Talk By HE Ambassador Doidge




21ST JANUARY 2018 -Centenary year of Nelson Mandela 1918 – 2018

I am delighted and deeply honored to be with you and to start the year off by remembering Nelson Mandela, in so doing, pay tribute to one of the foremost champions and architect of negotiating peace, reconciliation and nation building. When people speak of South Africa’s road to democracy and the struggle to liberate the majority of its people, the words they choose to describe us are “a miracle nation”, the “rainbow people”, achieving a “negotiated settlement” and regard our transition from apartheid to democracy as “one of the greatest political achievements of this century”. We are all these things and more. We came to be known as the “rainbow nation”, because of the leaders we had at the time, who understood that despite our horrendous past, South Africa belonged to all who live in it, black and white. We pride ourselves on this and it is reflected in the preamble of our Constitution, which is recognised internationally. Freedom came at a price. The impact of years of separate development and the legalized discrimination against the majority of South Africans based on race, created enormous and deep wounds which cannot be undone in a mere 24 years. The scars have created untold suffering which we, as a nation, will spend many years and perhaps generations, trying to recover from that intense hurt. Throughout our nations struggle for democracy, Nelson Mandela remained a mystery to those of us who fought the system within the country. For to mention his name was deemed an act of treason. He was termed a terrorist by the apartheid regime and anybody who publicly spoke his name, carried with them pictures of or documents about him and rallied for his freedom was detained, imprisoned, subjected to violence by the police, had the items confiscated and went onto the watch-list to be monitored by apartheid security police. For many freedom loving South Africans during apartheid, he was an enigma, spoken about in hushed tones and many did not even know what he looked like or how he sounded- they just knew about him and were drawn to his story for what he stood for and what the majority of South Africa stood, which was their clarion call for democracy. Today, his name is known across the world, he is our modern day hero, the uncompromising fighter for justice, peace and human rights and one of the most revered statesmen in history. His story serves as an inspiration and we are fortunate to have witnessed such greatness in our lifetime. He was always the first to say that he was nothing without his organization, the party to whom he dedicated his life to. Often, he articulated the view that it was the collective within the his organisation whom he represented and that his views are those espoused by the party. Ever humble and self –deprecating, he remained a disciplined member of his organsiation throughout his years. An extract from his unpublished autobiographical manuscript written in prison stated thus: “My association with the African National Congress has taught me that a broad national movement has numerous and divergent contradictions, fundamental and otherwise. The presence in one organization of various classes and social groups with conflicting long term interests that may collide at crucial moments brings its own train of conflicts…I was twenty-one then and my subsequent 4 association with the African National Congress and progressive ideas helped me crawl out of the prejudice of my youth and to accept all people as equals.” In 1963, at the famous Rivonia Trial, a culmination of the many daring defiance campaigns and struggles against the apartheid government, Nelson Mandela and his co-accused were sentenced to life in prison. His seminal speech at the trial received wide publicity, has been quoted countless times in the ensuing years and remains one of the most profound texts in our history. He stated and I quote: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die for.” Mandela called his incarceration on Robben Island “the Dark Years”. And indeed they were for those imprisoned on the Island as well as for all South Africans. With the ANC banned and forced underground, the struggle for our liberation seemed interminable and many were filled with despair in the face of the violent crackdown by the government at the time. Despite these tormenting times, Mandela called on his inner strength and believed that the struggle for liberation had merely shifted from the outside to the inside within the prison walls. He saw the struggle in prison as a microcosm of the struggle for liberation in the country. He said of this: “We would fight inside as we had fought outside. The racism and repression were the same; I would simply have to fight on different terms.” Unshaken by the oppressive prison conditions, the lack of contact with the outside world and with loved ones, he once again provided the visionary leadership necessary for survival. He refused to kowtow to the prison authorities to receive better treatment and became the go-to person for other prisoners for assistance with the prison laws. He became the representative of those political prisoners, especially when dealing with the prison authorities. He argued for desks and chairs so that he and fellow prisoners could study and voiced his concerns about the arbitrary manner in which warders charged prisoners. He was also extremely tactical in that he believed that the ‘best way to effect change was to attempt to influence officials privately and not publicly. He stated that he was sometimes condemned for appearing to be too accommodating to prison officials, but that    he was willing to accept the criticism if it meant improvement.’ Later, much of his time was spent preparing judicial appeals for other prisoners who sought his help. As later documented, most of Mandela’s co-accused and colleagues regarded him as their leader and would ensure that any visitor of theirs would be directed to Mandela as their representative. He was adept at debating and his logic in arguments was unparalleled. His great friend and fellow prisoner,  Walter Sisulu said of him that: “he tried to be a builder, to take a position which he thinks is more suitable for a leader of the ANC. He avoided expressing emotion: he would rather want a balanced picture.” Soon, his empathetic nature, capacity for forgiveness and lack of bitterness also disarmed the warders. Mandela took an avid interest in the lives of the warders, he also lapped up any and all knowledge and understanding he could get on the various faiths via the religious leaders of different faiths who visited the island every Sunday. All the while he refused to submit to the government who wanted him to abandon the struggle and reject violence as a political instrument and accept conditional release. He was steadfast in his refusal to give in, merely stating: ‘I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when you, the people, are not free.” Mandela embodied all that was good in the world with his uncompromising stance to end oppression of the majority of people of South Africa. Throughout his incarceration, he focused on leading the country towards democracy. His sense of optimism and believing that there was good in every man, sustained him in his greatest moments of isolation and under very trying circumstances. He believed that he was ‘fundamentally an optimist.” He recalled times when his faith in humanity was sorely tested, but soldiered on as he resolved never to give up. Defeat and death were the only two options if he succumbed. Upon his release, and during the negotiating process, he remained true to the ideals of the ANC’s Bill of Rights document and the Freedom Charter. When he believed the apartheid government was negotiating in bad faith, he did not hesitate to officially break off negotiations until the government lived up to its agreements. He was brutal in his assessment of the apartheid government but conceded that common ground must be found if democracy was to be achieved. During the negotiations, the death of Chris Hani, who was the secretary-general of the South African Communist Party and a leading light within the ANC threatened to engulf the country into civil war and derail the negotiations. Hani was gunned down by a Polish immigrant who was a member of a militant right-wing group which had become so desperate and wanted to forestall the negotiation process. Mandela’s leadership was put to the test in the face of this dastardly deed and calling on South Africans to remain “a disciplined force for peace” helped bring the country back from the edge of the precipice. This crisis proved to be a turning point with both sides Acknowledging that negotiations were the only way to prevent civil war. It was believed at the time that no one other than Mandela could have persuaded hardened militants and the majority of the oppressed in the country who were baying for vengeance, to choose peace not war. It was his colleague and friend Joe Slovo, a long-time leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP), and leading member of the African National Congress who stated that “without Mandela, South African history would have taken a completely different turn.” He added: “And that is not just because of his charisma or his status, but basically because of his leadership and initiative from Robben Island. It is a fact that it was he who triggered the negotiations.When it came to facing the post-1990 period, the role of Mandela is absolutely unique.” After being sworn in as South Africa’s first democratically elected President, Mandela’s priority was to advance reconciliation and nation building. At his inauguration in 1994 he stated that “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us. we enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said “That there is hope that a new situation could come about when enemies might become friends again, when the dehumanised perpetrator might be helped to recover his lost humanity. This is not a wildly irresponsible dream. It has happened and it is happening and there is hope that nightmares will end, hope that seemingly intractable problems will find solutions and that God has some tremendous fellow-workers, some outstanding partners out there.” Thus Mandela’s term as President was characterized by nation building and he became the embodiment of peace and reconciliation. He reached out to the oppressors of the previous regime, embraced the white minority who had very real fears of retribution and advanced the notion that we could not move forward as a country if we did not forgive. Unlike other countries who achieved democracy through conquest and wars, ours was a bloodless and relatively peaceful transition and one where the oppressor and oppressed needed to still co-exist. He thus felt very strongly that reconciliation was central to his political strategy. During the drafting of our Constitution, this vision was imbedded in the two long years it took to arrive at this seminal document which would give birth to a unified nation- One Law for One Nation. The process of drafting the Constitution involved many SA in the largest public participation programme ever carried out in SA. After nearly two years of intensive consultations, political