Desmond Tutu and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission show how Christian teaching of forgiveness can be put into action at a political level. Tutu would argue that Christianity is not just something that one lives as an individual, but that it also has consequences for how we live in society. The pain and suffering of the nonwhite South Africans and their subsequent response to the call to forgive is seen by many as a shining reflection of the Christian gospel.