Shortly after the Passing of anti-apartheid icon and former President of South Africa, President Obama said in a statement, “I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.” We thought of some ways that the First African-American President of the United States could do to learn from the First Black President of South Africa he says he admired.
While the President credits Mandela with his own political transformation, we think Obama can take Mandela’s approach to dealing with his political enemies into practice.
When Mandela was released from jail after some 27 years of his life in prison, but rather than holding a grudge and attacking his political enemies, he attempted to enter a dialogue with the very people who imprisoned him.
Obama said that his very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings”, “And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.”
If Obama’s statement is true, we believe that the President would lead by Mandela’s example.
While in prison, Mandela insisted on learning ‘Afrikaans’ the language of white minority that treated those of color with disdain. Most people of color in South Africa refused to learn the language of their oppressors in protest of apartheid. Not Mandela who thought of learning the language and political position of his oppressors would be a tool that could be used to communicate change.
“He argued it was all a question of knowing your enemy,” said Cooper. “His position was that you had to know their language, their passions, their hopes and their fears if you were ever going to defeat them.”
Throughout years of debate in the cells, the two remained at odds politically, but Cooper said this never clouded their discussions.
“You could sense the resistance but he would listen anyway. He was a very good listener and would try to insinuate his viewpoint through a carefully considered question of clarification or positing another position. But he listened; he may not have liked what he was hearing, but listened nevertheless.”
Understanding ones enemy appears to be the foundation of Mandela’s strategy that would facilitate bringing both the Afrikaner and the African to the table.
Mandela embraced something as simple as the Springboks the national Rugby team to developed unity and compounded strength between the races.
Mandela always kept a cordial relationship with his opposition, even while imprisoned.
“We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life.”
In Afrikaans apartheid means ‘separateness’ so Mandela decided that the best strategy was to bring together his opponents by using issues that are important to all sides.
In 1993 Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”
In short, Nelson Mandela fundamentally transformed the Republic of South Africa.
In conclusion, we think that if President Obama is a true student of the late Nelson Mandela, he would approach his desire to change America for the better based on Mandela strategies to bring his opposition together, treat them cordially and embrace some of the positions that are important to his opposition.
But Obama’s opponents should learn from Mandela as well. American politics would do well to consider the man Nelson Mandela and his approach to opposition.
Will President Obama (and other politicians) hear his voice? We are waiting.