Mandela Only Half-free 27 Years In Prison Made Him Better But Not Bitter

Posted: February 22, 1990

CAPE TOWN — During the past two weeks, the world has been watching with fascination as tremendous change comes to South Africa. The release of Nelson Mandela is a joyous victory for his family, a major step forward for the people of South Africa and a remarkable symbol of hope.

I came to South Africa at the invitation of Walter and Albertina Sisulu and the South African Council of Churches. I wanted to learn first hand from the people the day to day realities of life under the apartheid system.

These are fragile times indeed, and the inspiring release of Mandela must now quickly be followed by the creation of a timetable for meaningful negotiation in the dismantling of apartheid. I met with leaders of the United Democratic Front (UDF), the Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO), the Congress of South African Trade Unionists (COSATU), the Dutch Reformed Church and many other organizations whose are essential to the negotiation process.

If black and white South Africans are to move forward together, they must seize the moment and act with wisdom and courage. Backward steps towards violence, repression and hatred will only lead to chaos.

When headlines read "Mandela is Free," they are only partly accurate. Mandela has been released from jail, but that is not to be confused with freedom. He is out of prison, but he is not free to participate in his government, to vote, to serve in public office, or to live in many parts of South Africa. As a black man, he is not an equal in South Africa, but a second-class citizen.

Mandela has emerged from 27 years of jail and hard labor as a man of principle. His composure and determination are extraordinary, an example to us all of the power of faith. After almost three decades of imprisonment, Mandela is better, not bitter. Through the strength of his moral authority, he has become the most powerful man in South Africa.

Mandela and the African National Congress have reasonable expectations for democracy. They correctly assert that South Africa's survival depends on ending sanctions, but first, the reasons for those sanctions must be removed: the state of emergency laws, which restrict freedom of speech and assembly; the Land Act, which gives the 18 percent white population 87 percent of the land; and political arrangements that exclude the black majority and deny the basic right of one person, one vote.

No one can deny the justice of Mandela's cause. He is simply maintaining that the standards of democracy applied in Europe, the United States and elsewhere must also be applied to South Africa. Our slogan must be majority rule in Europe, majority rule in America, majority rule in Africa.

President F. W. De Klerk has taken a courageous step forward by attempting to create a climate for negotiations and hope between black and white South Africans. De Klerk made the decision to risk somepolitical ground by seeking higher moral ground for the good of his country. In Mandela's first address to the nation, he called De Klerk a man of integrity and he urged the nation to seek freedom through peaceful negotiation.

Their fellow citizens are lucky that Mandela and De Klerk are bridge builders. In spite of the forces tearing at the heart of South Africa, Mandela and De Klerk seem to be developing a mutual respect and recognition of one another's integrity. This kind of human understanding can do much to transcend the fear of whites and the pain of blacks. South Africa needs the healing process.

Meanwhile, the world eagerly awaits South Africa's admission to the family of nations. But until negotiations are consummated in a democratic constitution, the United States must continue its policy of sanctions as a stimulus for reform.

The fundamental issue is not whether to lift sanctions, but how to end the injustice and violence of apartheid and create a new South Africa where all can live in peace with mutual respect. We must not desert the people who have suffered so long and so hard to reach this profoundly moving historical moment.

Our expectant pleasure must be tempered with cautious concern until the kind of democratic reforms taking place in Eastern Europe come to South Africa.

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