In this chef-d’oeuvre work, Bridgeman explores the Biblical book of Jonah from an Africana setting. The article also highlights the converging point of the book of Jonah and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that occurred in South Africa immediately after the end of apartheid. The article starts with an introduction where Bridgeman gives a brief contextual overview of the book of Jonah as recorded in the Bible. After the introduction, the author classifies Jonah in an Africana context where he draws parallels between what happen to him on the way Tarshish and the approach to reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa. Bridgman then compares Jonah’s situation to the postcolonial thought where the colonized were required to abandon their cultures, beliefs, and way of life. Bridgeman (2010) posits, “The primary reason why people are colonized is to advance one’s religious notions, to rape the land and people of their resources, and to gain personal glory for being a conqueror” (p. 184).
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The author then moves on to explore the issue of missionary impulses, rapprochement, and the perils of granting people blanket pardon. In this section, Bridgeman explores the issue of victims of oppression being required to forgive their tormentors. Apparently, Jonah could not understand why God would be so merciful to forgive the people of Nineveh, yet they had caused great pain to Israelites. Similarly, after the apartheid, native South Africans were required to forgive their colonialists and accept them in society, which would amount to granting them blanket amnesty. Bridgman concludes by exploring the problems surrounding the preaching of the book of Jonah coupled with how Africans can approach the issues of colonial atrocities in the contemporary times.
Bridgeman raises a critical issue surrounding the story of Jonah, which is relevant to the story of reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa. Jonah disobeyed God’s order because He was using mercy to abet injustices. Jonah was required to go and preach the gospel of repentance to the people of Nineveh. However, he knew that God was too merciful that if these people repented their sins, he would forgive them. However, in Jonah’s view, the Ninevites did not deserve a chance to repent because they were a cruel people. Their existence meant the endangerment of the Israelites, Jonah’s people. The Ninevites would receive a “blanket amnesty, since there is no evidence that repentance meant repair the damage or change their blood-thirsty, land-grabbing, and people-enslaving ways” (Bridgeman, 2010, p. 185). This aspect could not make sense to Jonah because his enemies would not be held accountable for their deeds. In other words, they could repent, go back to their atrocious ways, and repent again because God is such a merciful creator. This move eliminated the possibility of justice. The Ninevites would receive mercy packaged as blanket amnesty, but Jonah’s people would get injustice. Therefore, Jonah was required to understand that mercy is not earned, as those who receive it do not deserve it, but they get it anyway. For mercy to prevail over injustice would amount to an anomaly, and thus Jonah decided to flee. The underlying question in this case is whether Jonah had the right to be angry. Was he justified to do what he did or was he acting from ignorance. Apparently, the Bible suggests that Jonah had no right of being angry, but this aspect complicates the process of reconciliation.
This scenario played in the post-apartheid South Africa. After the end of apartheid in South Africa, a committee was formed in a bid to reconcile the country and propel it into the future as a unified state bound by the spirit of nationhood. The commission was dubbed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The script followed in Jonah’s case applies in this scenario. The work of this commission was to “bring to light atrocities done in the name of a brutal apartheid system and help the country move forward” (Bridgeman, 2010, p. 185). Interestingly, a key component lacked in this commission. The commission sought to unearth the atrocities committed against South Africans, but it was not interested in justice. The victims of this brutal system would only be reminded of what happened to them and then be coerced into forgiving the colonialists for the sake of moving the country forward. In essence, this move amounted to the blanket amnesty that the Ninevites received from God. Bridgeman (2010) errs by supporting the claim that the task “of TRC was to balance the requirements of justice, accountability, stability, peace, and reconciliation….but there is no such balancing act apparent in Jonah’s text” (p. 185). The case of Jonah and that of apartheid in South Africa is similar as none sought any form of balancing. The native South Africans were being coerced into letting bygones be bygones and focusing on nation building, which was the case with Jonah being forced to rescue the very people that had caused him untold pain.
The Ninevites would receive blanket amnesty and so were the colonialists in South Africa. Perhaps, because the South African case involved human subjects, they were duped into thinking that a form of balancing was involved. However, these claims only existed on paper, because true justice was not achieved in South Africa. In Jonah’s case, justice would demand the Ninevites to pay their deeds by compensating the Israelites what had been stolen or taken away from them. In addition, for justice to prevail, the involved parties must be held accountable. Unfortunately, the aspect of accountability lacked in the two cases. In the South African case, the colonialists were powerful and they agreed to end the system under some conditions. Desmond Tutu was given a prewritten script to follow in his pursuit for the alleged justice and reconciliation. In Jonah’s case, the same script played because he was not permitted to question God’s order. The problem with blanket amnesty is that the oppressor is right, while the oppressed is wrong. In Jonah’s case, he was apparently wrong to defy his creator. Similarly, the segregated South Africans would be wrong to repulse reconciliation efforts for the sake of nationhood. The oppressed South Africans were not given back the land that was stolen from them. In addition, they did not get any form of compensation from the oppressors for the suffering that they had undergone during apartheid. Similarly, the Israelites did not get anything from the Ninevites, and this amounted to injustice. Therefore, Bridgeman is wrong to support Tutu’s claims that the TRC sought to strike a balance between justice and injustice. In conclusion, the story of Jonah fits well in the apartheid system of South Africa. The two cases meted injustice to the oppressed parties.
Bridgeman, V. (2010). Jonah. In H. Page (Ed.), The African Bible (pp. 183-188). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.