I thought I’d take a moment from my usual Chump Lady blogging about cheaters, sex addicts, affair partners, quacks, misplaced thongs, unicorns, STDs, and divorce and reflect on the passing of Nelson Mandela.
Like 99.99 percent of the world’s population — I stood in awe of the man. I think the .001 percent who didn’t like him were some crazy Afrikaaners in the former Orange Free State trying to build a white homeland — and even those wing nuts probably had some affection for the guy. You’ve probably read the laudatory obituaries and I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t know.
So let me tell you what South Africa means personally to me, and how really there would be no Chump Lady today if it were not for 21 year old me spending a year in South Africa in 1988-89 on a fellowship. I got a Thomas J. Watson fellowship for a year’s independent study, and I wanted to go interview anti-apartheid activists and liberation theologians in South Africa. (Which gives you an idea of what kind of young person I was — insufferably earnest.)
That place kicked my ass. I learned pretty quickly exactly how foreign I was — how white, how female, how American, and how clueless. I will give myself credit for not being one of those awful Americans who went on “fact finding” missions for 2 weeks and then had All the Answers for South Africa. I knew after 5 minutes living there, I had no idea what I was doing.
As a white person — I got the paranoia. For the first time in my life, I felt a minority. Not just in the racial sense, but in an economic sense. What it was like to live in a paradise surrounded by the most crushing poverty imaginable. I was afraid a lot. I lived in Observatory, outside Cape Town. Every day people knocked on my door begging. And when I made a sandwich, my roommates yelled at me not to, because it would only encourage more people (usually women with little kids) to show up. I opened my door once to find a drunk man who’d been stabbed in the neck, looking for help. And I couldn’t call for help because he was “colored” and the hospital literally ACROSS THE STREET would not take him. Couldn’t call the police, because he feared *he* would be arrested for drunkenness. So he wandered off, and I have no idea what happened to him.
And that wasn’t even the scary stuff, chumps. I met people who’d been detained and tortured. I dated a human rights law student and got my phone tapped. I went to rallies at churches where they handed out “next of kin” cards in the offertory plates. (You know, in case you get arrested on the way out.) I saw water cannons and tear gas. I taught in townships — adult education. People trying to get an 8th grade degrees, after work, at night, in a place with no electricity.
And from the beaches in Cape Town, on a clear day, I could see Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was.
I left South Africa thinking it was going to be a civil war.
And — we all know how the story ends — it wasn’t. A miracle happened. A messy, imperfect miracle — but a miracle nonetheless. Today South Africa is a democracy.
This is what South Africa taught me about infidelity — that the worst things can bring out the best in people. I met some insanely brave people. I learned that oppression results in a tenacious, fearless creativity. The most exciting part of living in South Africa then was the theater, the banned newspapers, the music. Revolution is exhilarating. I discovered satire — the power in laughing at your oppressor. You think you’re better than me? Really? You’re ridiculous.
I once saw Archbishop Desmond Tutu deliver a sermon — and when he used a big word like “incontrovertible” — he spelled it out slowly for the policeman in the front row.
South Africa was full of the feistiest bunch of bad asses. And it was also full of cowards trying to maintain “neutrality.” I knew who I wanted to be. I hung around the bad asses, and God bless them, they were kind to me.
South Africa taught me bravery. To call out the mindfuckery, the obvious manipulations. To see that the whole system of apartheid was really nothing more than a narcissistic minority trying to gain advantage over the majority. There was no dressing it up — it was ugly and wrong, and had to end.
And those stakeholders, who didn’t want it to end, had a lot of excuses similar to cheaters — you’re undeserving of democracy. You’re not smart enough. You’re not ready. I am the superior race, I shall do as I like. To the international community — you’re not the boss of me! To the blacks — Well, we had to oppress you, you asked us to, you’re NOTHING without us.
I learned about (as the African writer Ngugi WaThiongo coined it) “colonizing minds.” That it’s not enough to change your circumstances, you must decolonize your mind. You must shake off these ideas that you are inferior.
Nelson Mandela never seemed to suffer from a colonized mind. He was a person who knew his worth. Who rose above 27 years of imprisonment, much of it hard labor — to be a statesman. The first democratically elected president of South Africa. They say Mandela never had a hard time being magnanimous to whites, because he never felt inferior to them. And he was far, far too practical.
