Adriaan Groenewald recently wrote an article on his website about a way forward on national reconciliation in South Africa.
My response follows below the link to his article. Please note that I write as one of the bystanders of the struggle, making no claim in my writing to levels of holiness and righteousness, and probably fall into the category of chief amongst sinners.
(*International Readers, Please note that the use of White, Black, and Coloured racial naming classifications are legislative terms in South Africa and not a personal prejudicial use of the terms.)
Regardless of agreeing with the general principles here, my response has to start by challenging the interpretation of atonement, specifically repentance, in his article. Repentance is not “…. where an effort is made to rectify or change”. That is Restitution, not Repentance.
Repentance is recognising the wrong that you have done and feeling ‘bad’ to the point of acknowledging this to self (and Other/God). I like how Brian D McLaren says that to ‘re-pent’ is to ‘think again’ — to re-think your past, present, bias, actions or beliefs that drive your behaviour.
In the God/Man relationship God has guaranteed reconciliation if Man genuinely Repents and accepts that Jesus is the Saviour, and died to open the door to Reconcilation, and Man has the choice to respond. Christ atoned, Man must Repent and be Reconciled. Reconciliation does not depend on God being healed of his wounds, as He is eternally forgiving.
A sign of genuine Repentance may be Restitution, but that is not a given, and God does not require it of Man. (Rom 3:20–3:31)
The article’s analogy falls down when it cannot draw on the concept of Grace — God’s eternal, unconditional, unmerited love and forgiveness. But maybe there was Grace in the Black response to liberation.
I stand to be corrected, but I think the above is what is taught in just about every evangelical community. I belabour the message above in order to then enter into discussion with the article.
Since something like 85% of South Africans attend Christian churches throughout the year, then maybe the Messianic analogy remains a good one for the time-being.
When apartheid fell, the lines of separation in SA could be fairly keenly felt. White = Oppressor, Black = Oppressed. White felt liberal, Black felt liberated, Party was liberator, and all ‘felt good about themselves and each other’ (bar extreme factions in both groupings.) Whites felt forgiven, Blacks felt forgiving, to the point of grace.
Was there ever a sacrificial lamb, pure, without blemish, as part of the South African atonement ritual? Was one offered up by the ‘sinner’ or the ‘forgiver’?
In its own way, Mandela was offered up to be an atoning bridge between Black and White. He ‘belonged’ to the Black side of the ‘wronged’, and could have been claimed to them and only them, but instead he was given to all of us in the spirit of Reconciliation and nation building. He was their iconic ‘Saviour’, and to most of us he was then without blemish — the Nelson people loved — not the one we had been taught to fear and revile. Maybe this gracious (’Grace’)gesture came too easily to Whites. Maybe we didn’t see how readily we were included in something we didn’t deserve, and maybe we felt we deserved it anyway (after all, as so many will point out, ‘we voted for change in 1992’).
Did Whites respond to the open door, the extended hand of reconciliation, with understanding that the forgiveness was unmerited, and that Repentance, acknowledgment of the evils of the entrenched system, and apology at an individual and group level, was the path to reconciliation?
I dare say, not, because as I said earlier, many of us felt like the good guys here — liberals. By voting in the ’92 referendum we opened the door to liberation and complete democracy, didn’t we? We released Mandela didn’t we? Reconciliation, once there was no overt retribution, seemed like something due to all of us.
(I can already hear cries of indignation from my friends and enemies, and neutrals may have just become enemies and are building the gallows.)
We all felt the love when we watched Mandela’s release with our staff in our lounge, or hugged strangers when we won the ’95 World Cup, or queued in the first elections for hours with our newfound countrymen. Many of us, and this is important to say before I am strung up on those gallows, many of us were part of facilitating the process of transition, conflict resolution, reconciliation at a grassroots level, serving in non-governmental organisations. But that was a minority who are arguably more entitled to feel part of the Rainbow Nation reconciliation of the 90’s than many others of us.
