South Africa is a broken nation due to the violent history that preceded democracy, Father Michael Lapsley said on Friday.
“Everyday we see incidents of our moral and spiritual injustices,” he told hundreds of people gathered at Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto, Johannesburg.
“Can you finish reading a paper without seriously saying we are a traumatised nation?”
He was speaking at a national interfaith thanksgiving ceremony to celebrate 20 years of freedom in South Africa.
Lapsley, who lost both hands and sight in one eye during a letter-bomb attack by a covert apartheid agency in 1990, asked why South Africa was an angry nation as poorer countries were not.
“Behind our anger lies brokenness, unfulfilled dreams and disillusion.
“Poverty traumatised people and oppression dehumanises people,” he said.
Reflecting on the country’s history and the freedom struggle, he asked, 24 years after he had received the letter bomb, why he survived.
He said the journey of healing South Africa entailed many generations, but with God’s help “we can undertake the journey of becoming a nation of wounded healers”.
“Gentler, kinder and more just.”
Lapsley said those who had fought apartheid were not left untainted. The notion of healing was one which was not truly tested during the dawn of democracy.
“Maybe it was our western ways that fooled us into believing we could heal centuries of pain.”
He said the lives of many were shaped and misshaped by what had happened in the country during apartheid.
Professor Farid Esack spoke about the role that churches played during the fight against apartheid.
He said the situation facing the country brought forward some of the best religious leaders the world had ever seen.
“Those leaders like Desmond Tutu, Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, spoke out when it was not sexy to do so,” he said.
Among those present at the ceremony were North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, Gauteng premier David Makhura, Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau, and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
Congregants travelled from as far as the Northern Cape and the Western Cape to be part of the ceremony.
People from different denominations were dressed in colourful church regalia for the occasion.