parties represented in the Constitutional Assembly negotiated the formulations contained in the text of the Constitution, which represents an integration of ideas from ordinary citizens, civil society and political parties represented in and outside of the Constitutional Assembly. Thus our Constitution represents the collective wisdom of the South African people arrived at by general agreement. It is no wonder that apart from being lauded around the globe as one of the most progressive constitutions ever written, it also serves as an inspiration to those countries which seek to emulate our inclusive process of democracy. In the Transitional Constitution of South Africa, the following anchored the final Constitution and I quote: “This Constitution provides a historic bridge between the past of a deeply divided society characterized by strife, conflict untold suffering and injustice, and a future founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence and development opportunities for all South Africans, irrespective of colour, race, class, belief or sex. The pursuit of national unity, well-being of all South African citizens and peace require reconciliation between the people of South Africa and the reconstruction of society.” With the need to forgive, many victims and families of victims felt that in order to forgive, there must be a way to acknowledge the suffering so that there was no forgetting. Mandela launched the democratic government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in February 1996. This Commission was the product of many protracted discussions, forums, meetings, deliberations and negotiations prior to its eventual establishment. The main objectives of the Commission were to promote national unity and reconciliation in a spirit of understanding which transcends the conflicts and divisions of the past. The Commission was conceived as part of the bridge-building process designed to help lead the nation away from a deeply divided past to a future founded on the recognition of human rights and democracy. It had to establish as complete a picture as possible. In essence, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like restorative justice body. South Africa’s TRC was arguably the Continent’s best known example of restorative justice which emphasized reconciliation between perpetrators and victims built ideally on a perpetrator’s repentance and a victim’s forgiveness. The hope obviously being that the South African nation would be brought together in reconciliation. Mandela appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu as Chairman of the Commission and the Commission took on a religious character. Thus, theology and the African traditional concept of “Ubuntu” (humaneness) were seen as key to the restorative justice emphasis of forgiveness. This resonated with the largely Christian population as religious bodies played an invaluable role in the struggle against apartheid. The TRC heard testimonies from people across the political divide. Not even the ANC was immune from seeking amnesty before the Commission. Attempts by the ANC to resist seeking amnesties on the grounds that they were fighting a liberation struggle did not hold water and they also made a comprehensive submission to the Commission. Both Archbishop Tutu and President Mandela were in full support of the work of the Commission. Mandela resisted the granting of full amnesties, even in the face of party pressures, and remained steadfast in his belief that the unity of the nation depended on forgiveness and full disclosure of truths. Graca Machel, Mandela’s wife said then of his leadership: “He symbolizes a much broader forgiveness and understanding and reaching out. If he had come out of prison and sent a different message this country would be in flames. So his role is not to be underestimated too. He knew exactly the way he wanted to come out, but also the way he addressed the people from the beginning, sending the message of what he thought was the best way to save lives in this country, to bring reconciliation. Some people criticize that he went too far. There is no such thing as going too far if you are trying to save this country from tragedy.” During the special debate on the Interim Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mandela spoke of the need for national consultation on reconciliation and went further to state that “The experience of others has taught that nations which do not deal with their past are haunted by it for generations”.The need to talk,to communicate, listen and to engage at all levels and mainly a national conversation provides a platform for all individuals and communities to hear the other and to begin understanding. Most importantly, the acknowledgement of what happened, opens up the space for healing. Mourning, anger, acceptance and forgiveness require time. Apartheid was widely acknowledged as a “crime against humanity” and despite its unique nature, South Africa shares many characteristics with other countries attempting to deal with the crimes of the past. Most handovers of power in emerging democracies in the 1990s contain an element of negotiation and The TRC was a part of South Africa’s transformation strategy. Reconciliation requires commitment and sacrifice. Perhaps key to Mandela’s route of reconciliation has always been his ability to listen and debate. In his book “Conversations with Myself, Mandela speaks of fully appreciating constructive criticism, no matter how sharp it may be. He believed that “it was one of the most effective methods of addressing internal problems. He stated thus: “it is a grave error for any leader to be oversensitive in the face of criticism, to conduct discussions as if he or she is a schoolmaster talking to less informed and inexperienced learners. A leader should encourage and welcome free and unfettered exchange of views. But no one should ever question the honesty of another comrade, whether he or she is a leader or ordinary member.” Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 together with Mr.De Klerk, apartheid South Africa’s last President, Mandela was often asked how he could have accepted the prize with a former opponent. His reply demonstrated the stature the man. Of De Klerk he said: “I could say that he had made a genuine and indispensable contribution to the peace process. I never sought to undermine  Mr.De Klerk, for the practical reason that the weaker he was, the weaker the negotiation process. To make peace with an enemy, one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes your partner.” The South African people’s willingness to forgive could in part be attributed to following Mandela’s lead. His capacity to forgive, to emerge from 27 years of imprisonment without bitterness and without seeking vengeance set the moral high-ground for what was to become our negotiating process and the drafting of one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world. High on Mandela’s agenda once he became our first democratic President was to allay the fears of the minorities, particularly the white minority. He was especially concerned about the divisions between black and white. He saw a clear priority: which was to build social cohesion and nation building. He seemed perfectly suited to the role of unifier, and his charisma and charm allowed him to be comfortable with different communities- from the rural chiefs and tribesman, urbanized youth, African nationalists, Indians and whites, Afrikaner warders, big businessmen and heads of state. As Anthony Sampson states in his book ‘Mandela- the authorized biography’ “With all his personal experience he was uniquely able to establish a ‘rainbow cabinet’ which was one of the few genuinely multi-racial governments in the world; while he gave no indication of his own racial preferences. He seemed above race.” Mandela’s need for  a political solution to South Africa’s divisive and oppressive past, was that there must be acknowledgement and mourning of losses from all communities. as it is necessary for enduring peace and stability. South Africa’s TRC’s attempt to tackle the broader structures of apartheid was through its institutional hearings. Exposing the role of institutions in perpetrating past violations and formulating recommendations for future reform is a key area where truth commissions can provide a powerful impetus for transformation. The potential for institutional change not only addresses root causes of conflict, but also serves as a form of reparations in that it is a reassurance of non-repetition to victims of past violations. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu says: “True forgiveness deals with the past, all of the past, to make the future possible. We cannot go on nursing grudges even vicariously for those who cannot speak for themselves any longer. We have to accept that what we do, we do for generations past, present and yet to come. That is what makes a community or a people a people- for better or for worse.” In his foreword to Mandela’s collection of writings and interviews, ‘Conversations with Myself”, US President Barack Obama stated that: “All of us face days when it can seem like change is hard days  when our opposition and our own imperfections may tempt us to take an easier path that avoids our responsibilities to one another. Mandela faced those days as well. Even when faced with the temptation to seek revenge, he saw the need for reconciliation, and the triumph of principle over mere power. Even when he had earned his rest, he still sought- and seeks- to inspire his fellow men and women to service.” The South African Government’s campaign to intensify a nation building program in pursuit of “a truly united, democratic and prosperous SA” is still one of our many challenges. Building social cohesion and Ubuntu- which is a worldview premised on the principle of oneness of unity that underlie all reality or existence, still remains one of our foremost goals. Mandela foregrounded the role that Ubuntu philosophy could play in the search for a new world order. Throughout negotiations for a political settlement and the truth and reconciliation processes, both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were guided by Ubuntu values and principles. However current challenges, both global and national economic turmoil and corruption which is slowing down service delivery, poverty and unemployment have all had polarizing effects on our efforts on nation building and social cohesion. However, we have the ability to engage as a nation on these issues, without being defensive, without ego, without politicking and posturing. All it requires of us is to be open, empathetic, humble and listen without prejudice. As I conclude, let me leave you with the words of our icon, Nelson Mandela: “As we take stock of our accomplishments and shortcomings we should not, by a slightest of chance lose sight of our once ambitious dream for education, total economic participation, democracy and freedom for all. The struggle for democracy has never been a matter pursued by one race, class, religious community or gender among SA.The challenge is to foster a nation in which all people irrespective of race, colour, sex, religion or creed, can assert social cohesion fully”.(2008)
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