Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: Playing The Enemy

Playing The Enemy, tracks South Africa's history from Mandela going to prison, through his release, election and finally the pivotal 1995 Rugby World Cup game. The thesis of the book is simple: the world cup experience helped to unite South Africa, which was more or less on the brink of civil war.

I found myself being blown away by pretty much every aspect of the story. I suppose I could grasp the concept of Apartheid - nations have a nasty way of discriminating against their native populations . But, to think this could be going on just a few years ago? More amazing than the existence of Apartheid, was the way it unraveled. It seems like it should have gone down in blood and flames. Instead, the top players in the government worked with their political prisoners to find a peaceful solution. Wow.

And then there's Mandela - he comes off as the master strategist that manages to pull it all off. His primary weapon: respect for the other side. At every opportunity, he demonstrates respect to blacks and whites -- forgiving those by all measure who don't deserve it.

I can imagine people calling him weak for working with the "enemy" -- but he kept his eye on the big picture, and the strategy worked.

How could I have been so ignorant of all these events? They effectively happened in my adult lifetime.

All in all, the book is excellent and the broad interviews involved give it a comprehensive feel. My only criticism is that it comes off too much as a fairy tale -- but perhaps it really was that sweet?

In the introduction of the book, the author makes mention that one small of the text is to serve as a kind of self-help book. And in a very real way, I think he manages to do this. He shows that what appears to be an impossible conflict can, in fact, be resolved. It takes respect, forgiveness and a willingness to look towards the future.

Even if the book isn't perfect, it's a must read -- the history and lessons are too valuable to be lost. I give it a 9/10 for being comprehensive and eye-opening.

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