by Patti Waldmeir
W.W. Norton & Company, 1997
This little known account of the political negotiations that led to the formal end of apartheid in South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994 has profound lessons for American politics.
It was truly a miracle. In South Africa, unlike the U.S., blacks comprised a majority, so white Afrikaners were in effect surrendering their power. There was an inevitability, perhaps, to the eventual end of apartheid, but without the miracle of successful negotiations among multiple political parties in existence in South Africa, apartheid’s end might well have been violent. “Talking to the enemy” is a key phrase that applies. This is a concept that is too rarely practiced between Republicans and Democrats in American two-party politics. I believe that the existence of multiple (i.e. more than two) political parties in South Africa was the key.
Critical to the negotiations were Nelson Mandela, recently freed from prison, and South African then-president F.W. de Klerk. Mandela is of course an internationally recognized heroic figure, but Waldmeir is harsh in her treatment of de Klerk – a little too harsh, in my view. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for pulling off this “miracle,” and de Klerk has been involved in humanitarian causes since.
South Africa still struggles today with human rights, economic inequality, and violent crime (so does the United States), but the nation took a giant step forward by negotiating an end to apartheid in 1993. Anatomy of a Miracle is an important historical work.