He once said he didn’t waste time hating — because it was bad strategy.
Chumps could learn a lot from that. Fuck what they did to you. Don’t let it get in the way of your glorious future. Dwelling on those assholes is bad strategy.
Rest in peace, Nelson Mandela.
Thank you for a great article today. How fortunate you are to have spent some time in South Africa and truly see what was going on first hand. Nelson Mandela has changed to the world for the better and I am happy to have been alive to witness it.
Thank you also for your last paragraph. I really needed to hear that today. “Dwelling on those assholes is bad strategy” I’m going to carry this around with me for a while so I can get past it. The last few weeks have been especially hard with stbx carrying on about the holiday schedules, the cursing, the yelling, text bombing, etc.
I’ve done my best for the past three years to take the “high road” but sometimes he just pulls me back down in the gutter with him. He is a loser and I know it. No need to dwell on it. Thanks CL.
Good, good, good post. Hate, or any other emotional energy = kibbles. “Please don’t feed the narc’s”!
I’d like that on a shirt, “Don’t feed the Narcs”
CL: there’s a cartoon and T-shirt in the making there. Count me in for one!
I want the ‘don’t feed the narcs’ t-shirt too! And I’d buy a few extras for presents to deserving chumps of several flavours. Maybe w/the picture of the shark taking off the human mask???
Thank you for this, Tracy. In tears…
I tell myself all the time that I can be badass & brave without hurting or hating anyone. Nelson Mandela is a perfect example. Thanks for sharing that, CL.
I really enjoyed your article today. I lived in Nigeria off and on for six years. The country had already reached independence since 1960 and the problems there weren’t related to aparthied at all. Sub-sharah Africa has a lot of democracy pasted on top of the tribalism that is that part of Africa. I was there just a family of someone in the oil business and had very comfortable living conditions and work-arounds for some of the infrastructures. I spent a lot of time learning from the men who filled the loe level jobs and am so glad that I had the opportunity to experience Africa. I was able to visit villages, leper facilities, and local markets. I was there from 1988 until 1993. The local papers had a lot to say about Nelson Mandela and it was from a different perspective form anything we would have thought here, colonial or democracy. Thank you for the column.
My word, you are an incredible writer, Tracy!
What a great column. I think Nelson Mandela may have inspired you to be a humanitarian, as you are.
Thanks for what you do.
There was a piece on NPR this morning, of course. President Clinton shared his experiences with Mandela. One part was in regard to Mandela’s inviting his jailers to his inauguration. Clinton applauded the political skill, but he asked whether Mandela on his release didn’t hate the jailers. Mandela replied that he had… for a short time. He realized that if he hated them, they still would have him in their control.
Who knew “meh” was Swahili?
It’s actually Xhosa for “Whatthefuckever.” 🙂
That is so powerful!!
Thank you for yet another wonderfully written article. Tracy, you keep me strong; you remind me every day that there really are good people in the world. God (or Karma, or good fortune, or whatever your spiritual inclination 🙂 ) bless you xxxx
Excellent post CL, and well-timed. This week I have been been consumed with anger (cant go so far as to call it hatred) and the desire to get revenge on the OW and STBX, since it looks like karma isnt going catch up to them. My new mantra – Quit wasting time on anger & revenge. It’s a bad strategy. Instead, focus on my glorious future and being the best person I can be. Thank you CL.
“Quit wasting time on anger & revenge.”
This is what I hope to reach one day, hopefully sooner than later.
Thanks for this. (And you got a Watson? wow! I knew you were a smarty-pants, or as we say around here, a smahty-pants.).
Seriously though? This is so right, and I love how spot-on the notion of the colonized mind is, and how we here need to de-colonize our own. Reclaim our mental real estate. One of the (amazing, gifted, inspiring) writers from the Combahhee River Collective wrote about something similar–shows how old I’m getting that I can’t recall the specifics.
I always think it’s worth remembering though, as Frederick Douglass said, power concedes nothing easily. (For example, the only veto that was overridden in the 20th century was Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. Meaning that Reagan supported the Apartheid regime. Anyhow….).
I believe that one thing that being chumped does is render us powerless, in some ways, for some period of time. Because we don’t know; because of the trickery. It’s part of the high for the cheater, and part of the devastation for the chump.
Overcoming that is a mighty task–I guess this is why people like Nelson Mandela are such amazing role models and heroes, that ability to see the long game. May he rest in peace, and we follow his example.
