Archive for the apartheid Category

Lessons in History for Gadhafi and Other Dictators…

Posted in apartheid, Gadhafi, mandela, Politics on March 25, 2011 by Olivia A. Harris

I recently noticed that every decade a significant political event occurs that I previously thought would never happen in my lifetime.  Perhaps, the event might happen in my children’s or grandchildren’s time (assuming I ever have a child), but certainly not mine.  I am sure that I am not alone in this observation.

The first of such events was the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.  I remember watching the news on television with my mother and not knowing how to process what I was seeing: there were people actually standing on the Wall waving the German Flag.  Their bodies were not slumped over the Wall injured or lifeless from bullet wounds as would have been expected since the rise of that seemingly impervious structure in August 1961.  Many Germans had died trying to cross from East to West.  Now people were freely jumping from one side to the other, almost taunting the border guards who watched them. 

My mother was shocked by this event in Germany.  She had grown up in England, just outside of London.  She remembers being taught history of England’s experiences in both World Wars by men and women who either they or their parents had lived through them.  Their closeness to this history, by experience and geography made them natural experts on the subject of the War and particularly the division of Germany.  So when it came to the durability of the Berlin Wall, my mother had no reason to believe that she would ever live to see its collapse.  Neither did I.    

A year later, Nelson Mandela would be released from his life sentence at South Africa’s infamous Robben Island prison on February 11, 1990.  When he entered that prison 27 years earlier as a man in his mid-40s I’m sure he had no reason to believe he would ever be freed.   But, he was.  And his world was a very different place to what it was when he was taken to prison.

South Africa had officially abandoned its regime of Apartheid (I emphasis ‘officially’ because you cannot legislate what is held in the hearts and minds of men); Mandela was now an international symbol of peace (he’d previously been branded a terrorist by the Apartheid regime) and he was also grandfather.  I am sure that then Prime Minister P.W. Botha was more surprised than anyone that his mark in South Africa’s history will be as the man who released Nelson Mandela.  Like many, Botha probably expected Robben Island was meant to be Mandela’s living tomb.  But, like the Biblical story of Lazarus, Nelson Mandela did walk out of his tomb.

Later on it did strike me that I wasn’t supposed to see Mandela’s release. I also remember thinking I wasn’t supposed to see the fall of the Berlin Wall either.  As a teenager at the time, these two events made me start to question all the things I believed to be true.  What else was possible that I had previously dismissed as impossible?

A few years later I got the answer to my question during a history lecture while attending the University of Toronto.  It was end of term and we had completed our final section on the French Revolution.  The professor (I can’t remember his name) quietly made this statement: “Until men come to terms with the French Revolution, revolt of the masses will continue to happen.”  His lesson was simple: every oppressed group will eventually reach its breaking point.  Once at this point the group will feel that there is absolutely everything to lose if they fail to overthrow their oppressor.   If you have been robbed of your freedom, dignity, history and things as basic as food and housing, what else can be taken from you?    

Oppression can not last indefinitely.    I pray that Moammar Gadhafi and others like him come to terms with this lesson.

– Mantha