Thursday, August 02, 2012

Mandela's approach to reconciliation

As a result of my last post, I started flipping through Meredith's The State of Africa and came across the chapter on South Africa under Mandela. Some may have heard of his support for the Springboks rugby team and most would have heard of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There was more, however. Thought this was worth sharing:

National reconciliation became his personal crusade. From the moment of his inauguration he strove to establish a new racial accord, constantly reassuring the white minority of their well-being under majority rule and stressing the importance of building a 'rainbow nation'. Addressing a huge crowd on the lawns below Union Buildings in Pretoria on inauguration day, he urged a spirit of forgiveness. 'Wat is verby is verby', he said in Afrikaans. 'What is past is past'.

Towards his old political adversaries he remained magnanimous. He welcomed F W de Klerk into his cabinet, praising him for his contribution to establishing democracy and commending him as 'one of the greatest sons of Africa'. He was assiduous in cultivating right-wing Afrikaner politicians, determined to avert the the risk of right-wing resistance. He ensured that statues, monuments and street names commemorating events and heroes from Afrikaner history remained untouched. He regularly spoke in Afrikaans, describing it as a 'language of hope and liberation'. When appealing to civil servants to support government reforms, he addressed them in Afrikaans. In changing the name of his official residence in Cape Town from Westbrook, he chose the Afrikaans word, Genadendal, meaning "Valley of Mercy', the name of the first Christian mission in the Cape.

His gestures of goodwill were manifold. He organised what he called 'a reconciliation lunch', bringing together the wives and widows of foremer apartheid leaders and leading black activists. He made a special trip to visit the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid....Even more remarkable was the lunch he arranged for Percy Yutar, the prosecutor in the Rivonia trial who had argued for Mandela to be given the death sentence and expressed regret when this did not happen.
More than anything it is Madela's attitude that is striking and as a leader his example sends an unambiguous message to his people.

There are plenty of differences between the situation in South Africa and in Sri Lanka, the LTTE were undoubtedly a villainous group of terrorists, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but reaching out to the community, with sincerity and commitment can surely do no harm.

All this went down very well, but Mandela's proposal for a truth commssion provoked a huge row. He said it was needed:

..not for the purpose of exacting retribution but to provide some form of public accounting and to help purge the injustices of the past. Unless past crimes were addressed, he said, they would 'live with us like a festering sore'. De Klerk, a deputy president in Mandela's government of national unity, denounced the whole idea, arguing that a truth commission would result in a 'witch-hunt', focusing upon past government abuses while ignoring ANC crimes. It was, he said, likely to 'tear off the stitches of wounds that are beginning to heal'.

 Apparently a great debate ensued, some demanded reparations from the whites,  others suggested a general amnesty, the common theme in the Afrikaans press, according to Meredith being 'atrocities were committed by both sides, so let us forgive and forget'.

Some of this starts to sound familiar, but perhaps the tragedy is that there was no real local debate on the subject. Instead we had the LLRC Commission foisted on us, created to forestall a UN commission, itself the result of debate overseas.

It is not always possible to arrive at the truth intuitively. A rigourous process of debate can help shape and modify ideas, which by a process of whittling down, sifting and distilling may sometimes result in the truth.

Sometimes the process of thought is as important as the ideas that result.



No comments: