Guest Column

OPINION: We are all indebted to Nelson Mandela for not seeking revenge

2020-02-11 07:00
Nelson Mandela. (Netwerk24)

Nelson Mandela. (Netwerk24)

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In the five years he was South Africa’s president there was an unknown sense of optimism that we could overcome the legacy of apartheid that we have never felt since, writes Amanda Gouws

We can never underestimate the huge symbolic value of the release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990.

At that time I was studying in the US for my PhD, but I returned at the end of January 1990 to do the fieldwork for my dissertation.

I will never forget the sense of relief that I experienced when FW de Klerk announced the un-banning of banned political parties and the release of Nelson Mandela. 

It meant an end to the senseless violence that engulfed the country at the time and for the first time true prospects of establishing a democracy in South Africa.

For so long Mandela was the symbol of a terrorist for the apartheid regime that paid for his deeds with exile on Robben Island. 

For millions of others he was the symbol of a tenacious freedom fighter. 

I remember the electric atmosphere on the Grand Parade when he spoke to the people for this first time after his release. 

I also remember the photos of him and Winnie walking out of the prison gates. 

Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela shortly after his release from Victor Verster (now Drakenstein) prison on 11 February 1990. (Netwerk24, file) 

Speaking on that day he made a social pact with the people in his own words: "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another."

Mandela was one of the generation of political leaders who fought for freedom from segregation and apartheid but who also used their freedom to work for reconciliation and to build a nation. 

Mandela was true to his word - he would only be a one term president, unlike so many African dictators that stayed for life! 

Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk in May 1990. (Getty Images)


In the five years he was South Africa’s president there was an unknown sense of optimism that we could overcome the legacy of apartheid that we have never felt since. 

We are all in the debt of Nelson Mandela for not seeking revenge, and for trying to build a democratic nation. 

- Dr Amanda Gouws is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Stellenbosch University and holds a PhD from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in the US. She currently holds a SARChi Chair in Gender Politics

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  fw de klerk  |  democracy  |  freedom
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