DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid

Written by: on June 7, 2017

Those of us of a certain age have lived through some amazing historical events in recent decades. I was living in Germany when the wall came down and East and West Germany were reunited in what was a relatively peaceful process. I was living back in the UK when the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement came into force and saw the cessation of IRA terrorism and the devolvement of power to the Stormont government. And I remember the “Free Nelson Mandela” songs and the anti-apartheid marches and movements, the release of Mandela and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was established in the mid nineties, not long after I left university.

 

Against the backdrop of civil war and mass bloodshed in Syria, the rise of ISIS, renewed terrorism on the streets of Manchester and London and in other cities around the world, these relatively peaceful revolutions and resolutions of longstanding conflicts and injustices are all the more amazing and hope-giving.

 

Why was a peaceful transition possible in South Africa, rather than the predicted full-scale revolution, ‘fighting to the last drop of blood’, and so on, possible? What lessons, if any, can be learned for other contexts and conflicts? In his extensive analysis of the South African context, Welsh draws together various strands as to why South Africa has been able to dismantle apartheid and transition from a racial oligarchy to a democratic order without major bloodshed or civil war.

 

The first reason that this was possible was leadership. On a course entitled Leadership with Global Perspectives, it is particularly interesting to consider the roles of De Klerk and Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, other church leaders, business leaders and so on. In the midst of chaos, injustice, fear and ferment, courageous leadership was vital to steer South Africa through to a more peaceful democratic future. Welsh quotes Eglin on how important this leadership was:

 

“South Africa […] took a unique route, largely because of a rare display of leadership: a relatively conservative Afrikaner leader decided to negotiate before he had lost, and an imprisoned leader of a liberation movement decided to negotiate before he had won.”[1]

 

What Welsh does not do, thankfully, is paint an overly simplistic picture of these leaders, of good versus evil, the good guys and the bad guys. These are all human beings, with their respective flaws and weaknesses. However, it is their leadership and courage in the face of overwhelming odds that helps to deliver South Africa from the oppression and destruction of apartheid. The resulting peace is fragile and complicated and imperfect and messy, but it is peace and it is progress.

 

While leadership was vital, however, Welsh points out that there was no single-factor cause that can satisfactorily explain the transformation that took place in South Africa. Shifts in society, capitalism and economic realities, pressure for change ‘from below’, the role of church and business leaders, international sanctions, and the political reality of the inevitable failure of apartheid (as was the case with communism in the USSR) all contributed.

 

Finally, I would like to highlight the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a vital factor in this whole process. The truth shall set you free. When I have spoken on forgiveness, I have always emphasised the importance of apportioning blame, of naming the crime, of speaking the truth. Forgiveness is never about letting people off the hook, or minimizing what they have done. The TRC was vital in achieving this – speaking truth and bringing reconciliation to a divided nation. The end result has not been neat and tidy, but as Welsh concludes: “even if it is a democracy of a poor quality, South Africa is nevertheless a vastly better society than it was under apartheid.”[2]

 

I am looking forward to experiencing this first hand in September!

 

 

 

 

[1] Welsh, David. The Rise and Fall of Apartheid. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2010, Kindle Edition, loc. 12914.

[2] Welsh (2010), loc. 13186.

About the Author

Geoff Lee

6 responses to “The Rise and Fall of Apartheid”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Geoff, thanks for pointing out the importance of leadership in the fight against racism. “In the midst of chaos, injustice, fear and ferment, courageous leadership was vital to steer South Africa through to a more peaceful democratic future.” You are right, though there were many factors involved in the fall of Apartheid, “courageous” leadership was a major factor. Thank you!

  2. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Geoff, I, too, resonated with Eglin’s poetic quote. You write, “The resulting peace is fragile and complicated and imperfect and messy, but it is peace and it is progress.” It seems to me, if it was neat & tidy and fully resolved (closed), it would be simply a thin false veneer of peace, forced onto an unwilling population. The TRC, as you suggest, made that fragile messy peace possible.

  3. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Great post, Geoff! How old are you?? It seems like you’ve lived centuries with what you’ve lived through. But alas, like you, I remember the same events. It makes me wonder what the next generation will be experiencing and remembering. What an experience to live in Germany when the wall came down. That was an emotional event felt around the world but it must have been very moving living there during that period. Thanks for reminding me how old and wise we are!

  4. Mary says:

    Very thoughtful post, Geoff.
    (I still remember when Rosa Parks got on that bus.)
    Welsh’s history of the conflict and especially the ‘imperfect and messy’ resolution was very helpful. What a miracle that there wasn’t more bloodshed.
    Looking forward to more great discussion in South Africa.

  5. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I remember watching the wall come down, Geoff. I sat on the floor, watching it on TV, sobbing. The world was changing and there was so much hope. It seemed that we were finally headed toward a new, more peaceful day. I guess we were, but peace certainly hasn’t prevailed, has it?
    You said, “Forgiveness is never about letting people off the hook, or minimizing what they have done. The TRC was vital in achieving this – speaking truth and bringing reconciliation to a divided nation.” This is truly the crux of the matter, isn’t it? When we say “Well, I wasn’t even alive when that happened,” or “I didn’t build the system,” we minimize the damage. In my MDIV class on Reconciliation, we watched footage of the TRC hearings and it was brutal, but there was something about the truth being spoken out loud and forgiveness being voiced in return. Would that we could learn that lesson. Thanks for pointing it out.

  6. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Geoff great post! It is so true that as leaders we need to face the truth and deal with the hard issues in order to create opportunities for reconciliation to take place. It is not easy but it is necessary.

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