Bonhoeffer and costly reconciliation in South Africa – through the lens of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

P. G.J. Meiring
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 38, No 3 | a1559 | DOI: | © 2017 P. G.J. Meiring | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 December 2015 | Published: 06 October 2017

About the author(s)

P. G.J. Meiring, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer never visited South Africa, and he probably did not know a great deal about the country. But the relevance of the German theologian for South Africa was never in doubt. In the struggle against apartheid his message and his theology served to guide theologians, church leaders as well as lay Christians alike. His life and his death served to inspire many during their darkest hours. Theologians, with John de Gruchy in the lead, studied his works extensively. Heroes from the struggle against apartheid, Beyers Naudé, Desmond Tutu and Steve Biko, among others, were hailed as latter-day Bonhoeffers. Nelson Mandela’s famous ‘Speech from the dock’ before his conviction and imprisonment at the Rivonia Trial was compared to Bonhoeffer’s essay on The structure of responsible life (1995). At ecumenical gatherings, his name and his teachings were often invoked, whenever protest was lodged against the injustices of apartheid. But it was especially in the aftermath of apartheid, when the very serious challenges of reconciliation and nation building, of healing and forgiveness, as well as of amnesty for perpetrators weighed against the demands of justice to the victims were at stake, that many turned to Bonhoeffer for guidance. The author who served with Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the TRC, discusses the prerequisites for reconciliation in South Africa against the backdrop of the TRC experience, emphasising the real need for South Africans, following in the footsteps of Bonhoeffer, to look for ‘costly reconciliation’.


apartheid; Desmond Tutu; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; justice reconciliation; South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission; reconciliation; truth


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