Nelson Mandela: A national agenda for inclusion and democracy
Nelson Mandela was in prison for most of the years that we were employed as nonviolent activists and trainers by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in South Africa (1983-1992), so he did not have any direct impact on us during the early years of our work. We supported the “Release Mandela” campaign in the late 1980s. We welcomed the release of his colleagues Govan Mbeki in 1987 and Walter Sisulu in 1989, so we had a sense that Mandela would be released at some stage. However, when F. W. de Klerk announced on February 1, 1990 the release of Mandela, unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC), and willingness to negotiate a transition of power, we were still taken by surprise! We had not dared to expect it so soon!
From then onwards we paid more attention to Mandela and were very impressed by his inclusivity, his commitment to fundamental principles, and the way in which he constantly pointed to the bigger picture, the greater good of all. He also manifested this through his own example, being willing to meet with and be photographed with all sectors of our divided society.
At the same time, we were impressed by the clarity and firmness with which he could speak out as needed, bringing the national agenda of inclusion and democracy back on track, as evidence by his reaction to F. W. de Klerk’s hardline opening speech at the CODESA negotiations (December 20, 1991). Mandela said:
I have tried very hard, in discussions with him, to point out that his weakness is to look at matters from the point of view of the National Party and the White minority in this country, not from the point of view of the population of South Africa. I have gone further to say to him, no useful purpose will be served by the ANC trying to undermine the National Party, because we wanted the National Party to carry the Whites in this initiative. And I have said to him on countless occasions that no useful purpose will be served by the National Party trying to undermine the African National Congress … I must appeal to him to work harmoniously and seriously with the African National Congress. This is our initiative. A number of people have paid him compliments. Very well, we agree with that. He has tried to undo what his brothers have done to us. Through the policy of apartheid, they have created misery beyond words. Nevertheless, we are prepared to forget and he has made a contribution towards normalising the situation because without him we would not have made this progress. I ask him to place his cards on the table face upwards. Let`s work together, openly.
The closest we came to Mandela physically was when he visited the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) Peace Festival in 1993 and delivered the keynote address on his birthday, July 18th. He shares that birthday with David Bruce, one of the conscientious objectors who had been imprisoned, so David presented him with a bouquet of flowers from us all.
One of our favorite quotes by Nelson Mandela was when he addressed a rally in Durban on February 26, 1990, shortly after his release, which Anita attended: “Take your guns, your knives and your pangas (machetes) and throw them into the sea … End this war now. We condemn in the strongest terms the use of violence as a way of settling differences between our peoples.” He was referring to violence between supporters of the ANC and of the Inkatha Freedom Party.
We would have liked him to have taken a similar line in the broader forum of national politics, but unfortunately he did not. He frequently referred to the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military arm of the ANC, in glowing terms, and helped perpetuate the glorification of military means of political struggle. He also presided over the first democratic parliament which embarked on a massive arms purchase campaign within months of taking office, involving massive bribery and corruption – the worms are still crawling out of that particular woodwork now.
Our overall impression of Mandela through all the years that he was a public figure, and even in the last few years, is the depth of his humility, dignity, and grace. Considering that he had been so vilified by the apartheid government, and had spent so many years in prison, he could easily have been bitter and vindictive, but he was not. Other than his principles, what we will remember him most for are his colourful shirts, his smile, and his “Madiba jive.” What an inspiring legacy – commitment to justice, integrity, activism, and dancing.
Dr. Anita Kromberg is a specialist librarian at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. Dr. Richard Steele is a homeopath in private practice and part-time lecturer in the Department of Homeopathy at the Durban University of Technology, also in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Together they served as nonviolent trainers on behalf of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation for a decade during the apartheid era.
[Photos: F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela meet in 1992 at the World Economic Forum in Davos; courtesy of World Economic Forum. End Conscription Campaign protest, courtesy of South African History Online.]