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Mandela saved South Africa from bloodbath, says fellow former prisoner

December 9th, 2013
03:36 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

South Africa could have been “reduced to ashes” and suffered “a bloodbath” had it not been for Nelson Mandela’s negotiations with the apartheid government, Mac Maharaj, who was imprisoned with Mandela on Robben Island, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

He was responding to the criticism by some that Mandela gave up too much in the talks that brought down hundreds of years of minority white rule.

“Rwanda would have been child’s play if we had a race war here,” Maharaj said. “And there were times that we were on the brink of that.”

Maharaj would serve in Mandela’s cabinet, and is now spokesman for President Jacob Zuma. When he was released from prison in 1976, Maharaj smuggled out a draft of the manuscript that would become Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

“We had dreamt of an insurrection, and an insurrection movement was possible,” he said. “But it was the leadership of Mandela and the ANC, which said, ‘No,’ keep your eyes trained on the negotiation.”

Maharaj said that despite all the hardship of political imprisonment – including backbreaking work breaking stones – he was grateful for the life he had been given.

“Whenever I go back and I reflect on Robben Island I only think of the good times,” he said. “If we have been defeated I think we’d only see the pain.”

“To me, I had free food, free board and lodge, free exercise, plenty of sunshine, and I’m still alive. … I look back at my life and say, ‘What a privilege.’”

Part of the world’s fascination with Mandela stems from his ability to have come out of 27 years of imprisonment with so little bitterness.

Maharaj said that he believed only 5% of his fellow political prisoners came out bitter.

In prison, he told Amanpour, Mandela taught him how to take on the apartheid enemy.

“Mandela honed himself by understanding the enemy. He taught me in prison, and forced me to study Afrikaans, and read Afrikaans poetry.”

Maharaj said Mandela told him you must understand the enemy in order to defeat it.

“What we learned by looking at the history of the whites, which Mandela epitomized, was that the result of the war between the Afrikaner and the British had left a legacy of hatred. And we wanted to avoid that.”

Twenty years later, and as South Africa grapples with a reality without Mandela, many say that the promises of the Rainbow Nation have not been delivered.

Maharaj, who works for the current government, said much more time will be needed.

“We were conditioned for more than three centuries – every ethnic group – to think only of their own and see the other with hatred and fear,” he said. “We cannot remove that in 19 years.”

“What we achieved so far is more than what any other country in its first 19 years of independence has achieved.”

“And I think that we have got a lot of mistakes, a lot of acts of omission and as of commission. But that’s in the nature of work in progress.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • South Africa
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. ashok

    A galaxy of world leaders from 140 nations, including three US Presidents, will gather to bow before the memory of a great man.

    December 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  2. Yahya Dankofa

    Here is a black man who defied all odds and stood against racism and tyranny. He proved to the world once again that a black man indeed possess the virtues and skills of leadership and diplomacy. What an exemplary icon of Africa and Africans. Adieu Nelson Mandela.

    December 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  3. Sarah Gruarin

    I just want to tell that I am a very big fan of your work! You are a very special person to get the news out. I always wanted to be a reporter, not easy.This is my first time on twitter because I am recovering from colon cancer. Reports came in and I beat the cancer after one year of chemo. Be safe and keep up the great work. Sarah from Long Island.

    December 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  4. munnabhai

    Rarely does the whole world show respect to a man with dark skin. Gandhi and Mandela have force the leaders of the world to bow with humility and reverence toward dark skin. This is a great victory in terms of the thoughts it would install in the young whites. Hope the world comes united for the cause of humanity and no more racial hatred remains.

    December 9, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Reply
  5. samoosapur

    The great giant has fallen.Many world leaders will attend and speak at his funeral,yet many if not all these world have blood on their hands.Bush remember Iraq,Blair you should remember Iraq,Obama when you came into power you said you would close Guantanamo,remember??? how about the drones that kill several innocent people everyday????you made a big stories about Malala yusuf Zaid what about the hundreds of little girls dying of your illegal drone strikes????all you world leaders are a bunch of hypocrites.

    December 10, 2013 at 12:52 am | Reply
  6. Kiorodad

    Where did you get the , quote...".... hundreds of years of minority white rule." Hundreds of years????????? Check your history.

    December 10, 2013 at 1:30 am | Reply
    • @Mbali_M

      Yes. 100s of years under British & Dutch colonial rule before the apartheid regime even came into law.

      December 12, 2013 at 6:54 am | Reply
  7. MyName?

    Rwanda child's play?

    It would have been totally different. The Afrikaners would have absolutely destroyed them in a civil war, because they had the weapons, defence force & most importantly, the discipline. De Klerk gave up too much if you ask me. Unity government was the way to go.

    December 10, 2013 at 1:38 am | Reply
    • GRB13

      Militarily speaking the ANC was 1 of the least effective liberation movements ever they would have been slaughtered by the South African military. Mandela knew this so he knew negotiating was the better way to go. Long term however while the ANC would have been crushed it would have most likely set of a crazy civil war with many different groups which would not have been winnable without massive loss of life and no interference from outside which would not have happened.

      December 10, 2013 at 3:23 am | Reply
  8. RealityCheck

    Yes Mr Mac Maharaj is right, it would of been a blood bath in South Africa. It would of been a blood bath of his own people. Just another political propaganda to make them look even better in front of the public, but in reality they would of been humiliated. And by looking at South Africa's current status, I would not believe one word that comes out of Mac Maharaj's mouth. The ANC government are corrupted, lawless, it has one of the highest murders rates in the world, it has reversed apartheid "which nobody wants to believe", and there are more people BLACK and WHITE living in poverty than in the apartheid era. So please don't believe one word this man tells you.....

    December 10, 2013 at 4:11 am | Reply
  9. Daavi Dzifa

    Madiba you did Africa proud.

    December 10, 2013 at 5:38 am | Reply
  10. Dont

    Ok, if it wasnt for the apartheid this post wont be here cos it wouldnt be necessary. So apartheid started it and people talk of white minority genocide ? Well some guys can really romance history

    December 10, 2013 at 6:24 am | Reply
  11. jimmy lim

    With Mandela gone, SA is heading for chaos n catastrophe. Zuma is absolutely useless in bringing the masses out poverty

    December 10, 2013 at 8:11 am | Reply
  12. David Russell

    Mandela saved SA from a Bloodbath? Complete nonsense. You obviously were not there. I remember a very different version of history. And I was there.

    December 10, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Reply
  13. Hexagon

    All Mandela did is replace a short, sharp conflict (which would have been easily won by the militarily far superior whites) by a steady slide towards oblivion. SA is a white country, and always has been. There was NOTHING, no civilization, before the whites came, and there will be none when they leave. All this sanctimonious Mandela worship in the Western world is a sure sign of cultural and moral decay; of an empire past its prime that has become decadent and weak, and will soon be overrun by barbarian hordes.

    December 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Reply
    • Rudi

      Define civilization!

      Or does it mean -in your terms- roads, schools, buildings, etc.? And build them so that the minority can have full access to them? Schools where you teach superiority of the minority?

      December 10, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  14. dave

    Terrorist who admitted to killing women and children

    December 10, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Reply

    Nelson Mandela was the real Hero and he saved our lifes,so many her soul rest in piece.

    December 11, 2013 at 7:08 am | Reply
  16. poy

    I don’t understand who was going to do the bloodbath? its a ridiculous assumption that somehow Mandela could gone after the White South Africans after becoming president, if anything the White South Africans still had all the fire power and could of wiped out any Black South Africans attempt to do any retaliation.

    December 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Reply

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