Colombo Telegraph

President Mahinda Will Learn From Mandela

By Rajiva Wijesinha – 

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP

The Liberal Party of Sri Lanka is deeply grieved at the death of President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. He was a beacon of civilization in the 20th century. Without his idealism and his inclusive vision, South Africa would not have been able so swiftly to escape the shackles of apartheid and the resentment to which naturally such a loathsome political dispensation gave rise.

Nelson Mandela suffered grievously for his commitment to freedom, a freedom that was denied to the native people of South Africa for many years under colonialism, and then under an ostensibly independent country in which the vast majority of the population were still enchained. The monstrosity of that regime is difficult now to comprehend, but the manner in which it was supported by many countries that claimed to uphold freedom is a blot that the rest of the world will find difficult to forget.

It is a mark of Nelson Mandela’s wisdom and humanity that he ensured that the monstrosities that occurred, and their defence by those who pretended to know better, were forgiven. When the apartheid government realized that reforms were essential, they were lucky to find a reliable partner with whom to negotiate. Both the then ruling party, and the African National Congress, which had suffered so grievously, were mature enough to entrust negotiations to individuals of stature, and they achieved a result that must be the envy of all countries that have experienced conflict.

While clearly South Africa has further to go to redress the balance that was perverted for so long, the inclusivity of its constitution and the manner in which old enemies have worked together in many official positions should serve as a lesson to the world, and in particular to this country that has also been prey to divisions. There are of course differences in that the perpetrators of abuse were willing to negotiate, and benefit from the generosity of Mr Mandela and those in the ANC who followed his lead. In Sri Lanka we had to face terrorists who were intransigent. But that is all the more reason for generosity after we overcame them.

In this regard Sri Lanka would do well to respond positively to the suggestion made by the current South African President regarding the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We are aware that South Africa has, with total commitment to the sovereignty of this country, been endeavouring to promote reconciliation, and it is a pity that we have failed to take advantage of its goodwill. We must recognize that, while the LTTE moved into ruthless violence with indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, which was never the case with the ANC, there were those who, in their defence of the apartheid regime, characterized the ANC too as terrorists. Understanding as we do the resentments of those who suffered under apartheid, we must recognize that, while there was no such institutionalization of discrimination in this country, some majoritarian decisions created resentments that need to be overcome, and they cannot be ignored if reconciliation is to be received.

The late C R de Silva provided a great opportunity for the Sri Lankan state to move towards Reconciliation through the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. It is a pity that, despite the commitment of the President and the Cabinet, we have not moved swiftly to implement the recommendations of that Commission. The Liberal Party had hoped that, if only in appreciation of what C R de Silva tried, the government would have devoted more energy and attention to what he proposed.

Now that the death of Nelson Mandela reminds us too of his record, we hope government will at least now pay greater attention to the advice of his successor and move towards a similar inclusive solution to our difficulties. His Excellency the President will be travelling to South Africa, and while expression of condolences at this sad moment is his principal reason for travelling, it is to be hoped that he will also take this opportunity to understand better and take forward the spiritual legacy of Nelson Mandela.

* Statement of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka on the death of Nelson Mandela

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