In 1993, Nelson Mandela invited a South African general over for tea. Mandela had gotten word that the general was plotting an Afrikaner guerrilla war against multiracial rule. 


When General Constand Viljoen  and three other retired generals arrived at Mandela’s house in Johannesburg, they expected a servant to open the door. They were surprised to find a smiling Mandela greeting them at the door, shaking their hands and telling them how kind they were to visit him. He invited Viljoen to his lounge for a private chat. 

“He asked me if I took tea,” Viljoen later told John Carlin, author of the new book Knowing Mandela. “I said yes and he poured me a cup. 

He asked me if I took milk. I said yes and he poured me milk. 

Then he asked me if I took sugar with my tea. I said I did and he poured the sugar. All I had to do was stir it!” 

Over a cup of tea, Mandela convinced the general that a guerrilla war would lead nowhere. The general’s warlike thoughts were purged by kindness. 

“Mandela wins over all who meet him,” he later told Carlin.

A century ago, Okakura Kakuzoreferred to tea as the cup of humanity. What a different world it would be if we all greeted our enemies by placing a communal cup of tea in their hands.

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