Mandela’s formula of justice“We should forgive but not forget,” Nelson Mandela, the first black South African president, persuaded black citizens who had suffered racial segregation. His persuasion was powerful as he himself was one of the biggest victims of the white supremacy rule. Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu supported Mandela with the firm belief that there would be “no future without forgiveness.” F.W. de Klerk - the last white politician who held South African presidency and brokered the end of apartheid with Mandela - served as the vice president.
Having spent 27 years in a solitary confinement for his anti-apartheid activities, Mandela must have ground his teeth. However, when he became president, he surprised the world by writing a new history of racial reconciliation, forming an unprecedented national apparatus called the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” The commission would grant amnesties in exchange for testimony of crimes committed during the apartheid era. Of course, he had made political and realistic calculations, but it would never have been possible if it weren’t for Mandela’s conviction and determination. During the 342-year-long white supremacy, the minority Afrikaners, who accounted for 10 percent of the population, suppressed 90 percent of the population, and apartheid ended with forgiveness, not revenge. Mandela set an example of granting amenities.
Along with de Klerk, Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize. But it was more of an honor for the Nobel Prize committee than for Mandela. By including Mandela in its list of recipients, the authority of the Nobel Prize was enhanced. The prize was not an award but a token of admiration for his extraordinary character and perseverance. The United Nations declared his birthday of July 18 “Nelson Mandela International Day.”
No court in the world would grant forgiveness for confessing a crime. Article 52 of the Criminal Law defines that a confession or testimony is only grounds for optional remission and mitigation of punishment. But the Mandela government offered amnesty to all apartheid criminals who would repent for their sins. The criminals were now made to feel guilty twice - once for committing the crime and again for the forgiveness. As forgiveness could be the heaviest form of punishment, Mandela had sentenced the offenders to the heaviest and most grave punishment in the trial of truth and reconciliation. That was Mandela’s unique formula of love and justice.
Another court of forgiveness is the trial of God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (John 1:9) There would be no forgiveness without confession. If confession is a reflection of the offender, forgiveness is the reflection of the victim. Such repentance and forgiveness is the justice and peace of God. The sin of not forgiving is more serious than the sin that was not forgiven since it goes against divine will.
Mandela planted the seed of heaven, divine justice and the peace of God on earth. The belief of Mandela has no room for “blind forgiveness neglecting truth” or “ruthless justice without tolerance.” Bantu speakers call this spirit of tolerance and peace: Ubuntu. Mandela explained it as follows: “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
Korean ancestors used to welcome passing travellers and offer hearty food and a comfortable room to spend the night. The wisdom of Ubuntu is based on humanitarianism and community spirit. It is also the open mind of our ancestors pursuing harmony and coexistence. And yet we have forgotten the reflection of tolerance and care. Mandela cared for the wounds of apartheid with ancient wisdom and reflection. After a single five-year term of presidency, he did not seek re-election and stepped down.
Often referred to as “Tata Madiba,” or “the father of the nation,” Nelson Mandela is in critical condition due to a lung infection as his 95th birthday approaches. Going beyond South Africa, the entire world is anxiously watching his condition. I am grateful that the noble spirit of Nelson Mandela lives on today just as Mahatma Gandhi blessed the world from India in the past. I pray sincerely that the breath of Ubuntu stays with us just a little longer.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a partner at Hwang Mok Park, PC, and former head of the Seoul Central District Court.
By Lee Woo-keun