What Modern Day Revolutionaries Need to Learn from Leaders like Mandela
Previously published on Dec 22, 2013
December 5, 2013 was marked by the death of Nelson Mandela. The name of the South African activist and first black President is known around the world better than the abominable legacy of apartheid that he sought to undo. He is so important to Twentieth Century history his death dominated the news of the day and the preceding week for a myriad of reasons.
An era of South African history defined by the brutal oppression and torture of blacks, apartheid ended with leaders like Nelson Mandela turning away from the impulse to seek revenge and dominance over whites South Africans. Instead, Mandela recognized there was no punishment, no form of restitution, and no means of prosecuting the sheer number of individuals responsible for what had been done to black South Africans, so they sought reconciliation.
Instead of tearing their nation apart along racial lines, leaders of South Africa formed Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to afford victims a channel to peacefully express their grievances, face their victimizers, and learn what had happened to their loved ones who had disappeared under apartheid rule. In doing so, Mandela and others started a healing process that has helped South Africa do well in a region plagued by poor governance. The Mendela approach to resolving conflicts is unique and rarely pursued on a national scale, yet the lesson to be learned is an essential one.
When wrongdoings cannot be sufficiently undone or addressed through restitution, grievances can be addressed and conflicts resolved through the expression and public recognition of those grievances. Given the revolutionary forces driving change and unrest in the Middle East, as well as other regions of the world, there are several populations that will soon face the need to resolve past grievances and ongoing conflicts with rulers who did wrong. Although how those grievances and conflicts are addressed depends on what will satisfy the interests of the parties involved, the history of South Africa and the work of Nelson Mandela should be remembered when doing so.