Where Do We Come From And Where Are We Going? – (Ex Quo Nos Et Quo Vadis)

By Published On: 12th December 2016

The motto of the university I attended is “Respice, Prospice” (looking back, looking forward) which became real for students during the turbulent years of Apartheid to the dawning of the New South Africa.  It served as a reminder that while the past and present were filled with challenges being at university presented the wonderful prospect of a better future.  The metaphor of a car’s rear view mirror is quite appropriate as it allows one to glance at what is behind while keeping your eyes fixed on the road ahead.

2016 has been a momentous year for the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in many respects.  We have come through two transitions, the appointment of a new Executive Director and the development of a new strategy, relatively unscathed.  We critically reflected on the Truth and Reconciliation Commision (TRC) since its 20 year mark of the first hearings through our #TRC@20 series. We also launched the Anti-Racism Network of South Africa (ARNSA) in the Western Cape and hosted critical dialogues on issues ranging from identity to student issues.  IJR’s Justice and Reconciliation in Africa programme also convened a conference on the lessons learned from the work of African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) in Africa.

IJR further briefed audiences including business, civil society and government on the findings of the South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) and AfroBarometer surveys. The organisation also celebrated the culmination of five years engaging with communities and interest groups and conferred the 15th Reconciliation Award to “Women on Farms Project” while at the same time honouring three remarkable young people as “Rising Shapers” of the future.  As gratifying as these achievements are, we cannot afford to look back too long.  We should use the mountain top moment to admire our rise from the valley, regain our strength and look towards the next peak.

A new year brings with it prospects of new beginnings, better opportunities and more rewards.  There is an excitement that accompanies the idea that you are on the cusp of something new.  At IJR, we are anticipating 2017 to be a year filled with challenges and wonderful victories.  Our new strategy 2017-2020 will see IJR engaging in five priority themes (Regional Reconciliation; Transitional and victim-centred Justice and Reconciliation; Restoring Human Dignity and Bottom-up Reconciliation; Racism, Social Cohesion and Inclusion and Socio-economic Justice – Inclusive Development) which will be underpinned by four primary activities, namely, Deep and Sustained Dialogues, Research and Analysis, Mobilisation, Training and Empowerment as well as Communication and Advocacy.  The Youth and Gender will be cross-cutting themes in all our engagements.  2017 will also see IJR responding to the many challenges facing the country and our communities.  The roll-out of the Social Change publication, based on 5 years of sustained work with geographic and interest communities will allow IJR to contribute to more cohesive and communities as well as engaging with government structures at all levels.  We will continue to partner with like-minded organisations to advance agendas of anti-racism, restitution, inclusion, quality education and gender justice, to name a few.  Together, it is possible to build fair, inclusive and democratic societies when we respond to the rallying call to be our better selves.

Our future is greater than our past
So far we have mostly misapplied
The powers of the human mind.  We have under-applied
The wonders of the human spirit.

We are not defined by our failures.
Rivers have changed their courses.
There are revolutions in the heavens,
Among the stars, all the time.
New worlds are constantly being born.

Tradition doesn’t have to weigh us down.
We weigh ourselves down with tradition,
With the past, with past failures,
Past forms, past perceptions.
We have made these things;
We can unmake them.

We must not think ourselves victims,
Disadvantaged, held back –
Because of race, colour, creed,
Education, class,
Gender, religion, height, or age.
The world is not made of labels.
The world, from now on,
Will be made through the mind.
Through great dreaming, great loving
And masterly application.

And just as astonishing is the knowledge
That we are, more or less,
The makers of the future.
We create what time will frame.
And a beautiful dream, shaped
And realised by a beautiful mind,
Is one of the greatest gifts
We can make to our fellow beings.

Ben Okri, Mental Fight. 1999


Mr Stanley Henkeman is the Executive Director for the IJR

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