The Example of South Africa

Nowhere has the shift in the underlying logic of human been more dramatically illustrated than in the case of South Africa. In early 1995, I heard Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk, separately, describe the journey each had taken from war to peace. De Klerk spoke about how he had come to realize, that politically and militarily, the white minority could not hold on to power in the face of strong black resistance armed with the fruits of the Knowledge Revolution: ideas of equality, modern means of communication, weapons, and international support. South Africa’s economy was suffering from international trade and financial sanctions. Only by reaching a peace accord could the white minority hope to retain its quality of life and the Afrikaner tribe protect its identity.

Mandela talked about seeing the country descending into civil strife and economic ruin. While he was confident that the black majority would prevail in the long term, he wondered what kind of country would be left in the end for the blacks to inherit. Only by prospering in the new global economy could they put an end to their poverty and deprivation—and that prosperity could be achieved only by cooperating with the white minority with their technical skills and business experience. The vision of the African National Congress, moreover, had always been a democratic multiracial society. With every passing year of ethnic violence, that vision was fading out of reach.

Both leaders, in other words, realized that the conflict was stalemated. Continuing the violence would spell defeat for everyone.

Only through negotiation could both sides hope to meet their needs. If both sides could lose through a spiral of violence, then perhaps both sides could win through a spiral of dialogue. As Mandela put it, “I never sought to undermine Mr. de Klerk, for the practical reason that the weaker he was, the weaker the negotiations process. To make peace with an enemy one must work with that enemy, and the enemy must become one’s partner.”

To test this theory, de Klerk and other white leaders met with Mandela while he was still in prison, and came away feeling personal respect for the man. Each side came to realize that the people on the other side were not the monsters they had imagined. Gradually, dur ing the course of the negotiations, as Roelf Meyer, the chief negotiator for the white Nationalist government, explained to me, both sides came to believe in the possibility of a new alternative, neither a white victory nor a black victory nor even a split-the-difference compromise. The new alternative they envisioned was a victory for both sides-a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous South Africa that could compete in the new global economy. Through a process of laborious and continuous conflict resolution, war gradually turned to peace. This peace was not harmony but an ongoing, often conflictual of seeking to address the basic needs of people for adaequate food and shelter, safety, identity and freedom.

For the problems facing South Africa remained enormous. Poverty, malnutrition, and illiteracy were widespread. The economic inequalities were perhaps greater than in any other nation on earth. Crime was rising. Violence Zulus and other tribes continued. Immigrants from other parts of Africa poured in by the millions. Meeting these challenges depended on harnessing the full potential of the Knowledge revolution.

None of these problems, however, could detract from the extraordinary political transformation that had taken place. Thanks to the wisdom of the leadership in realizing that neither side could win without the other, what had seemed impossible proved not to be.

Irreconcilable confrontation gave way to peaceful cooperation.