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Reconciliation Rather Than Revenge, Assessing the Legacy of Nelson MandelaAllan C. Brownfeld Salem-News.com
Mandela rejected those in the black community who wanted revenge for the years of apartheid and, instead, called for reconciliation and the creation of a democratic, multi-racial society.
(WASHINGTON, DC) - The death of Nelson Mandela has taken from us an extraordinary leader, one who embraced reconciliation rather than revenge, and provided his country with an opportunity to move forward without the bloodshed and strife which has characterized other parts of the African continent.
He used the power of forgiveness and reconciliation to heal deep wounds and usher in an era of peace after decades of racial conflict. On a continent with leaders who remain in power for life, Mandela became a role model, stepping down from the presidency after one term.
Apartheid was formally initiated in South Africa in 1948. In his memoir, Mandela recalls that, "I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people."
Through the 1940s and early 1950s, Mandela organized and agitated on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC). Initially inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's teachings, Mandela was committed to nonviolent resistance. He practiced law and by 1952 he had become president of the ANC's largest branch, in the Transvaal. He was arrested for the first time in 1952 while organizing an ANC defiance campaign. A court decreed that he could not be in the presence of more than two people at a time. Such repression drove him underground. In 1961, Mandela and others in the ANC formed an armed wing, arguing that all forms of non-violent protest had by then become illegal. This group, Spear of the Nation, carried out an underground campaign of sabotage.
In 1963, Mandela and his colleagues were charged with treason, but when the case went to trial, the charges were changed to sabotage and conspiracy. They were convicted and expected to be hanged. At sentencing, in the last public statement he would make until 1990, he said: "During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have described the cherished ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."In Instead of death, he was sentenced to Robben Island prison where he would spend 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment confined to a tiny cell and forced to do hard labor in the prison quarry. As unrest against apartheid grew in South Africa, and around the world, in 1982 Mandela was transferred to the Pollamoor Prison on the mainland near Cape Town. A few years later, a series of secret talks took place between Mandela and President P.W. Botha, who offered to release Mandela if he renounced violence. Mandela would not.
South Africa's government began tentative talks with the ANC in exile, led by Oliver Tambo, Mandela's old law partner. These talks led to Mandela's release in 1990. South African President F.W. De Klerk and the National Party thought in 1990 that Mandela could be freed and that a formula could be negotiated that would leave the white minority with a veto power over black rule. But Mandela's release set in motion a chain of events that woul lead to free and fair elections and majority rule four years later.
Mandela rejected those in the black community who wanted revenge for the years of apartheid and, instead, called for reconciliation and the creation of a democratic, multi-racial society. He allowed white civil servants and soldiers to stay in their jobs. In 1996, Parliament approved a new national constitution, including a bill of rights guaranteeing protections that most South Africans had never imagined.
That same year, Mandela launched the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Rather than trials, as at Nuremburg after World War II, Mandela's government fostered truth-telling and amnesty. Killers who confessed would not be prosecuted. It insured that the seeds of more racial hatred would not be planted.
Mandela sought to bridge the divide between blacks and whites. When South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup, he encouraged blacks to support the Springboks, the national rugby team from which blacks were largely alienated and were viewed by many as a symbol of white rule. When the Springboks won a final over New Zealand, Mandela wore a Springbok shirt and presented the trophy to the team captain. This gesture was widely seen as a major step toward racial reconciliation.
On the day of his inauguration, May 10, 1994, Mandela stood at the podium near South Africa's last apartheid-era president, F.W. De Klerk. A year earlier, they had shared the Nobel Prize for what the Nobel committee called "their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundation for a new, democratic South Africa."
It is important to remember the leadership of President De Klerk. Many white South Africans did not want to give up power and move toward a multi-racial, democratic society. They had power and military strength on their side. An apartheid regime could more than likely have been maintained for some time, at great cost. But De Klerk and the majority of white South Africans decided to take a chance on freedom. Without such partners, Mandela's legacy might not have become what it is.
Paul Taylor, the Washington Post's correspondent in South Africa from 1992 to 1995, notes that, "Mandela's main partner, President Frederik W. de Klerk, was a shrewd Afrikaner who had the foreseight to understand that the grotesque apartheid system he once championed was destroying his country, and he had the fortitude to stick with his surrender-without-a-fight strategy through four arduous years of start-and-stop negotiations, even as the deal grew less attractive for the white minority that had put him in power."
