Tuesday, November 10, 2009


"Endgame", I have discovered, is a popular title that covers everything from science fiction video games to the movie I recorded on PBS and watched yesterday--the one that tells the story of the last days of apartheid in South Africa. It's part historical docudrama and part political thriller--and both parts are excellent. I learned a lot about the personal risks men took to join the secret talks that led to the end of that dreadful era in African history. Nelson Mandela--imprisoned and isolated, of course, in the time that these events unfolded--is central to the story as a symbol, but peripheral to the real action. The main players were Professor Willie Esterhuyse (superbly played by William Hurt), Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Michael Young (Clarke Peters), the go-between who got the whole ball rolling--these two characters no less superbly played. (Knowing more about the vital role he played in ending apartheid, I was surprised and saddened to recall Mbeki's later denial, as President of South Africa, of the scientific facts about AIDS--a stubborn and astounding assertion of ignorance that proved so tragically costly to so many lives.)

What I'm interested in this morning is not so much a movie review--it was excellent, engrossing, moving, written and directed with extraordinary attention to detail. I'm actually more interested in the model the story offered for the resolution of conflict. If two sides as bitterly separated as the National Party government of apartheid South Africa(NP) and the African National Congress (ANC) could end a system so deeply rooted in the national consciousness, anything is possible. I learned that the model was the inspiration for the truce between the Irish Republican Army and the British Government and other, subsequent conflicts between intransigent enemies; and that it is serving again in the form of (assuredly secret) talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

The key, as manifested in "Endgame", is the prompting of an infinitely patient third party, and the slow development of a relationship of growing trust between two men--in this instance, Mbeki and Esterhuyse. There were others, surely, working in the wings to make this possible, but the fate of a nation turned eventually on the shaking of two hands, one black, one white, after countless round-table meetings that seemed at first to offer no hope of reconciliation between two sides so radically far apart.

It comes down to this: men (and now, of course, finally, increasingly, women,) sitting across the table from each other, can come to terms. There is a common interest in accommodation. There are lives to be spared, mutual advantages to be gained in cooperation. There is usually nothing to be gained in the persistence of enmity and conflict. It's a matter of eroding away the mutual suspicion and mistrust, and replacing them, through hours and days and months and years, if necessary, with the kind of trust that permits the opening of dialog and eventually agreement.

I am not naive enough to believe that the heritage of centuries of racism and injustice were dispelled by a single handshake. But the event opened the door that needed to be opened, and cleared the way for such progress as has been made in the years that followed. "Endgame" inspired the hope that we can learn to live together in an increasingly small world, if we can all learn to take responsibility for who we are and be uncompromisingly accountable for our actions. The resolution required that each man look deeply into the shadow of his own reactive patterns--Esterhuyse to recognize the racism rooted in his own South African soul, Mbeki to acknowledge his reverse hatred and the urge to violence it inspired--each man embodying the side he represented.

If I refuse to recognize who I am and the shadows I project on those I disagree with, I will never be able to see clearly who they are, and the shadows they project on me. Connection happens when those barriers between men fall, and connection is the path theat leads toward mutual tolerance and perhaps, eventually, agreement.

No comments: