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, probably better than the abdominal legacy of apartheid that he sought to undo. He is so important to Twentieth Century history his death dominated the news of the day, for good reason.
An era of South African history defined by the brutal oppression and torture of blacks, apartheid ended with individuals like Nelson Mandela turning away from the impulse to seek revenge and dominance over whites. Instead, they recognized there was no punishment, no form of restitution, and no means of prosecuting the myriads of individuals responsible for what had been done to black South Africans and 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 disappeared. In doing so, Mandela and others started a healing process that today has helped South Africa thrive. This 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 work of Nelson Mandela should be remembered when doing so.
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