Monday, December 16, 2013

Lessons from Mandela’s leadership

The younger Mandela was a militant who believed that apartheid could only be defeated through armed struggle. As he grew older, Mandela re- alised that this would be a long and costly route. He felt it was possible to end apart- heid through negotiations.

 But changing one’s stance can be misunderstood in politics and many politicians fear to do so lest they are accused of selling out. Yet when he was transferred from Robben Island, the hotbed of militant politics, to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, Mandela on his own decided to secretly contact the apartheid rulers suggesting talks. "I had concluded that the time had come when the struggle could best be pushed forward through negotiations," he wrote in Long Walk to Freedom, "If we did not start a dialogue soon, both sides would be plunged into a dark night of oppression, violence and war."

 This was a risky undertaking since the official position of his political party, the African National Congress (ANC), was not to have any discussions with the regime. In a 1962 interview, Mandela had argued that it was futile to try to talk to a regime, which responded to peaceful protest with savage attacks against unarmed and defenseless people. Thus, when the ANC heard that Man- dela had secretly initiated these talks, some of the more militant members accused him of being a traitor. This accu- sation was also written in a semi official circular distributed among its top leader- ship discouraging members from dealing with him.

 These accusations became even more entrenched because Mandela had now been placed in a nice house inside the prison. In the house he had a sofa set, a television set, refrigerator, cooker, a microwave, a personal chef, a swimming pool, and he would wear tailored suits and was allowed visitors. Which prisoner lives like that? Talk spread within ANC that these comforts were bribes the apartheid system had thrown at Mandela; he had sold out.

But Mandela understood that it was possible to compromise without being compromised; his confidence was derived from his integrity. As he said, you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. In Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela says that the apartheid regime was afraid to begin talks because it would be seen as weak while the ANC leadership shied away from talking because it feared its base would see them as being soft on the enemy or compromised by him.