A new book that pays tribute to former president Nelson Mandela was launched in Cape Town on Monday.
Jewish Memories of Mandela was written by David Saks, an associate director of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.
Yesterday Saks said: “I have not yet met with the former South African president who now lives in the Eastern Cape.”
National chairperson of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Zev Krengel, wrote in the preface: “The story Saks tells is really a microcosm of the greater South African saga of transformation and reconciliation where innate human decency triumphs over prejudice, fear and narrow self interest.”
The launch took place under the joint auspices of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, the SA Jewish Museum and the Jacob Gitlin Library.
Prof Norman Levy, who made the introductory remarks at the launch, said: “I could not put it better. There is surely a lesson for every struggling nation that can be learnt from Mandela’s generosity of spirit and outreach to those who opposed him.
“The book is a well-paced narrative – a history both oral and visual – of the contribution of a small band of white South Africans – to the struggle for a democratic order. Many of these were Jews but Saks is careful to show that we were not the only or indeed the main protagonists. But we were prominent.
“We acted as South Africans and as Jews. None of us was born a total internationalist with no affinity to anything except the struggle for human justice.”
The stories of interaction between Mandela, senior counsel and fellow accused in the various trials are poignantly told by Saks.
None are as moving as the account of the tearful prosecutor who visited Mandela’s cell in court during his 1962 trial, prior to Rivonia. In this trial, the prosecutor came to Mandela’s cell at court during an intermission. Of all things, the prosecutor asked Mandela to forgive him. More astonishingly, Mandela did, saying the prosecutor was, after all, only doing his duty!
Not so apologetic was the prosecutor in the Rivonia Trial.
He was Percy Yutar about whom Saks writes: “He (Yutar) was in part motivated by a desire to boost the standing of the Jewish community by demonstrating that not all Jews were communists and subversives.”
“I believe Yutar was on the extreme in his abrasiveness and hostility towards those who participated in the struggle,” said Levy.
Joel Joffe, the instructing defence attorney, noted at the time – as Saks recalls – that Yutar was not just prosecuting the case, he was entering into the politics of it.
“But Yutar was not separate from the mainstream of the white population, the Jewish community (with the exception of the very few whites, who were not in denial of SA’s inequalities) included,” explained Levy.
Author Saks, whose work was a project of SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the Umoja Foundation 2011, said: “In writing the text for a book on the relationship between Nelson Mandela and the South African Jewish community, I had to always remain acutely aware of this uncomfortable dichotomy.
“After 1990, South African Jewry as a whole certainly bought into the whole democratic transformation process, and many of its members were proud to advertise their relationship with the now world-famous Nelson Mandela.
“Prior to that date, however, it had been a very different story. Back then, there was also a very striking connection between Jews and Mandela, but that connection was very much on the individual, not the group level.”