Source: (2010) The 8th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg, South Africa. 31 July.

It was only after Salvador Allende died in a military coup in 1973, only after I went into exile, when I started to wander this earth like a makwerwere, that the name of Mandela gradually became a primary beacon of hope, a sort of home to me, now that I was homeless. By the seventies, of course, he had already solidified into a symbol of how our spirit cannot be broken by brutality, but his significance to me also grew out of the collusion of the twin twisted governments that misruled our respective people. The apartheid government that imprisoned him and his fellow patriots and denied them and millions of South Africans their basic rights, turned out to be one of the scant allies of the South American dictatorship that banished me and was ravaging my land. Vorster and Botha were the pals of our Generalissimo, Augusto Pinochet – they exchanged medals and ambassadors and pariah state visits, they sent each other admiring gifts, they shared weapons and intelligence and even tear gas canisters. I could continue with many unfortunate and shameful examples, but one intersection of South African terror and Chilean terror should suffice: in 1976, the year of the Soweto massacre, we were suffering a slow massacre of our own, the Chilean junta and Pinochet were making infamous around the world the system of disappearing people, arresting them and then denying their bodies to desperate relatives. Both dictatorships sought to create through violence a world where no rebel would dare to step into visibility, would dare to rise up. So my increasing reverence for Mandela in the seventies and eighties cannot be separated from the fact that his people and my people, the people of South Africa and the people of Chile, were bent on a parallel quest for justice against a brotherhood of enemies who wanted to disappear us from the face of the earth, as if our very memory had never existed. Even so, it was not until Chile regained its democracy in 1990 and Mandela’s release that very same year, it was not until both his country and mine and indeed the world began to wrestle with the dilemmas of how you confront the terrors of the past without becoming a hostage to the hatred engendered by that past, it was not until both South Africa and Chile were forced to ask themselves the same burning questions about remembrance and dialogue in our similar transitions to democracy, it was only then that Madiba became more than a legend to me and, with his wisdom and pragmatic compassion, grew into a guide for contemporary humanity. Because those of us who had struggled against injustice were to learn that it is often more difficult to listen to your enemies and forgive them than it was to suffer their atrocities, learn that it may be morally more complicated to navigate the temptations and nuances of freedom than to keep your head high and your heart beating strong in the midst of an oppression that marks clearly and unambiguously the line between right and wrong.(excerpt)

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