Love that Douglass quote.
“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
― Frederick Douglass
I too love the quote.
I am cracking myself up because when I saw that post, for some reason I thought it was from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and I was going to just post:
The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.
Then I realized my brain had farted and it wasn’t Douglas Adams at all, thought I’d share and hope I give ya’ll a laugh.
Long time since I read Hitchhiker’s Guide but I think there was plenty of good advice & quotes in there too!
To Nelson Mandela,
May angels lead you in
You gave us someplace to go
I never said thank you for that
I thought I would get one more chance
What would you think of me now
so lucky, so strong, so proud?
I never said thank you for that
Now I’ll never have a chance
May angels lead you in
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go
May angels lead you in.
And if you were with me tonight
I’d sing to you one more time
A song for a heart so big
God couldn’t let it live
Sorry for hitting send before giving name of group that wrote the song. JimmyEatWorld
Thanks for the reminder that what happens in our homes also happens to societies. Your article reminds me that Prince has an awesome song called “Colonized Mind.”
The one thing I most want to accomplish after my divorce experience is to overcome feelings of shame and failure and learn to value and love myself. I’m getting there, but it’s a process.
The example Mandela set of inviting his captors is a good one to keep in mind. I hope some day I can actually thank my ex for tossing me aside like so much rubbish. I want to use the experience to make myself a more compassionate, loving person.
I will get off this blog after this but want to remember that Mandela often read “Invictus”. I would like to quote it here:
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is blooded, but unbowed
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid
It matters not how straight the gate
How charged the punishment of the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul
“I got a Thomas J. Watson fellowship for a year’s independent study”
And yet you became a Mac user 🙂
Appreciate the upbeat post today, and I totally agree that Hatred is not useful.
Anger can be useful . It can spur you to find a way to change things.
Hatred never can be useful.
I just paraphrased the Dalai Lama, I think 🙂
I know. It’s disloyal to IBM. Karma is biting me in the ass though, as my Mac died and I’m still trying to restore my data.
I am a total IT geek and frankly if Apple hadn’t insisted on keeping their hardware proprietary 90% of us would be on a Mac. It’s a better product and more stable. But their strategy was so very wrong. I don’t own a Mac because my customer base doesn’t really (well I do have an iPad). You rock on with a new Mac Chump Lady, it’s fine :).
Great article and I am an admirer of Mandela’s but please do not forget that he was a philander, particularly in his first marriage. Does this make his achievements any less great? I don’t know but it makes me pause for a moment and think about the complexity of men and women.
I’ve been having trouble with that aspect of him myself. What do we, as chumps, do with that?
As a chump I don’t think it makes his political achievements any less great. I think people can do great good and still behave disgracefully in their personal lives. People are complex. He was a very brave, principled man who believed in democracy & freedom. Whether he was a ‘good’ man depends on your definition of good. I am a chump, my cheater will never free a country or risk his life fighting for what he believes in. I don’t know much about Nelson Mandela’s private life but I still admire what he achieved & the dignity with which he achieved it. Then again, I was never married to him…
For ‘principled’ please read ‘politically principled’.
What did/do we do with Bill Clinton?
It’s a fine distinction between anger and hate though. Unfortunately, until I began to hate my ex, I was kept ‘tied’ by the adage ‘hate the sinner, not the sin’. It has been hard for me to learn to hate, having not knowingly hated anyone in 50+ years, but until I realised that my ex’s value system would ever allow him to utterly disrespect me, and crucially, for me, that his value system was utterly integral to him, I was caught in a nightmare of emotional abuse whereby I kept hoping someone decent existed inside of him, so kept ‘trying’ to reason with the ‘lovable human’ I previously believed he MUST be! He wasn’t and isn’t the decent human being I thought resided in everyone. Horribly naive, but had worked well for me for 37 years. Unfortunately, had I just hated him, instead of making the ‘hate the sin, not the sinner’ distinction, I could have saved myself almost 4 years of utter hell and left him then. Until I am utterly divorced (physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually) I am going to hold on to ‘hate’ – it’s helping me to keep focused and stopping me from giving in to the ‘spackle’ that wants to see only the sins and not the sinner.
