Friday, 20 November 2009

Seventh tutorial

Jane asked me last week if I would give at the next tutorial a report on the conference on History, Mystery and Myth at the University of East Anglia which I attended on Saturday. I based this on the bullet points in my post of 16 November.

Each participant on our course is required to give a twenty minute presentation sometime during the term on an aspect of autobiography related to tutorial topics, and it was my turn on this occasion, talking on political autobiography as written by presidents of South Africa at the ending of Apartheid. I took as the title of my presentation How the protagonists of the dismantling of apartheid regarded each other.

When I first had the idea for this I reckoned that it would be interesting to chart the remarks made by Nelson Mandela about F W de Clerk in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom and by de Clerk about Mandela in his Last Trek: New Beginnings. In reality it emerged that the views of each of them were remarkably similar and followed the same trajectory of change, starting with cautious respect towards their opponent and ending with scarcely-veiled hostility, each failing to properly understand the difficulties his opponent had in keeping their allies and extremist supporters involved in the tortuous negotiations that finally resulted in the ending of apartheid.

I therefore felt that this bare narrative would not support a presentation, let alone a possible 3,000-5,000 word term paper, and so I felt that it would be useful to preface it with a brief description of how the system of apartheid came into being. How naïve can you get! As soon as you start looking at the system's origins you are plunged into the whole history of South Africa, with its ongoing clashes between the various tribes, black and white, which inhabit the region, and in particular the development of the Afrikaners' view on race. This is an immense topic. I gazed into the bottomless abyss and recoiled.

What I gave therefore was a superficial sketch of what happened between 1654, when the Dutch first settled in the Cape, and 1948, when the Afrikaner National Party won power and started the imposition of apartheid; then I briefly touched on the growing resistance to the system, and Mandela's part in that; then upon how negotiations about ending the system were finally started and eventually concluded; and finally, as an epilogue, a description of de Clerk's 70th birthday party in 2006 at which Mandela graciously acknowledged his old opponent. We should not let our reverence for Mandela blind us to what de Clerk did. They both equally deserved the Nobel Peace Prize: they are both great men.

Since two out of four of my fellow students are from South Africa, you may well imagine that there was much illuminating discussion. There was scarcely time therefore for considering the ostensible topic for the week, Liberated Women: this will therefore be carried over to next week.

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