8 Dec '13    home | more politics

Revenge, Negotiations and Enemies

From ancient times and hunter-gatherer societies, revenge has played hell in conflicts, as it is doing today in the Middle East. Nelson Mandela rose above this and allowed himself to be used by an enemy that wanted to negotiate. A few of Mandela's comrades feared that he was selling out. It was the same kind of fear that some on the political right directed against President Reagan when he was negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, and similar to what we see today in Iran, where those who hate the "great Satan," the US, have heckled President Khatami for negotiating with the United States. Mandela is getting recognition as a great leader because he endured many years as a prisoner, maturing in prison as he was to describe himself, and for his willingness to negotiate with the enemy, the creators of Apartheid. Even Bill O'Reilly at Fox News has called him a "great man" despite his having been a "communist." The pundit Fareed Zakaria has tweeted that Mandela's greatest acts were: "no retribution, genuine forgiveness, and leaving office voluntarily." Mandela did the first two of these without a soft mentality. His forgiveness came after his triumph against Apartheid. Mandela was tough-minded as well as flexible, reminding the world that one can be both. Mandela's character came without inspiration by any traditional faith. He built his character as character is always built, from within himself. He believed in infinity and denied believing in God.

Mandela endured twenty-seven years in prison. He succeeded and Apartheid fell with support from university campuses and others in the West, and the crumbling of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe in 1989 may have helped. There was no more Soviet Union funding and supporting Mandela's party, the African National Congress (ANC). But more credit should go to FW de Klerk, who had risen within South Africa's conservative, anti-Communist, Apartheid politics. De Klerk replaced his party's leader, PW Botha, and became president in September 1989, and he gave up on his predecessor's plan to put non-whites into separate political units under white domination. De Klerk used Mandela. He released Mandela from prison and propped him up as a symbol of the national unity that was needed if integration was to work. The black majority was calmed. South Africa didn't go up in flames as many feared it would – a rising that might have occurred with new hope among the oppressed. De Klerk and Mandela both saw remedy in an electoral politics that gave the vote to all citizens. It was fitting that in 1993 de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela.

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