Gaza needs a Mandela


South Africa The Good News / [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The thinking that created the problem is quite incapable of solving it. Albert Einstein

Compulsion is inherent within the human condition, often pushing us to extreme and destructive behaviour that is beyond comprehension. It is stimulated by many things, including the derivatives of harmless aspects of Nature. A poppy is a beautiful flower until turned into opium, grape and grain are nutritional foods until distilled into alcohol. Both then fuel the destructive compulsions of drug or alcohol addiction.

Aggression is also an inherent part of that human condition, and it too has a compulsive element of ‘tit for tat’ revenge when the anger becomes overwhelming. The growing depravity of the violence we are now experiencing in the Middle East is witness to this compulsion at work, something I believe could also have happened in South Africa in the 1990’s.

Here the aggressive behaviour began centuries ago with the trade in human beings as slaves, only to be replaced by an equally toxic apartheid. When democracy finally arrived on this continent the world held its breath at the anticipated bloodbath of revenge that would surely follow from those centuries of abuse.

It is here that we see another aspect of the human condition come into play as demonstrated by Nelson Mandela. In his early life he had become a ‘terrorist’, believing that violent suppression could only be overcome by reciprocal violence, and as we know he was eventually imprisoned for 27 years for his actions.

During this time he spent his days breaking rocks in unbearable heat, returning each night to sleep on a hard floor in a prison cell whose walls he could touch with outstretched arms. Such conditions could easily have added to his anger, but he came to realise that ‘tit for tat’ resolves nothing and escalates resentment.

During his imprisonment he learned the language of his captors and got to understand their ways and their thinking. As his store of wisdom grew so did his compassion and peace of mind. When he was finally released and elevated to a position of high power that wisdom sought to unite, not destroy, through the common purpose of building a new country.

In Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus on the subject, there is a poignant moment when Mandela first enters Government House amidst a white staff emptying their desks and making ready to leave. They had assumed they would be replaced by black counterparts, something Mandela immediately assured them was not the case. Under this same wise direction his bodyguards too were joined by members of the former state secret police who for decades had persecuted them. Now collectively they had to use their skills to work together.

The anticipated bloodbath never happened, not only because of this incredible man’s leadership but the efforts and commitment of all parties to bring about true reconciliation. This alone is proof positive that ordinary people can thrive together with compassionate leadership, despite any differences.

Whilst, sadly, the bloodbath has already begun in Gaza, at its heart is a ‘tit for tat’ mind-set on both sides. Intent upon the final destruction of each other, the perpetrators are oblivious to the carnage and suffering their compulsiveness wreaks upon the innocent.

‘Tit for tat’ demands increasingly intense levels of action as its compulsiveness seeks to overpower the adversary. The killing of innocent citizens in growing numbers and murder of the young, fuelled by an inability to maintain a ceasefire for even minutes, demonstrates the current level of that intensity in Gaza, as aggression chases out morality in an endless downward spiral.

At some point, and I think it will be sooner rather than later, that compulsion will search out the ultimate tool in the armoury of revenge, the nuclear button. Perhaps a small one to start with, to try and repeat the experience of Hiroshima and frighten the enemy into submission. When we arrive here the consequences of ‘tit for tat’ do not bear thinking about.

If we recognise and accept that it is a compulsive mind-set now driving the leadership of the warring factions, and that there is a similar mind-set with their overseas lords and masters, intent upon preserving their hold over this troubled region, we can see that all involved parties are incapable of stepping outside the problem. In part this is because they hold on desperately to goals they have cherished for many decades that even they must now admit are no longer achievable . . . just like apartheid in South Africa.

How therefore can this current thinking be changed to cause a new direction away from the rush to ultimate self-destruction? I believe that the only solution is to be found within a ‘Mandela mind-set’. To draw a line in the sand and declare that what has happened, no matter how atrocious, has happened and cannot be changed. With this acceptance the means can then be found to establish a common purpose to rebuild the region by collectively taking down the old and collectively building the new.

South Africa pointed the way and Gaza offers an opportunity to begin the rebuilding of the Middle East upon the foundations of what has been learned from the global successes and failures of the last decades.

Until the next time

Taken from thinking in his book ‘Global Magna Carta. Returning Power to The 99% . . . If They Want It’ by J T Coombes