34 years ago today, the president of the apartheid state, P.W Botha, offered political prisoner and ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, release from Robben Island on the conditions that he abandon the use of violence in the struggle. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for political activity and his involvement in the African National Congress, which was banned at the time.
Mandela was sentenced to prison at the end of the well-documented and highly publicised 1964 Rivonia trial, along with other prominent anti-apartheid leaders. Mandela had served 21 years in prison at the time of the offer.
Refusing to sell his people out and abandon the struggle, Mandela valiantly refused the offer. Mandela understood that violence was a necessary evil to counter the violence done upon black people by the apartheid system.
Mandela’s daughter, Zinzi, communicated her father’s decision. At a political rally in Soweto,she read a statement that her father wrote. In the statement, Mandela laments that sadly, violence is the only effective option left, as it is the only language the oppressors understood, hence the offer of conditional release.
Mandela reaffirmed in his statement, that the ANC’s use of violence was only as a form of protest, and not a malevolent means of enacting revenge of a violent attempt to usurp the existing government.
The leader had been offered conditional release previously, with the condition being that he remain within the boundaries of the Transkei. The Transkei was an region demarcated by the colonisers to contain the bantu people, in an attempt at enforcing indirect rule in the country (divide and conquer).
Similar offers were made to other political prisoners, and 18 accepted the offer, writes SA History. Four PAC members took the offer, along with Dennis Goldberg, the only white imprisoned by the Rivonia Trial.
Instead of accepting a conditional release, Mandela raised the stakes for Botha and his government. He demanded that the ANC be unbanned. The apartheid government agreed to negotiate the unbanning of the ANC, if the organisation abandoned its violent oppositionary stance.
Non-violent negotiations are argued to have led to South Africa’s insertion into a problematic neoliberal regime, exposing a newly independent country to manipulation and exploitation by international and national forces. Nationally, the white government were enabled to continue protecting the financial interests of their people, and the racist internal structures of major institutions,such as education, military and police could remain in place.
Internationally, institutions such as the International Monetary Fund could impose unnecessary structural adjustment programs, claiming to advance the country’s economy, but instead furthering inequality and subordination on a global scale.
The negotiations also affected environmentalism in the country, as the economic pressures that came with being welcomed into international markets, required the pillaging of the country’s natural resources, such as mining operations.
On the other hand, however, non-violent negotiations saved the lives of many heroes involved in the struggle as well as many innocent lives.