Archbishop Desmond Tutu always said that South Africa’s peoples must make peace with one another. His favourite saying was that one must learn the art of forgiving before you can only truly forgive if you know what real forgiving is.

This is what he wanted to achieve with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – for people who had been involved in bad things to clear their souls and then to go forward and help build the Rainbow Nation he loved into that special country it could be.

We all know what happened – these intensions were misunderstood and even after his death he is severely criticised for what happened at the Commission and with his report. And after the destruction of the Zuma years, one wonders what is left of the Rainbow Nation.

The Arch later said to me we all had to make peace with each other – ‘you cannot be happy until you understand and experience the value of true forgiveness.’ This became very real to me when one morning – just unannounced – I dropped off a box of apples for him at his office. I had another appointment nearby and did not intend staying long. The receptionist told me that she had to inform the Arch and his PA, or else she would be in trouble. I had to wait a few moments, she said.

Almost immediately the short stocky figure with the ever-smiling face came around the corner. “Boetie,” he said, “come and have some tea – I would like to introduce you to a few friends.” In the room there were his staff and several visitors, some from the US, some from England, Ireland and some from Scandinavia. They all had special invitations – arranged months before. Suddenly, here I was being taken by the arm by Arch and told to sit right next to him.

I was 11 o’clock in the morning and at that hour the staff all gathered for a cuppa – no one was excused.

Then he started – introducing each of the guests. The lady from New York apparently was his ‘partner in crime’ in pulling the rug out from under the finances of the SA government – Wall Street where the Banking Sector who provided loans to the SA government operated from. There were lots of stories and lots of laughter – with Arch frequently asking: “Do you remember ‘that day’ or ‘that one’ which marked milestones in that long battle. Then the Scandinavians had their turn and the English and Irish followed.

Then Arch asked a lady from Cape Town to speak. There were silence in the room, as she, with a soft and uncertain voice, started talking about growing up in District Six in Cape Town – and the day she finally left it.

District Six was a famous landmark in Cape Town – where Coloured people mostly settled. Its streets narrow with colourful corner shops, with happy children playing in front of modest houses. Along with the Bo – Kaap, the famous Malay Quarter, District Six was the heartbeat of Cape Town.

During the Apartheid Era the government decided that the people of District Six had to be relocated – that they should not live in the heart of Cape Town, and they were stripped of their homes. This scenario would play itself out in other parts of the country. The government used the fact that some of the houses in District Six were in a state of disrepair – that they were dangerous for people to keep on living there – as an excuse of getting rid of them. It was simply an excuse to send in the bulldozers and implement their ugly policy of separate development.

Having grown up in the Northern Cape, at the time, I was not even aware of where District Six really was, or what was really happening. We were sitting in the countryside and had our own simple way of living, which was with our parents, in comfort and we went to school in the town. My father was a hardworking man and with a handful of staff built a very successful sheep farm. Over time, he upgraded the worker’s houses – there were only two of them – and they were a far cry from the farms around us. The worker family of Outa Piet and Auntie Els were our family – although their children stayed at home when we went to school. My father instilled respect for them in us from early and all on the farm were part of our family. We were a happy small little community.

Outa Piet (Outa was for us an endearing word used with the greatest respect – it is the same as ‘Tata’ which is used all the time to show respect for elders) and Auntie Els married on the farm – and we were all there with many others when they tied the knot. My mom cooked a great deal of food and there was a great wedding celebration. Once ever second month the local minister of the church in the nearby town would visit and a storeroom was converted to a church. Farmers and their workers from nearby farms were invited to join us – we were all together their and afterwards all the children played outside together.

During the December holidays Outa Piet woke me up in the morning to help him milk the cows and feed the sheep during times of drought. At 5 in the morning and together, we worked to cut fodder. It took us till 10 in the morning before we came home for breakfast on the ‘stoep’ – cooked by mom and Auntie Els.

We lived so far away from where the political decisions were taken in our country which would hurt so many people in our country. But we were conditioned by a system of separation which was even much older than the ugly start of Apartheid. That was hammered and implanted in our minds at school – that was the way of doing things.

These images went through my mind that morning when the quiet voice of the Lady from District Six was speaking. She spoke of living with her mom in their home. “One day people came to the house and told my mother we would be moved to a new house. I was nothing more than a child and found the idea of a new house very inviting. I did not understand my mother’s refusal to move.”

Sadness as I listened to the quiet voice from District Six

The quiet voice went on. “The day the truck arrived to move our stuff to the new house on the Cape Flats, my mother refused to do anything to help. I was eager to go and carried stuff out. When all was loaded up and the house was empty – my mother lay on her back on the floor and refused to move. She was ‘placed’ on the truck. We arrived at the new house – one week later my mother died.”

You could cut the silence in the room with a knife.

That was her story – the end. We sat in stunned silence. I wondered how one deals with that hurt – even today – 50 or more years later.

I heard Arch next to me say: “Tell them Boetie what you are up to.” I was totally under prepared – and after listening to the previous person, felt totally insignificant. What could I possibly say after what we had just listened to? I was grappling for words and thought that those present should know how I got there – it was almost a pathetic attempt to apologise! I struggled for words – I looked at the lady – my fellow South African – and said to her that I was so sorry for what her family had suffered.

The Arch, as always, wanted the morning to end with hope and new beginnings. I had to deliver that positive news.

Arch’s command rang out next to me: “Tell them Boetie what is happening on the fruit farms and what you are doing on the farms.” Without knowing it, he was giving me time for redemption – however small my contribution was, Arch felt that this was important, and people should know about it.

I told them about many new partnerships on the farms, where farmers and their staff are joining together in new ownership partnerships. Workers and their families who worked there for decades were becoming fellow shareholders and they share in the rewards of the fruit export business. Other than the pictures of abuse one so often hear of from uninformed people of what is happening on fruit farms, this was a story of hope.

When I slowed down, Arch would say: “Tell them more Boetie!” I was also required to tell them about how I am partnering with his HIV Aids Foundation and the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation to arrange donations from grower friends of fruit for the sick and the poor. From the Orange River to the Cape and the Sharon Fruit growers of the Southern Cape, I loaded the Ford Ranger and helped to bring some cheer.

I described how Janey and myself would fill up the back of the Ford Ranger on a farm or at a cold store, then drive over the Ou Kaapseweg and down the main street of Masiphumelele with its stores, hairdressers, car repair shops and clothing stores to the Youth Centre. The fruit would always be for an event of some sort – such as soccer competitions or cultural events. Next door we found a crèche and there we delivered lots of Sharon Fruit.

In later years, when the Arch began to take a back seat – if that was possible – I worked with his daughter Mpho Tutu who ran with the Tutu Legacy Foundations. The giving programme continued, and we also moved fruit to the children section of the Tygerberg Hospital – one of Arch’s charities.

My redemption speech ended – I later told Arch it was my own reconciliation session. I had to answer questions – some of them tough and piercing – but Arch was always behind me with his wisdom. I felt as if a weight had dropped off my shoulders. I did not have to apologise for the past anymore – it was the future which counted.

Arch said that one can only practice true forgiveness if you learnt the art of truly forgiving those around you. How different will this world not be if we can also follow his wise words?