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Remembering well

  • 01 July 2006

On 28 April 1990, a letter bomb mailed to Michael Lapsley’s Harare home destroyed both of his hands and one of his eyes. Years of anti-apartheid involvement and active African National Congress (ANC) support had come at a price.

Like so many other anti-apartheid activists, New Zealand-born Anglican priest Father Michael Lapsley ssm, based mostly in South Africa, was on a hit list. That letter bomb was designed to kill. The price paid in burnt skin and missing body parts was high, but during the hospitalisation and healing process, Lapsley had to deal as much with the premeditated and systematic nature of the violence as the physical wounds. The bomb had been packaged between religious magazines.

When we meet, Lapsley puts out his arms, with their prosthetic hands, and hugs me. He asks me to sit on his left—his vision is better on that side. I position my back support (the consequence of a prolonged injury) in the chair and within minutes we are joking about disability, as only those so often boxed in this category can do.

Michael Lapsley is director of the Institute for Healing of Memories in South Africa. He is in Australia at the invitation of Bishop Freier from the Northern Territory. Lapsley explains he has been asked to use his ‘Healing of Memories’ approach in meeting the spiritual pain of stolen generation members. He offered two workshops in Alice Springs: the first to a group of Aboriginal women, the second to a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

‘In some ways Alice Springs was the most challenging assignment I’ve ever had,’ says Lapsley. ‘I’ve been interacting with this country since 1967 in different ways for different lengths of time. I was conscious ... that Indigenous people are such a minority, are so oppressed, and have such a level of dysfunctionality as a consequence.’ Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures are dramatically different, he says. ‘In some ways it’s an apartheid society. There are two different worlds which don’t often meet.’

The two-day workshop took place at the Irrkerlantye Learning Centre. On the first day, 13 Arrente women attended. As an ice-breaker, Lapsley described his experiences, then asked each woman to draw her story. ‘I’d hardly got the words out and everyone was busy drawing.’

The participants were also given clay to work with. Once more Lapsley was amazed. ‘We hadn’t actually got to the exercise with the clay and they were all