Professors discuss Mandela’s legacy on South African politics

The International Relations (IR) Program’s Director’s Leadership Council continued its crash course lecture series last night, with a commemorative event entitled, “Nelson Mandela’s Legacy and the Future of South African Politics.” Associate Professor of Political Science Pearl Robinson and Associate Professor of History Jeanne Penvenne spoke at the event, moderated by Director of Africana Studies H. Adlai Murdoch.

“The series has been around for at least four years,” Leadership Council member Anna Troein, a senior, said. “It’s a chance for IR students to learn something which they want to learn about but may know nothing about.”

In his introduction, Murdoch spoke about how extraordinary it was that Mandela, an international world peace icon, spent 27 years in prison.

“It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive that,” Murdoch said. “Many of us did not expect to ever see Nelson Mandela walk out of jail — we thought he would die in prison. All three of us were watching it live as Nelson Mandela walked out of jail.”

Penvenne explained that Mandela’s freedom was a widely celebrated event.

“I wept with the news that Nelson Mandela was going to jail and I wept at the sight of him walking out,” she said. “I was one of 250,000 people there on the Boston Commons, watching him walk out.”

Penvenne outlined Mandela’s emergence in the greater history of South Africa. She spoke about the history of the African National Congress, the political party whose military wing, the Spear of the Nation, was formed in response to the Sharpeville 1960 massacre in which the South African police killed 69 protestors. Mandela was one of numerous South African activists who was imprisoned or exiled for his role in militant groups like this one.

“So much injustice was going on,” she said. “People who said, ‘This is not right, we will pursue our rights’ – they met jail, they met exile and they met banishment.”

The struggle Mandela and his peers led against South African apartheid was extremely important, according to Penvenne. She said she hopes their deeds will be remembered after Mandela’s death.

“If we reflect on his life and his words, his human dignity and his ethical posture, we’ll all do very well indeed,” she said.

Robinson spoke of her experiences as a young demonstrator during South Africa’s apartheid. She attended rallies on the Boston Commons and traveled with her family and fellow activists to attend national demonstrations.

“What was going on in South Africa was a global travesty, and everyone in the world should understand the ways in which they might be implicated,” she said.

Robinson said that Mandela’s life has been widely celebrated. She said she hopes this memory will not decline as his death becomes increasingly distant.

“As a leader who believed in political and social equality, he saved South Africa from a bloodbath,” she said. “He’s a symbol of [a nation] having significant social transition, especially in terms of racial equality, without having this bloodbath.”

Mandela deserves to be remembered because of his ability to unite people and for the cause he represented during his lifetime, Robinson said.

“I see Nelson Mandela as the face of numerous Africans, famous and not so famous, ordinary as well as extraordinary, who spend their lives in big ways working for peace,” she said. “Having a person like Nelson Mandela, who was both an icon but also quite humble, a man who was prepared to sacrifice his own life as well as his family’s … reminds us that we don’t want to always study conflict. We want to study the peacemakers. How many of them might be looking for partners in solidarity? … As we learned from Nelson Mandela, sometimes you have to be a terrorist in order to be a peacemaker.”


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