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Mandela's legacy proves forgiveness the better strategy

The world is entranced as it ponders the passing of South Africa's revered former president Nelson Mandela. As we mourn his passing, the giant's success in dismantling the morally outrageous system of legal discrimination known as apartheid and ushering in a new democratic government formed on a blueprint for racial harmony deserves our study.

According to Keith Richburg, a journalist who visited the country in the early 1990's, South Africa was on the verge of being torn apart by a violent race war in which both black and white wouldn't have held back in slaughtering each other, Richburg writes in his article, “Appreciation: Nelson Mandela averted what many had expected — an all out civil war.”

Mandela embraced nonviolence as a strategy to disarm his opponents, to bring about political and socioeconomic change, and to unite the nation. “For me non-violence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon,” Mandela wrote in his memoir.

His presentation of the trophy to Francois Pienaar, the captain of the newly bi-racial Springbok rugby team — previously seen as an example of white power — after its victory over New Zealand in 1995 is a moment that became etched in history. It is a symbol of his reconciliation with his foes in order to start the country anew. In the same year, Mandela also sat down for tea with Betsie Verwoerd, the widow of the architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd.

It's important to also recognize Mandela's transformation from a die-hard activist who embraced violence before he began his 27-year prison term. He co-founded the paramilitary organization Umkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation,” in 1961 after repeated violence against blacks convinced him to take up armed struggle. Throughout Mandela's prison term, he also repeatedly rejected offers by the government to release him in exchange for renouncing violence. Thus, his ultimate legacy as a peacemaker should be seen as the culmination of a long process, not as part of an uncritical deification.

Mandela should also be given enormous credit for leading the enshrinement of the protection of gender rights, namely LGBT rights, in the South African constitution. It is the first document in the world that, on a constitutional level, outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Today, South Africa remains a deeply polarized nation economically. Tremendous economic disparity remains between blacks and whites in the country. But the very fact that the country did not fall into a violent race war is a tribute to the better future that Mandela ushered in.

In a defining speech in 1964 in a Pretoria courtroom, Mandela eloquently laid down the case for tearing down apartheid, the system of discrimination in the country that used laws to segregate the living quarters, jobs, and social spaces available for blacks and whites.

1 Comment
December 10, 2013    csempere109@
Note that he only gave that forgiveness as his former oppressors came clean and acknowledged their past faults. That can be more powerful than an apology. In Taiwan, the equivalent would be for the KMT to open all of its archives from the 1945-1949 and Martial Law periods.
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