Mandela meets the press: Monitor coverage after his prison years

The Monitor’s correspondents in South Africa followed Nelson Mandela closely throughout the 1990s, as he transitioned from world’s most famous political prisoner to president of a new nation to a continent’s elder statesman. Here are some snapshots of their reports from that period. 

3. Avoiding 'vengeful witch hunts': Mandela and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Peter Main/The Christian Science Monitor/FILE
Nelson Mandela visits the Christian Science Church plaza in this 1990 file photo.

When Mandela became the president of South Africa in 1994, one of the most daunting tasks before him was how to deal with those who had carried out apartheid's most heinous crimes. Rather than advocate harsh justice, or retribution and punishment however, he worked towards national reconciliation, establishing a commission to take testimony and grant amnesty to those who confessed to politically-motivated violence. As Monitor reporter Judith Matloff wrote, Mandela sought to "avoid any vengeful witch hunts for the three decades of human rights abuses during apartheid." 

A new body, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is entrusted with excavating the thousands of stories of torture and murder so South Africans can put the past to rest. Those who confess and prove their actions were politically motivated will be given amnesty.

It is a novel approach for a country where political hatreds have been traditionally settled with the gun or machete.

"I personally have forgiven those who ... tried to take my life," [Justice Minister Dullah] Omar says. "The healing process means that we South Africans should come clean ... but be generous."

The Commission would eventually strike close to home for Mandela when his ex-wife, former anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, appeared before the panel to answer questions about her involvement in a string of murders of supposed turncoats within the anti-apartheid movement during the 1980s. In November 1997, the Monitor reported,

This week in Johannesburg, the woman whose fans still call her "the mother of the nation" will have to play to a much tougher hometown crowd. Hundreds of witnesses, victims, and members of the public, together with innumerable hordes of lawyers and reporters, will pack into the long, airless hall of the Johannesburg Institute for Social Services.

There, for the next five days, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission ... will grill Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela over a string of allegations including kidnapping, battery, and involvement in at least 13 murders. About 30 witnesses, including senior members of her own African National Congress (ANC), are expected to implicate the divorced wife of President Nelson Mandela in a wave of killings and assaults carried out by members of the Mandela United Football Club. The club, which served as de facto bodyguards, was a group of youths who lived at her Soweto mansion in the late 1980s.

The commission eventually heard more than 7,000 testimonies before completing its work in July 1998. 

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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