Madiba: From Accused Terrorist to Master of Reconciliation

Today, December 8, 2013, in South Africa, is a day of prayer to continue the celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela, first black President of that nation. It is remarkable that I am able to make such a statement in light of the fact that Nelson Mandela was accused by South Africa of being a terrorist. He was charged with criminal acts and sentenced to life in prison on an island in the South Atlantic NW of Cape Town. After serving 27 years Mandela was released by order of the South African President F.W. de Klerk. “It was an honour to work with former president Nelson Mandela in bringing democracy to South Africa,” said de Klerk following Mandela’s death a few days ago.

That is certainly Mandela’s largest legacy, though some would agree the work needs to continue.

The title of this post suggests that Mandela was an accused Terrorist. Webster’s defines a terrorist as “a person who practices or favors terrorism. ” That seems to me to be a rather broad definition. But, it is true Mandela was regarded as a terrorist by more than the South African Government. The US government maintained his name on its Terror Watch List for many decades. Not until 2008 on the occasion of his 90th birthday was his name finally removed from the watch list.

Prior to that incident and following particularly from his release from prison, Mandela devoted his life to the concept of reconciliation. It’s my observation that he succeeded in that goal. His single term as President of South Africa saw the end of apartheid based on actions begun by his predecessor F.W. de Klerk. Relations with de Klerk during Mandela’s presidency were often strained, despite the fact they shared a Nobel prize for Peace.

Mandela’s efforts at creating reconciliation was much criticized, by both blacks and whites in South Africa. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was to investigate crimes committed under apartheid by both the South African government and the ANC. Bishop Desmond Tutu was the appointed chair. The commission went out of its way to avoid making martyrs of people found to have committed crimes during the years of Apartheid. Individual amnesties were granted in exchange for testimony about crimes committed.

These and other acts leading to forgiveness mark what I consider Mandela’s true legacy. To be able to forgive after being consigned to prison for life, serving 27 years and then released is a significant attitude by most measures, especially that of respect. Mandela is said to have remarked about his 27 years of incarceration that the time allowed him to become a mature adult. The root of reconciliation is reconcile. Websters defines this as “to make friendly again or win over to a friendly attitude.” I suggest Mandela was largely successful with this goal. That is why he should go down in history as a powerful leader of his time.

The question of his being or not being a terrorist remains unanswered in my mind. There was a period of his life where he seems to have actively supported terrorist activities by MK, the organization he founded. In 1964 Mandela was found guilty of four charges of sabotage. There is perhaps no doubt possible that sabotage can be included as acts of terrorism.

In a long term view I believe it is more important to understand Mandela from his actions following his release. He could have sought revenge. Instead he embraced reconciliation and forgiveness. That is the mark of a changed man.

In my novel The Chechen’s Revenge, I write of a man motivated by revenge with no possible thought of reconciliation. Marek Kafirov, is a broken Muslim man, motivated only by a desire to wreak havoc inside Canada, with a plot to explode IED type weapons aboard trains on lines of the Go Train System in the Toronto region. These fictional acts are meant to be seen as truly evil actions. There is no remorse to be seen.

There is a significant difference between such arguably violent acts and the lifetime evolved behavior of Madiba. Nelson Mandela, can be described perhaps as an iron hand inside a velvet glove. He was firm about his desire to establish a climate of forgiveness in his homeland. That is not terrorism. He should always be remembered for his actions for reconciliation.

Good reading friends. Thanks for your support.

Ron Stotyn, PhD

I am a retired college professor and former broadcast journalist. I live in Vermont with my wife. I write near the shores of Lake Champlain. As an author I cast characters in the task of anti-terrorism efforts. The setting for my stories is Canada. My first novel is The Chechen's Revenge, a story of Sean-Guy O'Dwyer-Lariviere and his team of Canadian Anti-terrorism Service agents on the trail of a rebel Chechen, determined to create havoc and death on Toronto's Go Train system. The Chechen's Revenge is now in print and can be ordered online at

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