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Mandela, his ideas, triumphed

By From page A8 | December 07, 2013

The white South African system of apartheid was a brutal, cynical system of racial segregation that was becoming increasingly unsustainable and most observers believed it could end in only one way – massive bloodshed.

The majority black population believed revolution to be inevitable and the white-ruled government made careful preparations to see that such a revolution would not succeed. It is owing largely to one man, Nelson Mandela, that neither came to pass.

If Mandela, who died this past week at 95, could be cloned, sub-Saharan Africa would be a much better place.

Mandela was cruelly and unfairly convicted of crimes that consisted largely of wishful thinking and spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island for the dreamy and impractical scheme to overthrow white rule. He was taken to the island when he was 44 and returned when he was 71.

He seemed by nature free of self-pity but during his days mining limestone and his nights in a small cell he developed an almost preternatural dignity. He also learned Afrikaans, the language of both his jailers and the ruling minority government, and it is not overstating the case to say he literally talked his way out of jail with his vision of a multiracial society.

With the white Afrikaaner president, F.W. de Klerk, he negotiated the terms of the country’s first free election, which Mandela won handily. But in contrast to the pattern of African self-rule, where the first free election is the last, Mandela stepped down at the end of his term. Inevitably, the government fell into the hands of lesser men but, even so, it was still so much better than what preceded Mandela.

Mandela had an uncanny sense of the appropriate gesture. His jailer from Robben Island was in the front row at his inauguration. When the South African rugby team, the Springboks, revered by whites, won the world championship, Mandela came down to the field wearing Springbok colors to present the trophy.

He created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which in practice did little of either, but it provided a badly needed outlet for the people to vent the anger and frustration they felt from the indignities suffered under apartheid.

Mandela died Thursday at 95. Regardless of whether or not you believe in the Great Man theory of history, Mandela was truly a great man.

Scripps Howard News Service


Discussion | 2 comments

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  • Rick WoodDecember 07, 2013 - 7:05 am

    I believe in the Great Man theory of history (and the lack of a Great Man theory too). There have been three dominant "irreconcilable" world conflicts in my lifetime, in Northern Ireland, South Africa, and Palestine. In two, "Great Men" arose to change the course of history, proving them not "irreconcilable." I'm convinced the third reconcilable as well, as surprising to us as that might be. It only awaits a few Great Men.

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  • Rich GiddensDecember 07, 2013 - 10:55 am

    One of the most horrible but effective terrorist tools the radical blacks in South Africa have used to eliminate and intimidate those who might stand up against them is “neck lacing.” This consists of binding the hands and feet of the victim, draping a gasoline-filled tire around his or her neck and setting it afire, subjecting the victim to a slow, excruciatingly painful death. This is done by mobs, who add to the suffering by beating and stoning the writhing victims. (Winnie Mandela’s Secret describes and shows actual scenes of this barbarism.) It is unthinkable that anyone who has condoned, much less encouraged, such atrocities would be welcomed in this country, honored by high officials, cheered at mass gatherings, and escape any critical comment by our ever-vigilant media. It is equally unthinkable that a person who had been implicated in the abduction, torture and murder of a 14-year-old black renowned as an anti-apartheid activist would be honored by the American people, its media and especially by American blacks. But this is exactly what happened when Winnie Mandela came here with her husband. In April 1986, Winnie Mandela publicly endorsed “neck lacing,” telling a Soweto mob, “With our necklaces we will liberate this country.” Mrs. Mandela was also implicated in January 1989 in the abduction of three young black men and a boy from a Methodist Church shelter. Mrs. Mandela’s bodyguards, known as the “Mandela United Football Club,” snatched them and took them to Mrs. Mandela’s home where they were beaten, whipped and subjected to other forms of torture. The object was to get them to say that the Methodist minister, who is white, had abused them sexually. Two of them did so but later recanted. A third escaped. The boy, 14-year-old Mokhetsi “Stempie” Seipei, did not give in and was beaten into unconsciousness. On January 7, 1989, his battered body was found in a field with his throat slit. Stempie was famous as an anti-apartheid activist, having been arrested for his activities when he was only 10. The police went to Mrs. Mandela’s home in Soweto, where they confiscated weapons, noted blood-splattered walls in outbuildings, and seized large quantities of bedding, carpeting and a van for forensic examination. Mrs. Mandela claimed that she was not home when the torture took place, but even Tom Sebina, the ANC spokesman in Lusaka, Zambia, doubted that claim. The survivors said Mrs. Mandela was present and had participated in the torture, and they testified to that effect when the leader of the bodyguards was tried for murder in May 1990. The judge said in his summation that the evidence showed that Mrs. Mandela had been present and had taken part in the beatings. He said the evidence had “the ring of truth,” implicitly suggesting that Winnie Mandela was an accomplice in the crimes, even though she had not been charged.

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