I HAVE just seen the new movie "Mandela," and I am so full of impressions that I cannot abstain from writing them down.
It is a very good film, with very good actors. But that's not the main point. It is a very accurate film, depicting what actually happened in South Africa, and one cannot help thinking about it again and again.
What do I think?
IF ONE had asked any South African, black or white, some 35 years ago how the conflict would end, the answer would most probably have been: "It will not end. There is no solution." That is exactly the answer one receives today In Israel and Palestine.
There could be no solution. The vast majority of black South Africans wanted freedom and black rule. The great majority of the Whites, both Boer and British, knew that once the Africans assumed power, the Whites would be slaughtered or driven out. No side could possibly back down.
Yet the incredible, the unimaginable, happened. The blacks won. A black president assumed power. The Whites were neither slaughtered nor evicted. Some say that they are today in many ways more powerful than the Blacks.
We have got used to this so thoroughly that we are not conscious anymore what a miracle it is.
When Algeria was freed, after a long and brutal war of liberation, more than a million "colons" fled for their lives. The huge exodus was not imposed. President Charles de Gaulle just let it be known that the French army would leave at a certain date, and all the colons fled helter skelter. An immense number of local collaboraters were butchered.
That is the normal course of events when colonial rule comes to an end after a long period of brutal oppression. As Friedrich Schiller wrote at the beginning of the colonial era: "Fear the slave who breaks his chains!"
ARE THE South African Blacks a different kind of people? More humane? More gentle? Less vengeful?
Not at all.
As the film clearly shows, they were thirsting for revenge. They had suffered unspeakable indignities for many decades. Not abstract ones. They had suffered daily humiliations in the street, in the parks, at the railway stations, everywhere. They had not been allowed to forget for a moment that they were black and inferior, indeed subhuman. Many had spent time in inhuman prisons.
So it was natural that on the day of liberation they would fall upon their torturers, burn, kill, destroy. Mandela's own wife, Winnie, led the demand for revenge. She incited the masses.
And only one human being stood between an orgy of blood and the orderly transfer of power.
The movie shows how Nelson Mandela, completely alone, threw himself against the rising wave. At the decisive moment, when everything hung in the balance, when history held its breath, he addressed the masses on TV, telling them bluntly: "If I am your leader, you will follow my course! Otherwise, look for another leader!"
His approach was rational. Violence would tear the country apart, perhaps beyond redemption, as had happened in some other African countries. The Blacks would live in fear, as the Whites had lived all through the apartheid era.
And, incredibly, the people followed him.