I have a lot on my
mind. Foremost is our multicultural
discussion last night. We looked
at the topic of forgiveness and used the new Rector of the University of
Free-state’s act of forgiveness.
On Friday he pardoned the men in the now famous Reitz-scandal. Our group also looked at the Lord’s prayer
and we discussed:
- What is
needed to ask for forgiveness?
- How do we
The emotions ran high as
we listened to the different perspectives in our group. Some felt that Jonathan Jansen was right in his offering of forgiveness.
Others questioned whether he had the right to offer forgiveness on
behalf of those who were wronged and wondered how they were
involved. Yet another group felt
that he offered forgiveness in order to just save the institution, that black people once again had to 'just forgive'.
One thing is for sure. Forgiveness is contested in our South
Here is what I think.
Instead of just focusing on forgiveness in our South African context, I think
it is important to also talk about repentance. What would appropriate repentance look like in a
post-Apartheid South Africa?
What I’m learning in our
inter-cultural group is that there is a deep suspicion of a forgiveness
narrative that is shallow. A sorry
that doesn’t show repentance, a forgiveness that is demanded from the
wronged while the perpetrators don’t change.
We all know the
emptiness when we say sorry without connecting the sorry with our hearts and
our lives. This is the kind of
sorry/repentance that is shallow and has to be deepened.
De Gruchy captures this
shallow forgiveness narrative when he writes that,
`Forgiveness’ is a word that easily trips off our
tongues, especially if we are not the victims of oppression and injustice. It
is easy for us who are not victims to tell them to forgive their enemies; it is
also relatively easy for oppressors to ask for forgiveness. The problem is that
forgiveness can be manipulated by the dominant in such a way that it
strengthens their position and weakens that of the victim. Forgiveness thus becomes
a tool in the manipulation of power relations, making the oppressed even more a
victim of injustice.
I agree with this
statement. That’s why I think that
before we have a forgiveness debate, we need a repentance debate. Yet, I would contend that it is
important to forgive and that forgiveness frees the one who has been wronged
and becomes an invitation for the wrongdoer to change.
Take some time to read
Jansen’s speech … and I would love to hear your comments.
Desmond Tutu commended Jansen, saying:
"It is people like you who will make our beloved country the great land it can become. God bless you.
"I pray that the culprits and their families will have the decency to ask the forgiveness of their victims for the sake of their own spiritual health, for without forgiveness this incident will corrode their souls," he said.