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Mandela and de Klerk Share Nobel Peace Prize

Mandela and de Klerk Share Nobel Peace Prize Ethics Visual Arts Biographies Famous Historical Events Famous People Tragedies and Triumphs World History

Desmond Tutu, in his "Setting Free the Past" lecture, told a Georgetown University gathering that Mandela had changed during his prison years:

He had gone to jail as an angry, frustrated young activist. In prison the fires of adversity purified him and removed the dross; the steel was tempered.

He learned to be more generous in his judgment of others, being gentle with their foibles. It gave him a new depth and serenity at the core of his being, and made him tolerant and magnanimous to a fault, more ready to forgive than to nurse grudges - paradoxically regal and even arrogant, and at the same time ever so humble and modest.

Mr de Klerk could go ahead with his very courageous initiative [lifting a decades-long ban on the African National Congress, for example] because his counterpart was not vindictive, bitter and resentful.

It was not really popular to have done what these two leaders did - anything but. On the white side the intransigent wanted to dig their heels in and to fight to the last drop of blood. (We later discovered that there were arms caches buried in different parts of the country, and we were just a whisker away from the bloodbath that had been so widely predicted.)

On the liberation movement side there were those who believed that they could knock the stuffing out of the apartheid establishment, who were hell bent on demanding their every pound of flesh. They wanted all the apartheid functionaries to be brought to book in a process of retributive justice akin to the Nuremburg Trial.

Mercifully for us, the 27 years gave Madiba an unassailable credibility. He could say, "Let us forgive these guys!" and no one could say, "You're talking glibly about forgiving - you don't know anything about suffering!"

Well, he could have retorted, "Twenty-seven years you know!" His moral stature and authority were, and are, impeccable and equally unassailable, as the world has come to appreciate.

Wonderfully it was not just he. He was the most spectacular example.

There were many others, such as the late Joe Slovo, the Jewish Chairperson of the Communist Party, greatly admired in the black community. He sold to the radicals acceptance of the so-called "sunset clauses" that guaranteed that white officials in the apartheid dispensation would not be retrenched or lose their benefits with the advent of democracy and freedom.

Or Chris Hani, whose assassination brought us to the brink of disaster, and whose popularity was second only to that of Madiba, idolised as the Communist leader of umKhonto weSiswe, the ANC's armed wing, and who had been able to persuade the fire-eaters among the young activists to agree to laying down arms and ending the armed struggle.

Clearly courageous leadership, ready to take risks and refusing to pander to populist demands, played a crucial and indispensable role in our transition.

On the 15th of October, 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were named joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end South African apartheid.


Media Credits

Photo of Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk with their Nobel Peace Prize - online, courtesy FW de Klerk Foundation.

 

Excerpts from the Oliver R Tambo Lecture - "Setting Free the Past" - by Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town.  Delivered at Georgetown University in 2002.  Online, courtesy Georgetown University.

 

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