Jayne today I am stuggling with the very same thing, Been tearing up off and on all day with this. I’m trying to hate her but it’s not coming. I’ve never hated her in all our days together so to flip that hate switch on is a constant struggle. Trying to figure out how to hate someone who you have loved as deeply as I did for almost half my life is hard to do and quite possibly may not happen. Maybe being angry at her is all I will ever achieve.
I guess that is where I need to feel the emotional/spiritual divorce take place.
My heart to you Bud. This is my second marriage. When my first marriage failed, though there was a great deal of anger, pain and grief, I never hated my first husband at all. It just didn’t work for us. I ‘hated the sin, not the sinner’. Betrayal wasn’t a part of it.
My STBXH is a completely different story though. I was NPD’d big style (as were ALL my friends and family) and the devaluation is utterly sickening. Hating / being furious with – I’m not sure how to tell the difference – I just know that his lack of integrity and decency is not the sign of ‘a good person who just keeps fucking up’. He is who he is and he chooses to behave the way he chooses to behave.
I know it’s hard to stop loving – God I’ve so wished to be able to flip that switch many times over the past 4 years – it has helped (in a very perverse way) to have such a huge list of emotional abuses I’ve suffered in the name of ‘love’ and striving to ‘hate the sin, not the sinner’.
I hope you can draw on your own anger/fury to keep you strong Bud. People do ‘fuck up’ and we can still love them – hate shouldn’t come easy, I guess. I found my love for my STBXH just kept me vulnerable.
I can’t hate my ex either and sometimes I still feel love for him which is weird since we haven’t communicated in over a year. But I think the difference now is that I love myself more than to let him hurt me again.
This is exactly where I am today. I love myself more than I would ever allow the cheater ex into my life. He really is now being crowded out by my new life, which is mostly rediscovering who I am and finally seeing his past behaviors without the spackle. It makes me cringe when I see it exactly for what it was. I went through a period of hate when I still cared for him. Now, I am indifferent, no more hatred but I am working on forgiveness because I know it will further liberate me. Forgiveness to me means not wishing him ill at all but also not welcoming him, in any way shape or form, into my life.
Bud, I have never managed to achieve hatred for my STBXH. I have no problem hating what he did but still struggle to hate him. I have managed anger though & that is enough to spur me on to a better life. I don’t hate him but I don’t forgive him either. Funnily enough he seems to hate me though & takes every opportunity he can to try to hurt me further.
I don’t think we need to hate the betrayers, anger at their transgressions is sufficient, that and recognizing that we don’t want them in our lives any longer. I don’t think I know how to truly hate anyone, from the posts here I doubt very many of us have that in us. I did label what I felt about my ex “hate” for a short time but after a while I realized that was from fear of him coming back and killing me or hurting me. I feel sorry for him, he can never really feel, or be happy the way I can, he will never experience anything good because he can’t recognize it. He’s a dead man walking around, I am alive.
I agree we don’t need to hate the cheater. We need to see them clearly, and to get righteously angry at what they did to us, in order to have the strength to protect ourselves from further mind-fuckery and abuse. But all of us DID have some good times w/the narc cheaters, at least in the beginning, and all of us DID love that person once, or at least who we thought they were. And while we can have moments of searing anger, most chumps aren’t the type to harbour hate and resentment for long.
We need to reach distance, ‘meh’, not hate. When they no longer have any power to hurt us, it is indifference that arrives, not hate.
I don’t think you have to ‘Hate’ somebody to know that they are bad news.
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, after all.
I don’t hate my ex. She did things that made me angry, but that anger… it turns out… was best put to use severing all ties with her because she was going to keep doing what she was doing, and… truth be told… she probably didn’t really consider what she was doing was harmful, or if she did, she felt justified and did it anyway. She didn’t value the impact on me or our marriage at all. It just wasn’t in her to put herself into my shoes or to make our partnership/marriage a key component of her value system.
Was I angry about that? Yes, I was. Sometimes I was ballistic 🙂 Eventually, though, I let my anger inform me: this is just who she is, she isn’t what she wants others to think she is, and she is going to keep doing these kind of things, and that is just not acceptable, so it was just best for me to move on and cut my losses while I was behind 🙂
Do I hate her though? Nope. Just a bad bit of business. I made a bad choice, and I put too much faith and trust into somebody who, on reflection, was not capable of that kind of reciprocation.
I can now admit that a good deal of anger was also with myself, though, because I had trouble seeing what–with the benefit of hindsight–is pretty obvious now.
