- What concepts come to mind when you think of restitution?
- If you were asked to define it in a sentence, what would you say it is?
Perhaps the first place to start is in defining the terms we will be using. Restitution is a complex term. We typically hear it in a legal sense: a man who has stolen R1000 is ordered to make compensation in the same amount. We often understand it as a quid-pro-quo kind of arrangement: pay back precisely what was taken, and all parties can go their separate ways with the matter resolved.
We understand restitution to go much deeper than this, and to be one of the most significant tools available to us in addressing the residual ills of apartheid and discrimination as well as other causes of inequity in our communities. Restitution involves seeking to set right the generational ills of inequality by engaging those who have benefited from the system, directly or indirectly, in transferring wealth and social capital and reinvesting in communities that still suffer from the past’s grim legacy.
In such a model, a one-to-one sort of repayment makes no sense. Imagine this scenario: a man’s bicycle is stolen. This now means he has no transport, and cannot get to work; thus he loses his job. Without a job, he cannot educate his children or support his family. Perhaps he used that bicycle to run errands for the homebound elderly woman next door; now she is affected by the loss as well. Jobless and frustrated, he becomes a drain on his community rather than a resource. He is not the only person who has been affected by the crime; his family, his neighbors and his community have also suffered.
- What would restitution look like in this situation?
- Is it returning the bicycle?
- Is it more than that?
Now suppose a couple of generations have passed. The bicycle is now considered an antique and is worth a great deal. It now belongs to the grandchildren of the man who originally stole it. They don’t know the bicycle was stolen and were not, themselves, participatory in the original crime. Perhaps they intend to sell it to pay for school fees. What might restitution look like in this situation, in which the original wrongdoer is gone but his offspring benefit from a crime they did not commit?
Now imagine that theft not only of resources such as land, education and money has occurred on a broad scale, but also of intangibles: dignity, a sense of safety, self-worth, an understanding of one’s rights, a sense of belonging in one’s own country.
- What do you feel you’ve lost or has been taken from you that might be deserving of restitution?
- What would need to happen to set it right?
- In what way do you feel you’ve benefitted from the past or from existing social structures that favored you in some way?
- Do you feel a need to engage in some restitution?
- What forms could that take?
Read Luke 19: 1-10.
- How does the story of Zaccheus inform the way we might think about restitution?
- Notice that it is not until Zaccheus commits to a concrete act of restitution that Jesus says “Today salvation has come to this house.”
In the first lesson, we looked at the idea of justice, including the Biblical commands around the Jubilee and care for the poor.
- How do you think restitution is connected to justice?
- How might it be connected to forgiveness (perhaps as an appropriate response to forgiveness) and reconciliation?