Have you heard of the Mandela Effect? This outlandish phenomenon is characterized by having clear memories of a historical event that never actually happened. The term was officially coined by Fiona Broome, a self-proclaimed “paranormal consultant.” It’s inspired by her false memory of anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela, dying in the 1980s.
Of course, we all know that Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, actually died in 2013. We all know that he died after fighting for freedom for decades and after serving as the first president of the Democratic Republic of South Africa. However, I can’t help but wonder how South African history might have played out if Mandela did actually die while in prison.
I’ll start out by diving into Broome’s false recollection of Mandela’s death. According to her Mandela Effect theory, Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. This resulted in international media coverage of his death and the funeral proceedings. Broome even recalls a widowed Winnie Mandela giving a broadcasted speech at her late husband’s funeral. She admits that all of this certainly never happened, but she wonders why she has such clear memories of these false historical narratives.
Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.
—@NelsonMandela (born 103 years ago today, July 18, 1918) pic.twitter.com/8MvpBsi0GH
— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) July 18, 2021
In light of her misremembrances, Broome launched the Mandela Effect website to find out how many other people also recalled Mandela’s funeral in the late 20th century. She claims that hundreds of people in several countries could remember strikingly similar details of the funeral coverage. However, none of them could explain the coincidence.
Nevertheless, if Mandela did die in the 1980s, I believe South Africa would have faced years of unprecedented violence in the form of a civil war. Mandela spent most of the late ’80s and ’90s advocating for a peaceful transition into democracy. He recognized the building frustration among the Black population, but he knew that a full-blown war would cause more harm than good.
And by then, unrest was at a boiling point; apartheid had been around since 1948, a “hierarchy of privilege [that] enforced oppression according to skin color, with whites, Indians, Coloreds, and Blacks in descending ranking.” If Mandela wasn’t there to address these frustrations and push for peaceful negotiations, who knows what choices the apartheid government would have made?
By that time, Prime Minister P.W. Botha had realized the strength of united Black resistance. His best bet was to reform apartheid policies in a desperate attempt to make the socio-political climate look less unstable to the international community. He also aimed to diffuse widespread dissatisfaction among the Black population of the country. At the end of the day, Botha did more harm than good with his reforms. The Black majority was still being oppressed and Mandela had to be alive to facilitate the peace negotiations of the 1990s. None of the other apartheid activists had established cooperative relationships with the government that was as promising as Mandela’s.
On #MandelaDay, we thank @NelsonMandela for all his contributions to advance women's rights. pic.twitter.com/OLSpUV4QJR
— UN Women (@UN_Women) July 18, 2021
South Africa’s last apartheid prime minister, F.W. de Klerk, released Mandela from prison in 1990. At this stage, South Africa was a violent, dangerous, and heavily armed place. The entire population was on the edge of an all-out race war. If Mandela had died in the ’80s, a mourning Black population would not hold back from fighting this war to the best of their ability. Delusional white South Africans would cling to apartheid segregationist policies while Black youth became more radicalized. A recipe for war.
Fortunately, Mandela was there to bridge this divide in a way that not many people could. He convinced the white minority that there would be room for them in the new, reformed South Africa. And trust me, there’s still plenty of room. On the other hand, he had to encourage an enraged Black population to be patient; South Africa’s transition into democracy was slow and complex. But Mandela’s kindness and captivating personality allowed him to sew the differences of South Africa’s people together. Thank goodness he lived past the 1980s!
It’s not uncommon for people to forget certain aspects of the past or to misinterpret them over time. Nevertheless, it’s strange for mass groups of people to believe that a past event occurred when it didn’t. These unusual remembrances gave rise to Fiona Broome’s Mandela Effect theory, and boy am I glad that it’s just a theory. As a first-generation Black South African, I believe the country still has a long way to go, but there is no doubt that Mandela played a critical role in leading us to democracy in 1994 and ending governmental, systemic oppression.
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