While Nelson Mandela became the foundation and architect for a free and peaceful democratic South Africa, Frederik de Klerk was the catalyst. They are living witnesses that two, not one, makes for a better peace and democratic system. And when the United States Congress decided to implement economic sanctions against South Africa’s brutal and racist apartheid system, it showed how even three, not two, always makes for an enhanced peace with political and economic equality.
Although initially dedicated to nonviolent methods for political reform against apartheid, after the 1960 Sharpeville massacre Nelson Mandela took command of the armed faction of the African National Congress (ANC), or Spear of the Nation. He traveled abroad seeking military and economic assistance for the armed struggle and training of new recruits for the new army. When he returned to South Africa, he was arrested and charged with acts of sabotage. He was found guilty of treason in 1964 and sentenced for life.(1)
F.W. de Klerk had risen to prominence in the all white National Party. He defended segregation and was responsible for human rights abuses, even committing crimes against humanity with his dubious conduct of armed security forces. But in 1989, he started to call for a non-racist South Africa. As president, he eventually lifted the ban on the ANC and other opposing political parties.(2) He also recognized how Nelson Mandela grew to embody the national and international struggle to end apartheid.
From prison Nelson Mandela opened negotiations with the government, which offered him freedom if he would renounce violence. He refused stating that, “Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”(3) He had observed and experienced racial inequality and riots, poverty stricken ghettoes and massacres, and dehumanization and disenfranchisement, he was willing to die for the ideal of a democratic and fee society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
Finally, in 1990, President F.W. de Klerk freed Nelson Mandela unconditionally, in the most significant step of the process of creating a democratic South Africa.(4) After twenty-eight years of confinement, Nelson Mandela left prison without any show of hatred, revenge or bitterness. He prepared to work together with F.W. de Klerk to oppose the violent methods advocated by more militant factions. Both of them organized and then competed in the country’s all-race elections.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela was popularly elected to become South Africa’s first black president. F.W. de Klerk served as vice-president. Both President Nelson Mandela and Vice-President F.W. de Klerk set out to rally support for reconciliation and negotiations for a multi-racial South Africa. Both of them, the Spear of the Nation and Tip of the Bullet, helped kill apartheid instead of each other. They learned to prize nonviolence and a peaceful transition more then their own ideologies, more than their own lives.
Nelson Mandela, the “trouble maker,” the nonviolent rebel and forgiving president, has just died. But perhaps his moral courage still lives, even in the United States. The release of Nelson Mandela from prison was spurred by economic sanctions, passed by the U.S. Congress over President Ronald Reagan’s veto.(5) In the year 2008, the United States decided to erase Nelson Mandela’s name from its list of dangerous terrorists. The most revered African in the world had featured on that sinister roll for sixty years.(6)
If two, even three, always makes for a better peace and a more democratic society, maybe two billion, even three billion, perhaps the entire seven billion people living on Earth, and by following the examples of Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, can also build a more peaceful and just world.
(1) Powers, Roger S. and William B. Vogele. Protest, Power, and Change: An Encyclopedia of Nonviolent Action from ACT-UP to Women’s Suffrage. New York, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997., p. 310.
(2) Worek, Michael. Nobel: A Century Of Prize Winners. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, 2008., p. 272.
(3) Bonneville, Patrick. Wall Of Shame. Sutton, Quebec: Patrick Bonneville Society, 2010., p. 101.
(4) Powers, Roger S. and William B. Vogele. Protest, Power, and Change: An Encyclopedia of Nonviolent Action from ACT-UP to Women’s Suffrage., p. 310, 311.
(5) Ibid., p. 489.
(6) Galeano, Eduardo. Children of the Days. New York, New York: Nation Books, 2013., p. 201.