♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Cundle takes a look at Plough’s Mandela and The General, out now…
Mandela and the General
Writer: John Carlin
Artist: Oriol Malet (Plough Publishing)
History is littered with the many mistakes made by, and painted by the hubris of, humanity. As a species, our innate fallibility and belief that fate ordained each of us with a special “gift” that individually makes us better than our neighbours will inevitably lead to our species’ eventual downfall. These “gifts” that we’ve been endowed with can be anything from an aptitude for mathematics and engineering to the ability to make others laugh, and while they should be celebrated, they should never be used as a podium to lift one person above another. We are, after all, made from the same star stuff and being, like all things are, the sum of our parts, we are all equal.
Or at least, that’s what rationality should lead each and every one of us to believe, but those mistakes that I mentioned earlier, at some point in the past, they proposed the ridiculous idea of genetic superiority and that some men, to paraphrase George Orwell, are more equal than others. The idea of genetic predisposition and dominance, whenever it raises its ugly head, always seems to centre on race and the notion that somehow, mastery is defined by skin pigmentation. It was, is and always will be a loathsome concept that gave rise to slavery, separatism and the social and political system that governed South Africa until the closing decade of the twentieth century, apartheid.
Mandela and the General is about the final days of South Africa’s misguided system following Nelson Mandela’s release from Victor Verster Prison after more than a quarter of a century of incarceration. John Carlin’s book is the story of General Constand Viljeon, one of South Africa’s most decorated soldiers, who when confronted with the very real threat of the collapse and end of the only way of life that he had ever known, became a figurehead for the white separatist movement that was sent on a collision course with the African National Congress after Mandela was finally being given his freedom. Mandela and the General tells the very real tale of how a proud, but inherently prejudiced and flawed, man, motivated by a fear of a change and the unknown, was reluctantly pushed to the forefront of a movement that brought South Africa to the brink of civil war. It’s the story of a man forged in the heat of battled who knowing the real price of conflict managed to overcome his own misgivings and apprehension and who, because of his love for his country, took a leap of faith that ultimately helped South Africa to embrace democracy.
Constand Viljeon is one of those hidden figures in history, one of the people whose contribution to the betterment of his fellow men is overshadowed by far more famous faces, in this case Nelson Mandela. While his personal beliefs, and the system he was raised to blindly place his faith in are, for most of us, loathsome, the magnitude of the role he played in helping the transition that South Africa made as the millennium approached cannot be denied, and should never be forgotten. Carlin doesn’t shy away from the more repugnant aspects of Viljeon’s character, but by rightly portraying him as man in crisis who didn’t falter in the face of adversity and by showing apartheid through Viljeon’s eyes, and those of his homesteads staff, offers a glimpse of what life was really like under the repressive system for all of the citizens of South Africa. Given shape by the spartan, coldly detailed and strangely beautiful art of Oriol Malet, Mandela and the General reinforces the belief that progress can only be made through discourse, that change occurs with ballots and not bullets and that no matter how wide the gulf that people seem to be separated by there’s always some common ground that unites them, Carlin’s book serves as a powerful reminder that not only is history far stranger than fiction, more often than not, it is also far more interesting… Tim Cundle