Forget forgiveness

It’s easier to pass an arms deal through the eye of a needle, than it is to forgive the disgusting behaviour of Johnny Roberts, Danie Grobler, Schalk van der Merwe and Roelof Malherbe—the four Reitz men that made a wrong.

I can’t help thinking of that other victim of his own flawed nature, one Schabir Shaik, who has asked President Zuma to pardon his misdeeds. Frankly, in my hierarchy of sins, simple corruption and theft ranks below (allegedly) pissing on dogfood and feeding it to five human beings. If we can forgive that, we can forgive Shaik.
(And for those of you about to mail me and tell me that a ‘simple prank’ shouldn’t be blown out of proportion, read this angry column as speaking for me.)

And by the way, congratulations to the little man on 231 days, 4 hours and 26 minutes out of jail and surviving with a ‘terminal’ illness. You go, bru! You’re an inspiration to all of us suffering from this terrible disease called life.

Preferably, let’s forgive none of them. I’m all for young men learning from their mistakes, but I can’t help wondering whether the vice-chancellor of UFS, Jonathan Jansen, would have been so eager to forgive if the victims had been white.

Many people contend that white people get a better deal from the judicial system, and there have been plenty of examples of the truth of this. But in this particular case, it’s easy to imagine that the Reitz men would have had to accept the due process of the university’s disciplinary process if their victims had been white.

It’s not quite an inversion, but it is odd. On the one hand, black victims are deprived of one of their recourses to justice, and hence Nitta Ntseng, Rebecca Adams, Laukaziemma Koko, Noom Phororo and David Molete are diminished.

On the other hand, the one dispensing largesse and magnanimity, they’re elevated to the status of characters in a morality play, and become the fulcrum around which a tale of rainbow reconciliation pivots. If they’d been white, this would be a simple case of four mean bastards who need a good snotklap, and a hefty dose of education in what it means to be a decent person.

If the victims had been white, they’d be less important as exemplars in the lexicon of nation-building. They’d mean less, but at the same time, they’d mean more, because they wouldn’t have their rights hijacked for a grand gesture. All very confusing, if you’re a rank and file South African who’d rather that everyone was treated equally.

In the British Sunday Times, Rebecca Adams is quoted as saying, “My pastor told me that God wanted me to fight against injustice and that is why I became involved in this legal matter. He also asked me to forgive those boys, but it is not them I wish to forgive. It is their parents, for they made them that way.”

I’m not one to take advice from religious figures, but I prefer this pastor’s attitude to that of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who wrote an open letter to Jonathan Jansen. In it, he says: “Dear professor. You are a great man. Count me among your admirers and supporters. Free State has just experienced a wonderful weekend, thanks to you and the Cheetahs [Free State rugby team]. It is people like you who will make our beloved country the great land it can become. God bless you.”

I’m sorry? Rugby and racial intolerance in the same paragraph? (Actually, that does make sense, but not in the way the Arch means it.) Even the most rabid Sharks supporter wouldn’t rank losing a semifinal as equal to being fed dog food. I just don’t see the connection between feeling good about winning a rugby match, and feeling good about forgiving four louts.

Jansen might indeed be a great man, and he’ll have to be to handle dragging the University of the Free State into the 21st century. But gestures of reconciliation aren’t part of that greatness. It’s been fifteen years now, if we don’t stop forgiving, we’ll never be able to forget.

And by forget, I don’t mean erase the past. I mean get to a point where we can judge the actions of citizens by a common standard, rather than by skewed perceptions of how history made them what they are.

  • Chris Roper is the editor of the Mail & Guardian Online.

    Follow him on Twitter @chrisroperza

    Read what Verashni Pillay thinks of the Reitz decision

  • Chris Roper

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