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Healing is a glaring missing goal in United Nations’ SDGs

Father Michael Lapsley (left) and Dr Pali Lehohla on the 25th Anniversary of the Institute of Healing Memories. Photo: Supplied

Father Michael Lapsley (left) and Dr Pali Lehohla on the 25th Anniversary of the Institute of Healing Memories. Photo: Supplied

Published Nov 20, 2023


Healing is a glaringly missing goal in the 17 goals of the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The world has to be introspective and consider this goal. Because human beings are ominously spiritual as found out by the Father Lapsley Institute of Healing Memories, the omission of healing as a goal for a planet that is bleeding and people that are bleeding marks a world that is remiss, one that has relegated the idea of consciousness to a laundry list of material artefacts.

On the 16th of November I had the privilege of joining Father Michael Lapsley, a fellow National University of Lesotho (NUL) student, Professor Bonke Dumisa, another fellow student of NUL, and many distinguished guests. This magnificent seminal session was occasioned by the 25th anniversary of the Institute for Healing of Memories, the founder of which was Father Lapsley.

His contribution to healing has hardly scratched the surface. But the potential to unleash and define being human as a concept has already expanded beyond the limited scope constrained by the notion of human being. It serves as a clarion call to discover the “shasa” which is that deep, cool, thirst-quenching water the Khoi have accessed for generations in their wisdom of managing their affairs with nature.

Father Lapsley was a victim of a letter bomb sent by the apartheid regime in the dying years of apartheid. He was in Harare, Zimbabwe, at the time. The bomb ripped off both his hands and set multiple injuries on his face and he lost sight in one eye. His spirit did not die and his fleshly being survived to tell the story in a different and most profound way. He chose the path of healing as a true feature of being human.

I was asked to deliver a keynote address on this significant milestone event.

I would argue that in a world that has precipitated in complexity, on the eve of a world where multipolarity seems poised to return, unipolar violence has also simultaneously emerged with a vengeance. We would be remiss to imagine such as the kicks of a dying horse. It might just be the straw that will break hope and unleash venom never seen before. These are true signals and evidence that victims can with very minimal incentive flip into victimisers.

Nowhere has this appetite been visibly violent than in the eight-decade impasse that has characterised the impasse between Palestine and Israel. The current genocide by Israel on the Palestine against which South Africa and Ireland have filed wars of crime to the International Court of Crimes against humanity attests to this incentive for victims turning into victimisers.

In Rwanda these crimes were low key and simmering for a long period of time. They were inspired by colonial Belgium and France using the gift of nature of how human features display themselves and deepening these natural gifts to sow divisions.

On the eve of our democracy in 1994, a million people in Rwanda lost their lives in a flush of senseless blood rush to the brain. Rwanda over the past 30 years has been working hard on healing. To this end they are deploying home-grown tools. So far progress from this pain looks promising.

Yet the example of Israel on Palestinians is one of a strange victimhood whereby the victim victimises whomsoever they consider weaker. Instead of directing their anger to Germany, they are passing it on Palestinians. It is a strange world we live in.

Victimhood unchecked can spawn conduct of megalomaniacs like the Zionist regime of Israel. Its ramifications have engulfed the world and has drawn a clear-cut path between mainly Western Europe and the US on the one side and the rest of the world.

The elders of the world on November, 16, 2023, delivered an open letter to the President of the United States, Joe Biden, on Israel and Palestine. They ask him to consider that he has a historic opportunity to help end the Israel-Palestine conflict - permanently.

“As polarisation increases, the world needs you to set out a vision for peace. That vision must give hope to those who reject extremism and want the violence to end,” the letter said. They urged him to do two things: set out a serious peace plan and help build a new coalition for peace to deliver it.

They say they understand that Biden wants to help make Israelis safe. They share that objective and have condemned the horrific Hamas attacks of October 7. They as elders share Biden’s commitment to the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Palestinian and Israeli lives are of equal worth.

Destroying Gaza and killing civilians are not making Israelis safe. These actions will breed more terrorism, across the region and beyond. There is no military solution to this conflict. They are mindful that the violence is already feeding anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, including in the US. It undermines Biden’s other objectives in the Middle East, Ukraine and elsewhere.

When victims on a massive scale choose to be victimisers, redemption is beyond reach because atonement becomes a near impossibility on a national scale and reparations become taboo.

Father Michael Lapsley’s journey of 25 years legitimately affirms Rwanda’s experience of 25 years. It sets in motion the question that should confront the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the contours of healing. It is this question that is at the centre of our dysfunctional society as South Africa.

So significant is the discovery that the world needs to pause and find the place of healing in the UN SDGs. Perhaps time is now to include Healing of Memories as a goal deserving at the high table of the UN SDGs for being human is a deeply spiritual one.

Victims playing victimisers was illustrated by the late Pik Botha. He was narrating the painful humiliation they suffered in the concentration camps under the British. In his rendition it was as though this just happened yesterday in his own presence. When Risenga Maluleke asked him, if you were so badly treated by the British, how come you treat those from whom you experienced no ill treatment with such disdain and with full aggrandised brutality, why is that the case?

To that question Botha retreated to the treatment they got from the British in the concentration camps in Mafikeng and other places. The Anglo-Boer War and skirmishes between the two occurred at least more than three decades before the birth of Pik Botha.

He did not see it, he did not experience it, but it lives in his blood. While it is resident in his blood and generations after him, the revenge was directed at black people not the British.

In similar ways we see Israel and the Jews directing their anger at the Palestinians and not the Germans who exercised genocide over them. The victims can easily be the victimisers. This message from the Healing of Memories Institute lives in our midst and it is, therefore, very current.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the director of the Economic Modelling Academy, a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a Research Associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits and a distinguished Alumni of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa.