“The authorities always imagined that we were secretly linked with all kinds of powerful forces on the outside. The spate of succesful guerilla attacks against the South African police forces in Namibia by the South-West African People’s Organization – an ally of the ANC – had also unnerved them. I suppose we should have been flattered that the government thought our nascent military ability was sophisticated enough to succesfullly eliminate their head of state. But their suspicions merely reflected the insecurities of narrow, shortsighted men who blamed their problems not on their own misguided policies but on an opponent by the name of the ANC” (Mandela 432).
This excerpt comes from Mandela’s time in prison on Robben Island, during which he struggled with harsh discrimination while trying to do his best to befriend certain warders, especially after the death of the prime minister largely responsible for the grand apartheid and the bantustans.
I think that this passage reinforces the concept of the imaginary divide that pits whites against blacks in South Africa. The whites are afraid of the blacks – they see black culture and the ANC automatically as an assault against their own way of life and the death of the prime minister only reinforced that way of thinking.
Earlier in the chapter, Mandela has notable success reasoning with some of the warders, getting one of them to admit “that makes more sense than the Nats.” This demonstrates that many whites took little time to think about the situation at hand and actually understand the ANC. Instead, they allowed the petty distinction between white and black to pit them in a war against one another. This issue of both blacks and whites being too quick to blindly identify with their own race and look down upon the other – often by instinct, is at the very heart of what drives discrimination and ethnocentrism.