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Pat Dodson chooses brand Mandela

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Nelson Mandela The struggle for freedom in Zimbabwe took a wrong turn when Robert Mugabe began to confuse the greatness of the nation with perceptions of his own might and immortality.

His strategy was one of vindictiveness: evict white landowners from the farms and replace them with black landowners.

Recently Australia's 'father of Reconciliation' Pat Dodson identified the secret of Nelson Mandela's success in building the nation of South Africa from the ruins of the apartheid regime: love your enemy.

Dodson said: '[Mandela] did achieve his freedom and he's embraced those who had him incarcerated.'

The determination to reconcile, rather than seek revenge, led Mandela to personal greatness. But more importantly, it enabled him to make great contributions to his nation and to the planet.

It's possible that history will pass harsh judgment on the Northern Territory intervention, John Howard's arm's length attempt to fix the health and social problems of indigenous Australians. When indigenous members of his audience famously turned their backs on him, popular perception had it that he never forgave them. That event came to symbolise the antipathy that appeared to exist between Howard and Australia's indigenous leaders, and arguably governed his approach to dealing with indigenous issues.

It would be churlish, and indeed wrong, to compare Howard with Mugabe. But they did share a common disdain for reconciliation. In John Howard's shoes, Nelson Mandela would have forgiven and embraced the audience members who turned their backs on him.

Pat Dodson is working with the Edmund Rice Centre to spearhead a new venture that aims to bring together a diverse group of young Australians to revisit the drafting of Australia's Constitution in 1891. It is called the Brooklyn Project, and focuses on 'Young Australians and the next 100 years'.

The Constitution drafting process comprehensively ignored indigenous Australians. The idea of the Brooklyn Project is to embrace and celebrate this process, rather than deride it.

To this end, a group of 25 young people yesterday sailed the Hawkesbury River, near Brooklyn north of Sydney, in an attempt to recreate the voyage of the Lucinda, the vessel on which Australia's original Constitution was drafted in 1891.

'At a time when Australia is once again looking at Constitutional change, we want to make sure that all groups have a say in the future of our country,' Dodson said.

His optimism is well founded, taking its inspiration from Nelson Mandela, who was held in prison for 27 years, almost the 28 years Zimbabwe has been ruled by Robert Mugabe.

'He probably thought he would never be let out, given the fascism and racism of that government.'

But he was let out.

Project Brooklyn

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. He also teaches in the Media and Communications Department at the University of Sydney.
Flickr image by pantone821




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Existing comments

I recall reports from Rhodesia of the savagery with which ZANU-PF pursued its insurgency. To me, Mugabe seemed an excellent leader of an insurgency: vicious and inhumane, as necessitated by circumstance.

Subsequent reports from Zimbabwe, of the manner in which Mugabe saw off the threat of Joshua Nkomo, showed that, unlike East Timor's Gusmao, Mugabe failed to make the transition to national leader.

John Howard never had the opportunity to lead an armed anti-colonial insurgency. Is it churlish to ponder the trajectory that a subsequent Howard Presidency would have followed?

David Arthur | 07 April 2008  

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