Africa Today 47.1 (2000) 138-140
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Struggling to Forgive examines aspects of South Africa's past, present, and future through the lens of forgiveness. Brian Frost explores how forgiveness relates to seven themes: reconciliation, remembering, repentance, restitution/repairing, healing, justice, and love. Each theme is pursued in a chapter through examining particular facets of South African history, politics, or sociology. Frost never provides, however, his own definition of forgiveness, offering instead an array of more or less compelling and competing ideas.
Dictionaries explain forgiveness as pardoning or absolving offenses or offenders, or giving up claims based on past actions. If this is what forgiveness entails, for many victims or opponents of apartheid, forgiveness would be a wrong in itself; the past is forgotten, responsibility denied, and victims' rights (to remembrance or restitution) violated. Louw's (1993: 232) definition is more complex: forgiveness involves annulling debt, or, more importantly here, "concerns the reestablishment of an interpersonal relationship that has been disrupted through some misdeed." This idea seems to be the central notion of forgiveness in Frost's book--forgiveness as "finding the way through the thorns to the side of the old enemy" (p. 207). Regarding church wrongs, for example, Frost writes: "To appropriate G-d's forgiveness, there must be practical restitution and genuine repentance . . . with reconciliation flowing from justice--a process which began with a penitent Church." The book's strength lies in examining this more demanding idea of forgiveness which predominates, but is not exclusive, in the text.
Chapter One profiles Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, pointing to their shared yet differing approach to reconciliation and its relationship [End Page 138] to forgiveness. While Mandela often suggests that reconciliation concerns letting "bygones be bygones," Tutu emphasizes that reconciliation and forgiveness require repentance and confession (p. 8). As a former Anglican Archbishop, Christianity is core to his belief. Frost also refers to Mandela's relationship to religion and Christianity, but less successfully. Mandela's faith community is more the African National Congress than any church, and his values and practices center on egalitarianism and humanism, pragmatism and loyalty. Incidently, the prominence of Mandela in this chapter is unmatched in the rest of the book, making the use of the former President's name in the book's subtitle, Nelson Mandela and South Africa's Search for Reconciliation, an expedient choice.
Chapter Two provides historical context. It links forgiveness and remembering, noting that history may be an "obstacle to change," which is partly illustrated by the discussion of the Anglo-Boer War's aftermath in Afrikaner memory (p. 28). The reason for including a section on "Smuts and the Indians" is unclear, and "The Rise of African Political Consciousness" invites further development. In general, the book needs greater emphasis on the black/African experience, at least relative to Afrikaner history.
The third chapter examines repentance and forgiveness, primarily through examining Afrikaners. Although Frost writes that the "Afrikaner community . . . [with] exceptional honesty--has explored very deeply the relation of repentance to forgiveness," this collective is quickly reduced to pioneering individuals and groups (p. 57). From my perspective, thus far, most white South Africans, Afrikaans or English speaking, have failed abysmally to acknowledge the apartheid past for what it was, let alone with honesty or repentance. Frost's heros are mostly non-representative individuals. One such exception, Pierre Jeanne Gerber, is fascinating because he is not well known, his repentance was material, and his apparently genuine disgust at apartheid did not stop him from joining the (New) National Party.
Chapter Four connects forgiveness and "love in community terms." To what extent have majority and minority groups, understood racially, ethnically, linguistically, and ideologically, been concerned with themselves or others? The chapter examines the (mostly) apartheid-era politics of various groups, assuming rather than questioning their construction as inherently minorities and majorities. Frost argues that majority responsibility to minorities involves community love which requires "group . . . magnanimity," especially in...