Many whites made sacrifices of education, family, freedom, health and careers in the fight against injustice, violence, oppression and apartheid. They too are more entitled than others of us to stand up and say, “I contributed to freedom!”
Others of us were buoyed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where we heard some of the most painful stories of abuse and violation, and heard the ‘bad’ Whites admit their sins and crimes against humanity. We felt that the true villains were being punished, and felt indignation when those who we knew to be complicit wouldn’t own up. Most of us did not see ourselves in them — they represented the system, and we too were ‘victims’ of the system in various forms, most of us being blithely ignorant of the violation of human rights in the country, or the wars our young men were dying and killing in. We believed the propaganda, so felt largely innocent of the blood on some peoples’ hands, and we thought we sat on the side of the judges and not the accused.
In a sense, these villains of the story were our ‘sacrifice’ on the altar of national reconciliation, but they were not the ‘lamb without blemish’ that atonement can require. They were clearly not enough.
What did we give up that was of immense value to us as a group or as individuals?
Many have given up nothing willingly, no conscious intentional sacrifice in the name of reconciliation, even if they think they have indirectly, and others have given up much by choice. I would safely say that the majority are asking, “Why must I keep apologising for apartheid? How long must I feel guilty about being white?”, particularly if they have given much over the last 25 years.
And here we stand, at the beginning of 2016, with a broken economy, a nation divided, racial polarisation, rampant unemployment and poverty, broken infrastructure, and a ruling party that continues to feed the population a message of Apartheid as the continuing root of all of our problems, and Whites as the standard-bearer for Apartheid.
I want to agree that the power of the private apology cannot be underestimated, and it is so counter-intuitive to Whites now because we are being made to feel like foreigners in a country we have been, and are, helping to build.
Mandela and Ghandi and Jesus are classic examples of leaders who brought their own forms of love revolution. Let’s not forget that each of them was prepared to die for their cause, for the vision that they held high, and thus people were willing to follow and trust them.
Whites are being asked time and time again in political rhetoric to die to self and apologise, or make amends, or feel guilty, for what has gone before. However, for many whites, and many black South Africans, there is no uniting national vision to hold high, to rally around. This is vital, and is missing. Instead, we have a ruling party that continues to sow division along class, wealth and racial lines. The promise made is that if Whites surrender their ill-gotten gains then the black man will be liberated — Economic Transformation. But in the promise is a lie - there isn’t enough wealth any more, if there ever was.
The above doesn’t mean we should not repent, but I think the sacrificial lamb, that which is most precious, is not a group of untainted white leaders.
Our sacrifice on the altar is our pride, our independence, our fierce individualism — that which we hold most dear. Our wealth is not the offering we should have to surrender in order to be reconciled, because wealth does not go to the core of us. The altar on which we have to place our sacrifice of pride is that of repentance and apology.
But then, could we stop being told to apologise and be given something to rally around at a national level in true reconciliation and restitution? Could I be allowed to belong to an opposition party and still feel like a valued citizen of the country? Then the nation may find much more of the wealth being shared with open hands and hearts. Many of us cling to our wealth because some want to take it away, without giving us the vision of a future in which we are all restored emotionally, physically and economically.
It is very hard to apologise for our and our parents’ sins when we are being told we are a blight on the country. But then that calls us to rise above our pride, again.
To return to a Biblical analogy you start with the New Testament picture of Atonement through individual repentance and direct relationship with God, but almost end with an Old Testament solution of the priesthood interfacing with God on behalf of the people. It is both/and.
South Africa’s reconciliation is best achieved at an individual level, and we must each find our own way. However, we are a country of 3 million whites and 45 million blacks, and most of us have meaningful relationships with only a handful of black, coloured and Indian people, at best (let alone the average of 15 each that would be needed for individual apologies to 45 million), so the government has to magnify the conciliatory message, instead of widening the rift, by a consistent message of unity and inclusivity that goes beyond race and politics.