Sunday, March 25, 2007

Desmond Tutu on Nelson Mandela

"Had F.W. de Klerk encountered in jail a man bristling with bitterness and a lust for retribution, it is highly unlikely that he would have gone ahead with announcing his initiatives. Mercifully for us... he found a man regal in dignity, bubbling over with magnanimity and a desire to dedicate himself to the reconciliation of those whom apartheid and injustice and the pain of racism had alienated form one another.

Nelson Mandela emerged from prison not spewing words of hatred and revenge. He amazed us all by his heroic embodiment of reconciliation and forgiveness. No one could have accused him of speaking glibly and facilely about forgiveness and reconciliation. He had been harassed for a long time before his arrest, making impossible a normal family life. By the time of his release on February 11, 1990, he had spent all of twenty-seven years in jail. No one could say that he knew nothing about suffering. A famous picture shows him on Robben Island with Walter Sisulu in the courtyard where they and others - who can be seen behind them in the photograph - sit in a row breaking rocks into small pieces. Such utterly futile drudgery could have destroyed lesser mortals with its pointlessness. And we know that his eyesight was ruined by the glare to which prisoners were later exposed as they labored in the lime quarry.

Everything had been done to break his spirit and make him hate-filled. In all this the system mercifully failed dismally. He emerged a whole person. Humanly speaking, we would be inclined to say that those twenty-seven years were utter shameful waste; just think of all he could have contributed to the good of South Africa and the world. I don't think so. Those twenty-seven years and all the suffering they entailed were the fires of the furnace that tempered his steel, that removed the dross... The true leader must at some point or other convince her or his followers that she or he is in this whole business not for self-aggrandizement but for the sake of others. Nothing is able to prove this quite so convincingly as suffering."

from No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu
(pg. 39)

1 comment:

Elliot said...

Hear, hear!