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Playing Red and Playing Blue: The 1990–94 Negotiation Miracle in South Africa

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The release of Nelson Mandela from prison was remarkable mostly because of the nonevent it signified: the absence of a bloodbath that had been widely predicted for the country as the apartheid regime grew increasingly tense, cruel and unsustainable. Four years after the release and after a complex series of negotiations between Mandela and President De Klerk, South Africa staged its first one man-one vote election and again, peacefully, a new multiracial South Africa was born. How did this negotiation miracle happen? How were these two very different men, for decades implacable enemies, able to interrupt the cycle of violence and find a mutual solution to the increasingly dire situation in South Africa, one that met each of their interests and identity concerns and that was also built on common ground? Where along the way, in the long prison years before Mandela's release, was the decision reached on both sides to give peace a chance and to take the risk of negotiation? This article makes use of a negotiation game commonly used in negotiation and mediation skills training to analyze the personal dynamics of this particularly important historical negotiation. Drawing on material from unpublished interview sources and biographical and historical texts (as well as negotiation theory on the Prisoners' Dilemma), it seeks to shed new light on the question of what turned the tide and to explore transferable lessons learned from this experience for application to other difficult conflicts, not only in the political arena.

Affiliations: 1: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Walter Benjamin Platz 5, 10629 Berlin, GERMANY

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