By Ranil Wickremesinghe –
I join my Colleague, the Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva, in expressing the condolence of our House and of this country on the passing away of Nelson Mandela. The prisoner from Robben Island became a beacon of hope to the whole world. As my Colleague pointed out, it was the imposition of the apartheid state which led to Nelson Mandela getting involved in the struggle to regain full rights of the African people and thereafter, to take leadership of the movement. But, Mandela together with other colleagues, all had to suffer imprisonment. Nelson Mandela represented the ANC whose objectives were not limited to non-violent struggle. They also had to launch a liberation struggle in which they wanted the rights of the majority. They had to suffer many hardships. Nelson Mandela, at once, remarked that his was the least. He was kept in a prison and beaten up. He had to suffer much more than the others had to suffer. As we listened to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it certainly shows the extent to which the apartheid system worked to try and hold its power. That is a characteristic of many authoritarian States which seeks to control thinking, which seeks to control the media – that is one sign, which seeks to control the judiciary and put those who are very favour to them, which seeks to control civil society and which seeks, in fact, to keep an eye on anyone who they think is a dissident and then take action against him legally or indirectly. So, it is not kept only to countries which go on white supremacy. It is an unfortunately sign that we see in many parts of the world.
What I see in Nelson Mandela is that once he took over, he dismantled that apparatus. He kept the states structure very much like Shri Jawaharlal Nehru and the Right Hon. D.S. Senanayake did in India and Sri Lanka. But, he dismantled that apparatus. Finally, we have to remember that the victory of Africans in South Africa was due, firstly because the struggle launched by the African National Congress, and secondly the international pressure that came in. Without that international pressure which finally forced even the USA to agree, it would not have been possible. They made it difficult for the apartheid regime inside and the others; the international pressure made it difficult them from outside.
Sri Lanka too played its own path in this. So, we cannot, at all times, say that international efforts and mediation is a bad thing. International pressure there came from outside because the Government of South Africa certainly at that time were not going to allow international pressure. But, of course, the system today of which South Africa joined, allows countries to voluntarily sign the international instruments safeguarding liberties and human rights. Then, a duty is cast upon us to observe the obligations under that. Once you come under those, you cannot move out. The South Africa had to leave the United Nations and the Commonwealth because they did not adhere to those basic principles.
Once Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa, he did not take revenge on the other communities. He did not try to build an Africa for Africans only. You had the ‘whites’; you had the Indians; you had the mixed or the coloureds and you had the Africans. He did not allow the Africans to be divided into tribes. He evolved the concept of South African identity which is enshrined in the South African Constitution. It is one of the most progressive Constitutions that you can find today in the world.
So, there is a lot to be learnt from it and a lot that we can learn. I know the Government has also been consulting the Government of South Africa. It is the time I think the Sri Lankan Government took some definite steps where having evolved a consensus in this Parliament they could build and take it forward based on the document, which the Government has put forward as our solution to reconciliation, the LLRC Report recommendations, many of which, the political items have not been implemented during the last few years. He also built up a democratic structure. That is what is important. He built up a structure which was differing to neither the Westminster System of the UK nor the Executive Presidencies of either the USA or France. They studied our Executive Presidency. Their Executive is a unique model that is, a President elected by Parliament, responsible to Parliament and who could be moved out of Parliament. I think that is unique for South Africa because below that were the provinces which have also been given substantial power. Then you had the President who presided over the whole federation and the constitution itself drew the balance between the different provinces and the powers of the Government. The role of the President vis-à-vis Parliament. That is a very clear system and the democratic system that Mandela brought in is a gained one on which we have a lot to learn.
We in Sri Lanka had a Constitutional Court and then in 1978 Constitution did away with it. But, today we are wondering whether we should not have an independent constitutional court to be the arbitrator of all the disputes that are like to rise in the process of implementing a new constitution. Mr. Mandela himself set a two-term limit. He thought two terms are more than sufficient. At the end of the second term, he could have changed the constitution and gone for a third term or he could have gone for a life time. He did not do that. At the end of the second term he went home. This is an example I hope that we will also keep following in Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately, we did not do so in bringing in the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. But, it showed and then he retired. There were disputes inside his own party, Mbeki and the others. He did not intervene. He said what he had to say in a few words, but allowed the party to take its course. That is why he became the symbol of hope to many. Nelson Mandela is by no means a Gandhi because he did not confine himself to nonviolence means. He did not give up his struggle or suspend his struggle because violence was used. Violence was used extensively by the ANC. But, having attained his objectives, he implemented the Gandhian ideals in his own country and that is what he will finally be remembered for. Mr. Nelson Mandela showed that the prisoner in an island could think big and that is the ability. Can you in politics think big? Can you in politics give a vision? Can you in politics unite people? Can you in politics give hope to the poor, to the oppressed and those who think they are the disadvantageous groups of the country? If you can do that, then you certainly would be following in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and that is what we need Sri Lanka today.
*Parliament Speech – December 07, 2013