Forgiving the Unforgivable? Trauma, Remembering and the Emergence of the Unexpected


Bayard and John Cobb Peace Lecture

Insights from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Dr. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
April 21, 2015

Watch the Cobb Peace Lecture


Dr. Pumla Gobodo-MadikizelaThe Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa (TRC) established a unique platform on which unexpected human moments emerged in the encounter between perpetrators of gross human rights violations and survivors/victims of these human rights abuses.  At the core of the transformative moments that unfold in these encounters is empathy, elicited by the reciprocal expression of remorse in perpetrators, and in forgiving responses by survivors. Drawing on her research on forgiveness, Professor Gobodo-Madikizela will discuss how the expression of emotions and memories, and the exchange of identifications which played out at the TRC created an extraordinary setting of unique and unexpected possibilities, the most significant of which was forgiving what some scholars have described as “the unforgivable.”   

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, PhD, is Senior Research Professor in trauma, forgiveness and reconciliation at the University of the Free State, South Africa. She served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Human Rights Violations Committee; since that time, her research and public engagement have been concerned with the question of transformation in the aftermath of mass trauma and violence. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including the award-winning A Human Being Died that Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness. An international speaker, she has received several prestigious awards for her work.