TimeHeals – Thank you for capturing exactly how I feel about my ex. I definitely made a bad decision, or more accurately, kept on making bad decisions until I didn’t. Everything now is crystal clear that I am astounded I never saw it before. But since only the now matters, I am still very grateful I am where I am today: cheater-free!
lol – of course – after ‘adage’ in the second sentence it should have said ‘hate the sin, not the sinner’ just goes to show how ‘we only see what we want to see’ – particularly in proof-reading for ourselves 🙂 x
Beautiful. Moving. Inspirational.
And might I add, this is one cerebral bunch of chumps! What a gift to read not only Tracy’s brilliant writing, but that of my fellow chumps. A group of thorough thinkers who express this common experience with eloquence, presicion and gut wrenching honesty. How I love this site!
I have high respect for him as a politician as well. However, another news bit today covered his personal life and the bad marriage he had with his first wife where they split because of adultery on his side. He remarried the same year to his second wife.
Unfortunately, philandering was pretty common for men of his generation, for the whole culture. Not excusing him — it’s awful. But I think karma got him when he hooked up with Winnie Mandela — a murderous, self aggrandizing wing nut. His third wife is a class act. I’d like to believe he learned.
Some other stats: He was 26 when he first married. That marriage lasted 14 yrs. He was 40 when he married his second wife. They stayed together for 38 years. He was 80 when he married his last wife.
A lot of that marriage to Winnie was during his time in prison. Perhaps he would have bailed sooner had he been having an actual life with her.
Maybe having turned 50 I’ve become Dana Carvey’s Cranky Old Man Character from SNL in the 80s, but I no longer look to public figures for inspiration in my private life. While they all changed the world for the better through their public actions, and I am grateful for those public feats, I have no reason to think that Nelson Mandela, Thomas Jefferson, Woody Guthrie, Martin Luther King, Jr., Willie Nelson, or any of hundreds of other famous cheaters (many of whom were heroes of my youth) treated the loved ones in their lives any better than my cheating ex wife treated me. Some I know were worse.
Instead, I look to people I actually know for inspiration in how to live my daily life, how I treat those close to me, how I run my business, my relationship with God and such. That means mostly my parents, my wife, my friends, and people in the small town where I live. None of them freed a nation, but they have, among other accomplishments: raised children, survived cancer, obtained world-class educations they paid for themselves, adopted orphans with the HIV virus, made contributions to science, sat all night next to hospital beds, paid off mortgages, written memoirs, rescued starving animals, been faithful to their spouses for decades, reconciled with repentant cheaters, and divorced spouses who wouldn’t stop cheating. Those are wonderful deeds, and this list only scratches the very plain surface of these marvelous people. I draw inspiration from them. Every day, I do.
I would not be surprised if God forgives Nelson Mandela for his personal failings, just as Mandela forgave so many unthinkable sins committed against him. But in the midst of a much-deserved outpouring of world-wide thanks for Nelson’s Mandela’s Biblical-sized public accomplishments, it is also worth taking just a few seconds to give quiet thanks for the smaller heroes living among us all. Amandla.
Beautifully said, Nomar.
Thank you for this, nomar.
Nomar, your comments are spot on. Our role models should never be public figures, politicians movie stars etc. Their moral compass is not necessarily pointing North. To achieve success, successful people sacrifice “something” or “somebody” to get to the top. People who live simple, humble lives are the ones who are to be admired. We need to remember that and honor THEM!
CL – her own father warned him: ‘this woman is a witch’
He has said he really regretted what happened in his first marriage. Evelyn became a Jehovah’s Witness and hated and resented his political activity.
It is said that her apartheid house arrest and exile to Brandfort (a total dump) and the continuous harrassment turned Winnie psychopathic.
I know someone who devoted her life (and marriage, and loss of relationship with her kids) to Winnie and was jailed for her, and was completely discarded when she ceased to be of use. If anyone doubts what CL says, look at how the children of this wing nut have turned out.
CBS this morning interviewed a journalist who had had extensive interaction with Mandela. I can’t remember who it was. Anyway, he said Mandela did have a lot of hate. He also said that Mandela knew he had to conceal it or he would not be able to accomplish anything beneficial. And that he did a very good job of that concealment.
So according to him anyway, Mandela was a hater. But he didn’t let the hate consume him. Sounds like the difference between forgiveness and “meh.”
