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To blame Tutu, the TRC and the language of forgiveness is to blame those millions of us who make forgiveness cheap, who adhere to forgiveness without repentance and restitution, writes Nico Koopman.
Africa suspicion is growing with regards to words like forgiveness and
reconciliation. This suspicion is seen in the scepticism amongst some about the
legacy of leaders like the late president Nelson Mandela and archbishop
emeritus Desmond Tutu.
years after the finalisation of the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
(TRC), Tutu is criticised for emphasising forgiveness and reconciliation at the
expense of restitution and justice. Madiba is criticised for making morally
unacceptable compromises, for leaving economic power in the hands of white
people and an elite group of black people, whilst giving toothless political
power for mainly black people.
READ: The ordinary face of reconciliation
I think the
criticism against Tutu and Madiba is unfair. The logic of Tutu is articulated
in, amongst others, his famous book, No
future without forgiveness. Tutu can say there is no future without
forgiveness, because of the forgiveness logic with which he lives. Forgiveness
is not the end of the road, but the beginning, the first word, on a long road
think of forgiveness as a safe space where the wronged one can express the
truth of pain, injury, trauma, brokenness, being wronged, fear, confusion, blame
and even anger. It is a space where the guilty one can express the truth of
guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, confusion.
can also be viewed as a space of hospitality, as a space where we are invited
to accept the gift of being set free and being let go in order to do justice.
Forgiveness invites us to confess guilt, sin and shame; to show contrition and
remorse; to regret, repent and reconcile; to commit to a future of reparation
and redistribution, restoration and restitution.
sense there is no future without forgiveness. Forgiveness is the pathway to
justice, to reconciling justice, reparative justice, redistributive justice,
restorative justice, restitutive justice. The truth of no future without
forgiveness is the basis of the truth that there is no future without justice.
Africa has seen a lot of forgiveness, but forgiveness had not been sufficiently
responded to with justice. The hospitality of forgiveness had not been enjoyed
sufficiently; the invitation of forgiveness to being set free and to seek
justice had not been accepted sufficiently.
Tutu, the TRC and the language of forgiveness is to blame those millions of us
who make forgiveness cheap, who adhere to forgiveness without repentance and
restitution; it is to blame those of us who do not use the freedom of being
forgiven to affect reparation and redistribution in constructive and creative
years after the completion of the work of the TRC we need to appreciate Tutu’s
logic afresh. And we need to courageously point out where forgiveness is made
cheap in our country.
We need to
critically and constructively expose the negligence of justice as fruit of
forgiveness in our country. Individuals and institutions from all walks of life
in South Africa – in politics, business, trade unions, environmental work,
civil society and public discourse – need to expose and transform where we make
ourselves guilty of trampling upon forgiveness.
celebration of Reconciliation Day gives us the opportunity to commit ourselves
afresh to justice that flows from forgiveness; to visions and missions of
justice; to values and civic virtues of justice; to policies, plans and
practices of justice. Justice is an urgent matter; justice delayed is justice
denied. Justice is concrete and specific; to adjust an old saying: to do
justice to the world to me’s no chore, my problem is the person next door.
should be sought in every walk of life; an injury to justice anywhere is an
injury to justice everywhere, as Martin Luther King Junior had reminded us. Justice
can only be achieved through radical transformation. That means we need to
address the radix, the roots, of
wrongs, the causes of wrongs and not only the symptoms.
legitimate anger of so many people in our towns and townships emphasises that
we need to accelerate justice. Where we delay the quest for reconciling,
restitutive justice, there we might pave the way for a destructive quest for
justice through violent revolution.
need to reconsider the unfair criticism that Madiba had made morally wrong
compromises. A compromise was indeed made at the birth of the new South Africa,
but it was not a wrong compromise. A compromise without which we cannot go forward
together, was made. Compromise literally means to promise (promissio) together (com-).
transition to a new South Africa we settled temporarily for second prize for
all, but we promise together that we will work together for first prize for all.
And that first prize that we seek, is described in the Bill of Rights of the
South African Constitution that Nelson Mandela left behind for us, namely a
life of dignity for all, healing for all, justice for all, freedom for all,
equality for all. Reconciliation is to work together to achieve first prize for
- Prof Nico Koopman is Vice-Rector for
Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel at Stellenbosch University.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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