De Klerk’s passing is a moment for humanity to reaffirm mutual respect

I will never forget how moving it was to watch the broadcast of President FW de Klerk’s speech at the opening of Parliament in February 1990, in which he announced the dismantling of apartheid laws, the release of Nelson Mandela and the opening of formal negotiations. which led to the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994.

I clearly remember the deep sense of hope that filled the country, when De Klerk found the courage to repudiate the racist policies that he himself had supported throughout his career as a high-ranking politician in the National Party that created and perpetuated apartheid. He had to find the determination to crush the idols of racism that he and his party had adored for decades.

Together with his partner, and later fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela, he defied the odds to give birth to a vibrant constitutional democracy through peaceful negotiations against all predictions of a racial civil war.

Mandela and de Klerk taught us that if both sides really want peace, it can be achieved through mutual respect and negotiations in good faith. They led their followers to make the painful compromises that were desperately needed to forge the new South Africa, a diverse nation with a shared vision based on equality, dignity and freedom for all.

Nelson Mandela speaks to the crowd at London 370 (credit: REUTERS)

As Mandela said on De Klerk’s 70th birthday: “If we two old men, or older men, have any lesson for our country and for the world, it is that solutions to conflicts can only be found if adversaries are fundamentally prepared. to accept the integrity of each other. “

De Klerk’s passing is an appropriate time to reflect on the power of mutual respect and commitment to peaceful negotiations to resolve any conflict, however bitter, and to rededicate ourselves to the mission expressed in Pirkei Avot, of “loving peace, seek peace and love all people. “

It is also a time to reflect on the evil apartheid system and reaffirm the equal dignity of all human beings. The divine teachings of our Torah have guided us for thousands of years to understand the evil of racism long before it was so widely accepted. From the beginning, we learn that all humanity descends from Adam and Eve. The Mishna boldly declares that it is for the very purpose of eradicating racism and attitudes of racial superiority that God created all human beings from a common father and mother, to emphasize that we are all brothers and sisters.

But it goes beyond biology and heredity. The Torah says that we were created in the image of God, that our souls are somehow a reflection of the Divine. This is captured in Pirkei Avot, which says: “Beloved is the human being created in the image of God”; in other words, the essence of every human being is a godly soul.

The end of apartheid is a crucial chapter in the history of humanity’s embrace of these sacred values. Let us seize this moment of De Klerk’s passing to re-commit ourselves to these values, which we can never take for granted and which are often under attack in different parts of the world. May this be a time for all of humanity to come together as brothers and sisters to reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to mutual respect and dignity for all, and to fight for peace for all of humanity.

The writer is the chief rabbi of South Africa.

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