During the 1970s and early 1980s, this writer was a frequent visitor to South Africa and was a regular contributor to a group of Afrikaans-language newspapers, including Die Burger in Cape Town and Beeld in Johannesburg. I had the opportunity to meet with South Africans of all races and to travel widely in the country.
I remember many late night conversations with my Afrikaner friends, in particular, in which I heard the same question many times: "We know apartheid is wrong and immoral. The question is, how can we bring it to an end without becoming a one-party dictatorship as have the other countries in Africa which emerged from colonial rule?" The refrain was often heard in those days of "one man, one vote, one time" with regard to newly independent African countries.
In the end, it became possible to move away from apartheid and become a multi-racial democracy because whites of good will, a majority of white South Africans, but with a significant minority resisting such changes, found a partner with whom to move forward in a positive direction in Nelson Mandela. Without Mandela, it is difficult to see how South Africa could have progressed in the positive way it has thus far.
There is, however, concern that South Africa, in the years since Mandela left office, has not been fulfilling the promise of those years. Racial and economic inequalities remain great and many black residents still lack basic necessities such as electricity, proper housing and clean water. Education and health care remain poor.
There is growing disillusionment with the ruling ANC. Today, the party and its leadership are facing allegations of corruption and of ignoring the needs of impoverished blacks, the constituency that Mandela fought to emancipate and empower.
The Economist reports that while race relations are improving and extremist groups, both white and black, have faded away, "...in many other respects, the ANC is floundering. Corruption is pervasive, with a permissive tone set at the top. President Jacob Zuma was previously tainted by an arms-deal scandal, though charges against him were dropped on technicalities.
More recently he has been lambasted for the taxpayers' fortune spent on glorifying his rural homestead. An official report on the matter has been declared top secret. Just as big a blot on the ANC record is unemployment. Thirty seven per cent of working-age people...are jobless...Black-empowerment schemes to redress apartheid's injustices have been widely abused to enrich ANC-linked people. Mr. Zuma's relatives and pals have hugely benefited...The rate of rape is horrifying. Public hospitals are so bad that people say you go there to die, not to recover."
Mamphela Ramphele, an anti-apartheid veteran, has set up her own party out of frustration with the ANC. She says that public education is worse than it was under apartheid. Through corruption and incompetence, she reports, tens of thousands of textbooks go missing every year.
William Gumede, an analyst who has written extensively about Nelson Mandela, declares that, "In all of the great liberation movements there is the problem of producing great leaders to take over. But in this case, there has really been a failure to pass the torch."
What the future holds for South Africa, or for any of us for that matter, cannot be known. The future will unfold in ways none of us ever imagined, What we can know, however, is that Nelson Mandela provided a rare example of magnanimity and good will, and tried to set his much suffering country on a path of achieving dignity and freedom for all of its residents. Now it is up to them. In our troubled world, this is no small accomplishment.
Salem-News.com contributor Allan C. Brownfeld received his B.A. degree from the College of William and Mary, his J.D. degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary and his M.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. He has served on the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia, and the University College of the University of Maryland.
The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, Mr. Brownfeld has written for such newspapers as THE HOUSTON PRESS, THE RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, THE WASHINGTON EVENING STAR and THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. For many years he wrote three columns a week for such newspapers as THE PHOENIX GAZETTE, THE MANCHESTER UNION LEADER, and THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. His weekly column appeared for more than a decade in ROLL CALL, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in such journals as THE YALE REVIEW, THE TEXAS QUARTERLY, THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, ORBIS and MODERN AGE.
Mr. Brownfeld served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and was the author of that committee's 250-page study of the New Left. He has also served as Assistant to the Research Director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to such members of Congress as Reps. Phil Crane (R-Il) and Jack Kemp (R-NY) and to the Vice President of the United States.
He is a former editor of THE NEW GUARD and PRIVATE PRACTICE, the journal of the Congress of County Medical Societies and has served as a Contributing Editor AMERICA'S FUTURE and HUMAN EVENTS. He served as Washington correspondent for the London-based publications, JANE'S ISLAMIC AFFAIRS ANALYST and JANE'S TERRORISM REPORT. His articles regularly appear in newspapers and magazines in England, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and other countries. You can write to Allan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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