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EL ESPECTADOR

For Colombia, Mandela's Hard Lessons Of Peace And Reconciliation

What does Mandela's example mean for Colombia as it seeks to end decades of bloody conflict with leftist guerrillas?

What can Colombia learn from Mandela?
What can Colombia learn from Mandela?

-Editorial-

BOGOTA — The world has been unanimous in expressing grief for the loss of the singular human being who was Nelson Mandela. A tireless fighter for racial and social equality and tolerance, the South African icon was immense as a leader and simple as a person — he was, in short, one of those rare historical figures who come along once a century, leaving behind a political legacy as an example to us all.

Yet beyond the cults of personality and pernicious messianic tendencies he detested, Mandela’s exemplary life cannot remain restricted to recalling his 20th century achievements. On the contrary, this is the moment for his teachings to influence societies, where many of the problems he fought in South Africa persist.

And there’s no need to venture far. Let’s start with our own country, especially as we are engated in a peace process that could give us the long-anticipated end to a conflict that has cost far too much blood, pain and tears.

Peace and reconciliation are made with one's enemies, as the saying goes. That happened in South Africa in 1990, where the white minority President P.W. Botha pardoned an arch-enemy who was in prison, serving the life sentence Apartheid judges gave him. That allowed Mandela to win the country’s first free presidential elections in 1994 and start a difficult reconciliation process. It was no easy task with the accumulated hatred and resentment, but he did it.

Memory and contrition

While there is no single formula that can be applied to all domestic conflicts, we would do well to look to South Africa’s experience. As author Ariel Dorfman said, Mandela “understood that reconciliation is possible as long as memory is not betrayed and we demand the other’s contrition.”

That will be essential for Colombia to remember, especially in the post-conflict phase. All parties involved in this process must act with enough magnanimity to understand that, beyond personal interests and petty political calculations, society’s well-being is at stake. We are within reach of peace.

Once he had attained the objectives of freedom and equality for his compatriots, Mandela preferred to return to private life and stay with his family after a lifetime of tumult. If only this example of humility were emulated in Colombia by those who, by contrast, wish to inspire future generations by the sheer force of keeping alive intolerance — not to mention their personal hatreds.

Our homage is best concluded by Mandela’s own words: “Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is therefore why I will sleep for the eternity.”

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