The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law March 2012
ADR @ Moritz

Mediator of Secret Talks that Ended Apartheid Shares His Experience at Moritz

Michael Young, a critical player in the fall of apartheid in South Africa, spoke at Moritz College of Law on March 7th.  During the Lawrence Lecture, attendees had the rare opportunity to learn from someone who had changed the course of history.

In 1986, while working for Consolidated Gold Fields, a British mining consortium, Young organized secret meetings at Mells Park House, a private mansion in Somerset, U.K., between representatives of the South African government and the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC). More than a dozen covert meetings occurred over a five-year period, all of which were purposefully kept out of the media spotlight. These secret negotiations laid the groundwork for the public negotiations which ended apartheid and freed Nelson Mandela.

Mr. Young was introduced by Professor Nancy Rogers, who said the purpose of Mr. Young’s visit was twofold:  “This was an opportunity to hear from a mediator whose efforts paved the way to institute universal suffrage in South Africa and to end the violence.  And we were able to thank one of the great mediators of our time.   The spontaneous standing ovation at the end of Mr. Young's talk expressed the depth of gratitude, both for his contributions and his thoughtful talk.”

During the talk, Mr. Young shared the lessons he had learned while arranging the meetings.  Approached by Oliver Tambo, president of the ANC, to help “build a bridge to Pretoria”, Mr. Young had to bring two sides to the table that both “thought the other side was Satanic.”   He counseled that it was important not to start at the apex of power structures, where players might be too constrained by media and other pressures to act, but to start a few levels down, with parties that might have the ear of eventual leaders.  In addition to a large amount of preparation to understand the context of the negotiations and find the right parties to bring to the table, Mr. Young used unconventional strategies such as “Glenfiddich diplomacy” – leaving the parties alone at night to drink together, hopefully forming bonds outside the official negotiations.

The negotiations and Young’s role were the subject of the 2009 movie Endgame.  Today, Young runs his own company, advising businesses and governmental organizations around the world on strategic change management. This was only the second time he had spoken in the United States about his role in these talks. During his time at Moritz he met for lunch with students and also took questions for 45 minutes after the talk ended.

Mr. Young impressed many students, including Heather Sobel ‘12. “Having watched the movie Endgame for Professor Rogers’ class, it was interesting to see the actual person and hear his thoughts on the situation as it occurred.  But more importantly, it was fascinating to hear how the mediation techniques we have learned about in our classes can be applied to important problems in the wider world.”

Mr. Young ended his talk on a hopeful note for students with similar thoughts, saying: “We have other problems to solve.  I hope we can find other solutions.”  


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Erin Archerd
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The Caucus, the newsletter published by the Moritz Program on Dispute Resolution, is designed to share ADR news with the Moritz community and beyond, as well as provide Moritz students with information regarding externship and employment opportunities. Questions regarding this publication should be directed to Erin Archerd, Langdon Fellow in Dispute Resolution.