How could he not hate? He was human. But he didn’t let it get in the way of accomplishing things. He was an amazing pragmatist.
To accept an Nobel Peace Prize with DeKlerk must’ve been one hell of a shit sandwich for Mandela. Oh me? I’ve been breaking rocks for 20 years. You? You’ve been sitting on your fat ass eating biltong in a presidential mansion.
I know it was brave of DeKlerk to concede the inevitable — to get in front of it. But he was never Mandela’s equal. The world is like DeKlerk WHO?
I think the pictures of Mandela and DeKlerk accepting the Nobel together speak volumes. DeKlerk looks pretty uncomfortable in most of them, and likely because everyone knows that his actions are not as remarkable as those of the man beside him. The writing was on the wall by the time Botha left, and DeKlerk was facing worldwide condemnation if he didn’t start making more than the token concessions of repealing a segregation law here or there. Nevertheless, it probably would have been easier for DeKlerk (in the short term, at least) to dig in his heels and keep power solely in the hands of the white minority, and many expected him to. Instead, he went the other way from day one as party leader, despite the risks, and he certainly deserves credit for his courage there. The moment Mandela was released from prison, he reiterated that black domination was not a viable solution and invited whites to participate in the building of a democratic South Africa. That was an astonishing display of leadership. Later he did admit that he did have hatred for his captors – but only for a little while. He said that hate was useful for a short time, but at a certain point it causes you to dwell in the past and it gets in the way of making a better future.
Mandela’s story teaches us that it is both beautiful and beneficial to forgive people who have done wrong. It is a tricky road for chumps though. How many of us have had the experience of cheaters stepping forward and giving up the truth and, with it, their upper hand? And how many of us have had the experience of a cheater using forgiveness as yet another manipulation trick? (AKA Everything would be fine if you would simply forgive me for Things That Happened Long Ago. What things, exactly? No, we aren’t going to talk about the fact that I’m still lying. You won’t forgive me and so you are the problem here.) As you say CL, cheating is rooted in privilege and abusive power dynamics, and cheaters’ insistence on keeping the upper hand is why real reconciliation is so rare. If someone is willing to be completely transparent and take immediate, unmistakable, and consistent action towards sharing power, unicorns can be wrangled. But if they are giving you more mindfuckery, make no mistake – that is intended to hold you back, and so reconciliation is just not possible. Now that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t forgive, but forgiveness and reconciliation are very different. Reconciliation requires forgiveness, but not the other way around. Reconciliation requires the participation of both parties, but forgiveness doesn’t. You don’t have to reconcile with someone to “prove” your forgiveness: the better future you are working towards doesn’t have to include them (any more than is dictated by a custody agreement). The definition, the process, and the benefits of forgiveness don’t have to include them either. Those things are yours. Releasing anger and getting to meh will free you up to fulfill your goals and dreams, which is nice, but it will also free you up to give the best of yourself to everyone around you.
When I think of Mandela, I am inspired not only by what he accomplished for his people, but by the grace and dignity with which he did it. He was no saint, OK. But all over the world, people are talking about how we might go about leaving thoughts of hatred and revenge behind in order to make the world a better place, and we marvel at what is possible. What a wonderful legacy.
GBA, remember that de Klerk showed a lot of courage and moral goodness as well. To this day he is reviled by ‘hardliners’ as a traitor, and his contribution is forgotten by the other side also.
Apartheid South Africa was armed to the teeth and militarily and military intelligence wise had the ANC over a barrel. They destabilised all the countries to the north of them, and carried out a proxy war against the USSR on behalf of the USA in Angola
How many other countries do you know where the ruling elite handed over power voluntarily in order to avert war? Give credit for courage and magnanimity where it is due.
In Rhodesia a limited emotionally immature man who was not up to the leadership task (Ian Smith) was dealing with a limited emotionally immature man who was not up to the leadership task (Robert Mugabe). Zimbabwe now wobbles on the verge of a failed state as a result.
How lucky for South Africa that history gave them F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.
