[VIEWPOINT]The power of reconciliation

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[VIEWPOINT]The power of reconciliation

The Republic of South Africa is a country where black people labored for the benefit of white people for 350 years, and where only whites enjoyed the profit of that labor. Racial segregation, discrimination, massacres, poverty, vested rights, extreme social and economic polarization were rampant when Nelson Mandela picked up a gun against racial discrimination. He threw himself into the war of resistance as a guerrilla. Africa was his own land. His rage was rightful and just. Yet he was imprisoned on an isolated island for 27 years.
Jesus Christ said we must love our enemies, but it isn’t that easy. When Mr. Mandela was freed from prison and became president, however, he offered a hand of reconciliation to the whites who ruled the land. Thus he overcame the wall of racial separation, the divide between those who ruled and those who were ruled, and vested interests that had never been overcome before, and implemented a politics of co-existence that mankind had never before realized. If he had held a sword to whites or pointed a gun at them, the country would have turned into a killing field. But Mr. Mandela turned the country into a place where all races live in harmony. Some people called him a Messiah, and others called him a saint. The Nobel peace prize that he won is small compared to the great work he did for mankind.
A strong man in ancient times, Samson, got his strength from his hair. They also say Cleopatra got her power from her nose. But Mr. Mandela was only a son of a minority tribe’s chief. Where did the old man, who is tired from spending dozens of years in prison, get the power to light the ray of hope for the future of mankind? Where did he get the power to move the entire human race?
The answer is common sense and ethics. Mr. Mandela knew that the judgment and decision of a leader can save or kill a people. Standing at a cross-roads that could lead to a bloody civil war or to a land of peace, he chose forgiveness and reconciliation. He didn’t dream of a policy of revenge or the politics of division. In contrast, he was strict with himself. It may have been cold-hearted, but he even abandoned his wife when she was found to be involved in a scandal. He boldly got rid of acquaintances that gave in to corruption. The only consideration he gave to his fellow inmates from prison was to invite them to his inauguration. However, he was endlessly generous to the people. He had implemented the politics of grand harmony. Politics became stable. Thus the Republic of South Africa became the wealthiest country in Africa, accounting for more than half of the entire African economy. That is how important the opinions and choices of a leader are.
The “Committee to Settle Past History for Truth and Reconciliation” that Roh Moo-hyun administration established this month is a replica of the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” of Mr. Mandela, with the insertion of past history. The historical view of the chair of the commission, Father Peter Song Gi-in, is the same with that of President Roh: It sees South Korea as a country that has been ruled by those with vested interests and those with higher educational backgrounds. Because the president has appointed his own people to the committee, however, it is difficult for it to avoid criticism. From the outset, the fairness and ethics of the committee have been under suspicion. Why is it that there is not a single person with a smattering of ethics who refuses the appointment, saying, “The whole world knows that I am close to the president. No matter however fairly I behave, who will have faith in that fairness?”
Who was the chair of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission? It was the Nobel Peace Prize-winner of 1984, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He fought against the rule of white people, but at the same time was against the rule of black people. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa focused on reconciliation, but it seems that our commission is focusing on dealing only with history. If that is the case, things will not be easy. If more focus is put on clearing things up and reconciliation is distanced, we will only be closer to division and confrontation. Opinion polls showed the same results, but we really need to be cautious about traveling back to a place that the people do not want to go.
The Republic of South Africa is a country that is quite deeply linked to our country. It even participated in the Korean War. I believe it was also not a coincidence that the conductor of the opera about Nelson Mandela’s life, which was staged for the first time in New York in 2000, was a Korean woman. And even more meaningful is the fact that the present South African ambassador to Korea, Stefanus J. Schoeman, was once a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Since we have already borrowed the name of the commission from South Africa, wouldn’t it be right for our commission’s members to go there and meet Mr. Mandela first before they lay their ruthless hands on history? They should take President Roh with them.

* The writer is a professor of mass communications at Kangwon National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.

by Lee Kwan-youl
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