Redeeming the past

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AMC Book Lapsley

This is the story of Michael Lapsley, that he tells himself, of his journey as a New Zealander who trained as an Anglican friar in Australia and who then goes to South Africa during the latter stages of the Apartheid era. Here he encounters all the worst effects and atrocities of that regime. He is appointed as Anglican Chaplain to black and white students at Durban University. After the Soweto uprising he, as now national chaplain to Anglican students, takes a vigorous stand against Apartheid. Because of this he is expelled from South Africa and goes to Lesotho where he continues to study and joins and becomes very active in the ANC and gets particularly noticed by the regime as he is effective and a white man! During this period he travels the world widely to mobilise faith communities against Apartheid. In 1982 he moved to Zimbabwe and in 1990, three months after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he was sent a letter bomb by the South African Authorities which took off both his hands and blinded him in one eye and was luckynot to kill him. Before this he had been an ardent pacifist, but came to believe that armed struggle was necessary to defeat the racist regime, although he himself did not take up arms. After the bombing he went to Australia for hospital treatment and after a long recovery returned to South Africa in 1992. Here he became chaplain to the Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence, which assisted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 1998 he started his most important work by founding the Institute for Healing of Memories which through workshops allows people who have been traumatised to tell their stories and so become able to let go of some of the hurt and learn to live full lives once more. This work has been replicated in many places and in many guises to suit different situations.
The group thought this was a very disturbing book exposing the horrific acts and brutalities of the apartheid regime, although it was felt that it might have been a better book if it had been a biography by someone else. His journey from pacifism to acceptance of the need for armed struggle was illuminating, but so also were the stories of individuals seeking to show respect for black people, as was done by Father Trevor Huddleston, and also the marvellous example of a white woman whose house was burnt by black youths and who manged to challenge them to rebuild it themselves rather than face the law and prison — restorative justice in action. The discussion ranged widely, but the example of his Institute for Healing of Memories was recognised as a very powerful example of overcoming people's trauma and restoring good relations. He was disappointed that so few white people were willing to be involved. Many didn't think they had any need and for many their old way of life continued much as before. This was a very powerful book which gave great scope for wide discussion.
David Neville