Patsy, I the first part of my post definitely took the roundabout way, so let me clarify:
I absolutely agree with you that DeKlerk was very brave to do what he did. Even though it was clear that democratization was inevitable, it would have been a safe move to justify a “slow, measured change” that would not have had him labeled as a traitor. Instead, upon taking leadership of the DP, he immediately made clear and decisive movements towards real change, and NOT the token measures that had previously . And yes, he did also take very real risks to life and limb there because a bloodbath civil war was a distinct possibility. The danger would have been double to him as he was then hated by many within his own party and community. But he made a bold commitment and stuck it out, even when the negotiation processes got rough.
My comment on the pictures are speculative, I’ll admit. But to me, it just looks as though he knows that the guy beside him had walked a much more difficult road. Or maybe he just was overwhelmed. Perhaps my thoughts on the pictures are simply off the mark. I didn’t mean to suggest that he didn’t deserve the recognition.
At any rate, when all of this was happening, there was the constant threat widespread violence, and, as you point out, those concerns were based in fears that were not unfounded. The fact that the worst possible outcome was averted is a testament to the leadership, wisdom, and perseverance of both DeKlerk and Mandela. Because two such extraordinary men were in positions of power at the right time, and at the same time, made it possible to accomplish something against seemingly insurmountable odds. Amazing.
There are some typos above, and I can’t seem to edit so my apologies for rushing the above post.
I don’t know of any other countries where such a handover of power has occurred, and I would agree this is not given its due. It is also fair to say that when the world was criticizing S Africa in the 80s and 90s, there was some hypocrisy involved in that S Africa was singled out for practices that, very sadly, weren’t unique. Canada was among the harshest critics and, as much as I love my country, it infuriates me that the government was so quick to criticize S Africa. Why? Because Canada helped S Africa set up the apartheid system! We sent govt officials back and forth in the 40s, and “pass laws” and many other apartheid policies were inspired by Canada’s Indian Act. Some Canadian laws have changed since that time, but we are still a long way from legal equality, not to mention social equality, for First Nations people. The Indian Act is not in its original form, but it is STILL THERE. Canada has a lot to clean up at home before it has the moral authority to get up on the world stage and point fingers, IMO.
Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights, Patsy (above and in your fantastic post below, too). International media coverage tends to provide generalizations about S Africa and its people, and *every* S African I have encountered has proven them wrong!
I remember being a child in the 1980’s and not understanding what apartheid meant. I remember my Dad patiently explaining to me why it was wrong and that’s why as a household we did not buy South African produce or bought anything from companies that supported the regime in South Africa. I remember being so horrified, that was the first time I ever had an interest in politics & started to understand how unfair the world could be.
You are an absolutely beautiful writer.
By far you exceed all other sites and blogs with your skills of writing, intellectual intelligence and humor. I have turned to other places when I did non stop research in the beginning to help me understand and get my balance back after being initially traumatized but none come close to giving me the pleasure and practical insight as your blog does.
The beauty in the people you have here is astounding as well.
Congrats on a job well done with both yourself and this great blog!
Awesome and inspiring! Thank you, Chump Lady. You never cease to motivate!
I am an African of colonial descent, and spent some of my formative years in apartheid South Africa. It was a sick, horrible, aggressive ugly place but you really had to be born in another country to ‘get it’, if you were white. Otherwise, it was normal. What apartheid was, was an elaborate, absurd national socialist (geddit?) structure which economically protected Afrikaners at the expense of the education, enterprise and wealth of the majority of people. It was completely unjustifiable and a tragic waste of human potential. ‘Bantu education’ scars the country to this day.
Because of South Africa, I will never blame ordinary Germans for keeping their heads down and getting on with their existence in Nazi Germany. If you go against the state, you also become an enemy of the state, and people who say they would be different? The vast majority of you are kidding yourselves.
White people in Africa were universally terrified of black rule (with some justification, Tracy isn’t going to like reading that) and used projection and dehumanisation in order to justify their refusal to share power. In doing so, they lost their souls. You can’t mistreat other people without seriously damaging yourself also.
Nelson Mandela is to white South Africans a Christ redeemer figure. He is adored by white South Africans. What he did was knowing he was bigger, embraced and absorbed white terror, rage and hatred into his huge personality and his ideals, and reassured them that there was no hate (ubuntu) and they would come to no harm. He single handedly disarmed them psychologically, and he stopped a civil war: South Africa was armed to the teeth, could deploy half a million soldiers in a day (Moeletsi Mbeki), and had 6 nuclear weapons: ONE MAN* stopped all that. He saved us from ourselves. May his Rivonia Trial Speech never be forgotten.
