Turning memories into plowshares
In 1993 the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize winners caused quite a stir. No one was surprised to see that Nelson Mandela, who had recently emerged from 26 years of imprisonment at Robben Island in South Africa, was named. The surprise regarded the man selected to share the award — F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era president of South Africa, the man who headed the government that had imprisoned Mandela. Shocking!
Similarly, some eyebrows were raised when it was announced that de Klerk would be the keynote speaker at the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg College in March. On the one hand, defenders say, he “engineered the end of apartheid in South Africa,” as he was president from 1989 to 1994, when Mandela was popularly elected president.
On the other hand, detractors maintain, while serving as president, de Klerk knew about and participated in structural efforts to oppress the majority Black African population. Can he make a claim to being a transformational leader who brought about a multi-racial democracy if he only worked toward that goal when an organized internal population and a worldwide response led to an isolation of his country, including some significant boycott efforts?
De Klerk explained, during a lengthy question-and-an-answer session, that he was always attempting to make fundamental changes in the country, including an attempt to turn South Africa into a European-style coalition of independent nation-states.
“I have never heard that notion before today,” the Rev. Terrance Jacob, a native South African and now an ELCA pastor in the Twin Cities, told workshop participants. “Have any of you?,” he asked his co-panelists, all South African natives now living here. None had ever heard that.
F.W. de Klerk was the last apartheid-era president of South Africa.
“There was a policy of forcing people onto ‘homelands’ or Bantustans, but that’s the closest thing I can think of,” Jacob recounted. White South Africans were concerned about the inevitable-incoming government and so proposed separate governments and land for each language group, in exchange for “let[ting] us govern ourselves [so] we have self-determination as Afrikaaners.
The panel appeared unanimous in its suspicious about many facts in de Klerk’s presentation.
How to build a just future out of a corrupt past
Naomi Tutu remembers the day when the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize was announced. “My first reaction was ‘What?’ So I right away called my father [Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu], and he explained, ‘We need to do it this way for white South Africans to move forward.’”
“But what is that future?” Tutu asks. The lingering effects of apartheid continue, “and black South Africans are being killed today,” she added, pointing out that the struggle has continued even with effort to include white South Africans.
Jacob said he had come to terms with the transition as it has taken place. “I have come to repentance, but I don’t expect any reparations for the months lost while I was in confinement [as a political prisoner].”
Panelist Marie Ström’s life was forever changed, she maintained, by her involvement in a youth movement within the church. Each day she was inspired by the multi-racial movement that was building, sometimes breaking down pre-conceptions of people who were more afraid.
“I absolutely expected Nelson Mandela to win [the presidential election in 1993],” Ström offered. “But it was a complete surprise that [de Klerk] shared the [Nobel] award.” She concluded, “It was a very political award, the Nobel Peace Prize always must be.”
Tags: Afrikaaners, Augsburg College, Bantustans, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Desmond Tutu, ELCA, F.W. de Klerk, homelands, Marie Ström, multi-racial, Naomi Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize, Nobel Peace Prize Forum, Rev. Terrance Jacob, Robben Island, South Africa, Terrance Jacob