Once the wrongdoer has confessed and the victim has forgiven, it does not mean that is the end of the process. Most frequently, the wrong has affected the victim in tangible, material ways. Apartheid provided the whites with enormous benefits and privileges, leaving its victims deprived and exploited. If someone steals my pen and then asks me to forgive him, unless he returns my pen the sincerity of his contrition and confession will be considered nil. Confession, forgiveness, and reparation, wherever feasible, form part of a continuum.
We have had a jurisprudence, a penology in Africa that was not retributive but restorative. In the traditional setting, when people quarreled the main intention was not to punish the miscreant but to restore good relations. For Africa is concerned, or has traditionally been concerned, about the wholeness of relationship. That is something we need in our world, a world that is polarized, a world that is fragmented, a world that destroys people. It is also something we need in our families and friendships, for restoration heals and makes whole while retribution only wounds and divides us from one another.
Only together, hand in hand, as God’s family and not as one another’s enemy, can we ever hope to end the vicious cycle of revenge and retribution. This is the only hope for us and for making God’s dream a reality. Because God truly only has us.