Hamba Gahle, uTata Madiba Baba nKhulu.
*The fall of the Berlin wall was a large contributor to the negotiations, but that is something Tracy and I can have a good academic barney about!
Beautiful post, Patsy. Just beautiful.
I don’t object to your comment that whites were terrified of Black rule. Why wouldn’t they be? At some level, they must know how unjust it was, and how angry and disenfranchised blacks were? It’s logical to be afraid of vengeance and backlash.
The cruelest things the Nats did, IMO, was Bantu education. To think there are entire generations of black South Africans with little to no education. The reason for this, to non-South African history geeks — is that the National Party declared in the 70s that all education had to be taught in Afrikaans. And as early as the 1940s, the Nats started closing mission schools. Nelson Mandela’s generation was able to get a fine education (albeit a colonial one) because of Methodist and Anglican mission schools. But after World War II and the Nats taking over they wanted to stop such British institutions. By the 70s, it was decreed that education was in Afrikaans — so imagine going to school and one day everything was taught in Greek.
Clever bit of oppression that — to defy the state you had to boycott fucking SCHOOL. Win, win for the Nats.
Very interesting point about the military strength. I honestly thought it would end in a blood bath. Africans had the numbers and whites had the military strength. For all the criticism against Mandela that he supported communism — consider it was the Cold War. For him to have a fighting chance, he needed the Soviets to back him. God knows the West wasn’t going to help him, except in a tut, tut how sad kind of pity from afar.
I also agree that DeKlerk showed incredible pragmatism and foresight. But he’s just not in Mandela’s class of human being, IMO.
Bantu education was the most wicked aspect of apartheid IMO and it’s legacy persists to this day. When you compare the calibre of leaders such as O R Tambo, Luthuli, Sobukwe and Mandela to the [bleh] current crop, the difference is that the ‘old’ leaders were missionary educated, and the Nats closed those missionary schools. Can’t have these bleddy Kaffirs getting too cheeky, hey! . To deliberately keep people uneducated and unskilled is just plain evil.
For the best synopsis of the economic reasoning that underpins white resistance to black rule, I really recommend Moeletsi Mbeki: The Architects of Poverty. In this book he very calmly and without a twinge of racism or emotion confirms the deep suspicion whites have of black power – and why.
1. During the colonial struggle, Afrikaner nationalists won the land through the barrel of a gun.
2. Being propertied, they had incentives to get their goods to market.
3. Therefore, they built infrastructure and businesses.
4. African nationalists are not propertied.
5. Therefore, they use the revenues of the State to pay themselves.
6. When making a choice between investing in infrastructure and themselves, they will invariably choose themselves.
7. The result is collapsing infrastructure and deindustrialisation.
8. Therefore, African nationalism economically is worse for Africa than the colonial rule before it. The Liberators are the Architects of Poverty.
9. The Liberators band together to protect eachother because they know if one falls they all go.
10. Therefore, SADC (‘and my brother’) protects venal people such as Robert Mugabe and keeps him in power despite the will of the people, who voted him out in 1992 – over 20 years ago.
If anyone ever wonders why there was Rhodesian UDI and apartheid, the answer ultimately lies in points 5, 6 and 7. To hear a crown prince of the ANC calmly confirming what white Africans are unable to explain without collapsing into racism and vitriol, is incredibly liberating.
To pick up CL’s fantastic African Marxism essay, only when Africans de-colonise their minds and are prepared to have enough self-belief to call their leaders to account, will the dysfunction of Africa finally be healed and the past put to rest. The biggest export of Africa (tragically) is the brain drain, where Africans vote with their feet against the way their countries are ‘run’. There is evidence that the growing middle class of South Africa are ceasing to fall for the narrative that whites are to blame for everything, and are starting to, in the words of a chat room ‘be like whites’ and criticise ANC excesses. The Zambians for the first time ejected the liberation party last elections on an anti-corruption ticket, and their economy is growing at 9%. Which is all very exciting and hopeful if you are African! A wonderful continent, wonderful people, please come and visit!
PS that was NOT a justification for anything. Perhaps countries count where untangling the skein of fuckupness is concerned. If each side owns their part to play, acknowledges the hurt and apologises, then true growth can come about.
God, I am starting to sound like a unicorn. Shut up, Patsy. Go and surf some waves in Muizenberg.
Thank for this.