the net of people deeply affected by political violence
Friday 4 July 2008
Fr Lapsley initially developed the Healing of Memories workshops while heading the Chaplaincy Project of the Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence and Torture. South Africa’s past conflicts had led to a deeply divided society where there was much suffering. Through his own experience of living in exile, losing both hands in a parcel bomb explosion, and listening to the stories of the survivors whom he counselled at the Trauma Centre, Fr. Lapsley realised the importance of giving people a space in which their experiences could be told and acknowledged. He became a driving force in developing Healing of Memories workshops as an alternative form of providing support for victims and survivors of apartheid violence.
At the time of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996 to 1997), it was obvious that only a minority of South Africans would have the opportunity to tell their story before the Truth Commission. It was argued that platforms needed to be provided for all South Africans to tell their stories and be heard compassionately. The Healing of Memories workshops were run as a parallel process to the Commission - to facilitate reconciliation between the racial groups and to heal psychological wounds, making it possible for individuals to contribute effectively towards the reconstruction of South Africa. The workshops were also used to further support those who became overwhelmed by strong emotions while testifying.
The requests for Healing of Memories workshops received from various groups highlighted the fact that the workshops have the potential for a much wider application than the initial focus on healing apartheid wounds. Organisations who have referred people to the workshops included those working with teenage prostitutes and survivors of domestic abuse. Community work students and community peace workers were booked on workshops to improve their “emotional coping skills”. Refugees have become an important focus group, with strong links formed with the major refugee organisations in the Western Cape province. Prison authorities requested workshops as part of a restorative justice programme, and as a result of the success of these, requested more workshops for 2006. PACSA in KwaZulu-Natal Province made a strong argument for the need to create “safe spaces” for those affected by the Aids pandemic in KZN to talk about their suffering and build resilience. They referred especially the grandmothers who care for their orphaned grandchildren, and who have lost children both to political violence and Aids, resulting in “multiple woundedness”.
Fr Michael has become a well-known international advocate for reconciliation, forgiveness and restorative justice. During 2005, invitations for speaking engagements have been received from the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and the Oklahoma bombing 10 th anniversary organizers. Workshops have been held for groups involved with issues around reconciliation and healing in the USA, Australia, Britain, Ireland, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.