21 October, 2017

Some Lessons From Nelson Mandela For Reconciliation In Sri Lanka

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

“Of all the people I have met, he was by far the greatest.” – Malcolm Fraser

Nelson Mandela is no more, but his legacy would hopefully inspire people, particularly the young, for some generations to come all over the world, including Sri Lanka. Some years back, I was delighted to see the translation of his “A Long March to Freedom” into Sinhala and I am not sure who did that admirable task. I am also not sure whether it is also available in Tamil or not. Whatever the situation, the story of his life, his determination to struggle for justice, his vision for a reconciled society or nation, and most importantly, his exceptional human quality to be magnanimous and forgive are crucially important historical lessons for all communities in Sri Lanka in achieving a better future for their progeny.

In a sense, South Africa’s conflict was much more complicated than Sri Lanka’s one. It was mainly a racial conflict between the indigenous ‘blacks’ and the migrant ‘whites,’ underpinned by vast economic and class differences. Racial prejudices are naturally much deeper and difficult to reconcile, although equally superficial. There are no racial differences between the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims and they all come, more or less, from the same ‘racial’ stock, if you want to say so. The economic differences are much less except in the case of the plantation Tamils.

In South Africa, it was a direct subjugation of a vast majority by a small minority which had to be maintained through a ruthless state apparatus of oppression which itself had a special name called Apartheid. It literally meant ‘segregation’ but politically meant ‘racism’ and something more. This is not to undermine the feelings of discrimination by minorities in Sri Lanka often equated to ‘Apartheid,’ but to get a correct comparative picture of the two situations. Perhaps Sri Lanka is much more complicated at least in one major aspect with majority sanctions for discrimination, naturally difficult to unravel.

Then South Africa also had to face the same risk of majority oppression of minorities – like in Sri Lanka, one could say – when turning a minority rule to majority control in 1994. However, this could be avoided primarily thanks to Nelson Mandela and his visionary leadership, in avoiding a post-Apartheid conflict between the majority blacks and the minority whites. His vision was for a rainbow nation.

The ‘rainbow nation’ did not mean only two colours, black and white. Even under Apartheid, people were rather artificially classified into ‘white,’ ‘black,’ ‘coloured’ and ‘Indian.’ These classifications stayed even after Apartheid. There were other groups different in culture, lineage or religion, or so they believed. There were different ‘tribes’ among the blacks and they were legitimate as ethnicities. Then among the whites, there were Afrikaner and English people and several others. They all were part of the rainbow nation of Mandela.

In South Africa, the ‘homeland’ concept was different to Sri Lanka. It was part of Apartheid to segregate the blacks from the whites and push them into enclaves what they called ‘Bantustans.’ The fall of Apartheid was largely due to the failure of this segregation policy. In the process of integration and development of the economy, the industries and the service sector enlarged and the economy could not be run without the black labour or the black middle classes for the enlarging service sector. The impracticability of Apartheid or the ‘homelands’ were increasingly realised. By mid 1980s, South Africa became the leading economy in the African continent.

In South Africa, Apartheid was a legacy of colonialism and racism. In terms of racism, it was perhaps second only to Hitler’s Germany. In Sri Lanka, there was no such an extreme form of discrimination and oppression even under colonialism. In ancient and medieval Sri Lanka, all communities used to live in (‘relative,’ if you wish to qualify) peace and harmony at the people’s level and the political struggles were for the kingship, nevertheless mediated by pragmatic accommodation in most of the time. Religious freedom was respected almost at all times in the pre-colonial Sri Lanka.

South Africa lacked such prominent past precedence of social or ethnic harmony; nevertheless Mandela managed to invent one based on his humanist ideology shared by many of his colleagues in the African National Congress (ANC) and outside. The respect he earned not only being the longest political prisoner for 27 years, but also the most conscientious one throughout the world, facilitated him to correct any deviation emerging within his own political party or outside during the transition to democracy. Violence first emerged during the first democratic elections in 1994 but soon subsided through his timely and prudent intervention.

This does not mean that the new South Africa that he created was completely free from any violence or mistakes. That was beyond any human being’s possible capacity. But he managed to prevent the so far oppressed majority taking revenge against the minority for the atrocities that they had to undergo for long years under Apartheid. He said “people are undoubtedly at fault, but the systems are more at fault than the people. We all are victims of systems.” He appreciated F. W. de Klerk’s goodwill, and if not for that goodwill or pragmatism Mandela realised that freedom in South Africa could have been long delayed perhaps even after his death.

Mandela had a deep sense of justice not as ‘revenge’ but as ‘correcting the wrong’ and ‘empowering the victims’ through truth and appropriate compensation. Bishop Desmond Tutu was his close ‘comrade-in-arms’ in this venture inventing the device of ‘truth and reconciliation’ as a process, and not just a formal investigating commission. Mandela was firmly committed to due process and rule of law and stood for justice even if his own wife or family were involved in any wrong doing.

The fall of Apartheid was facilitated by both internal and external factors, but the internal factors or processes took the more prominent lead for a healthy transition from an oppressive scheme to a vibrant democratic system. That was also the wish and vision of Nelson Mandela. Among the external factors was ‘Perestroika’ under Michael Gorbachev and as a result the Western views on the ANC started to change. The ANC and Mandela were mistakenly considered communist threats previously.

There were of course the sanctions against South Africa initiated by the UN and all these started to influence the internal situation, including the independence of Namibia prior to South Africa. As a personal note, I was fortunate to serve the World University Service (WUS) in Geneva during this period (1984-1991) which was the foremost organization which offered scholarships to the victimised South Africans and Namibians to continue their studies in third countries. There were 14 Namibian students studying under this scheme in Sri Lanka in mid 1980s as English teacher trainees and as the person in charge of human rights of WUS I had the personal opportunity to speak against Apartheid at the UN Human Rights Commission on several occasions. The release of Mandela was one of our calls.

The South African transition or reconciliation was primarily an internal process and as a result it was healthy and sustainable. This is the primary lesson that Sri Lanka should learn. It was a learning process to the people to do away with prejudices, animosity and hatred. Almost all the peace mediators were internal. More than the mediators, the leaders of both or all sides took the initiative to negotiate and compromise. Nelson Mandela was the epitome of this process. This does not mean that Sri Lanka or any other country should not take any external assistance if need be. But internal efforts are always better, more acceptable and most certainly sustainable compared to the external. That is also the right thing to do, while seeking the goodwill of all possible external actors.

As a result of this transition and reconciliation process, South Africa today has an exemplary democratic constitution with extensive devolution of power; a system of rule of law, crowned by an independent judiciary; and a system of human rights which gives equal priority to economic, social and cultural rights in addition to (traditionally emphasised) civil and political rights. All these are by and large the visions of Nelson Mandela and his associates.

South Africa is now largely a reconciled society although some have opted to leave the country. It is natural to expect, but no one has been pressured or persecuted to do so. There have also been some setbacks in the economy and the polity due to the opening up of opportunities to and participation by the people in large numbers. These are natural to expect and no country can achieve perfection. The loss of Nelson Mandela undoubtedly will be a loss to the emerging country.

There are five summary lessons that perhaps Sri Lanka should try to emulate.

  • After a transition, and in this case, the end of the war in Sri Lanka, reconciliation should take priority. Economy is undoubtedly a supportive factor for reconciliation but not a primary mover.
  • Reconciliation is foremost a political matter for the leaders to resolve and for the people to support. It is best that the leaders of all sides should take the lead without ‘waiting for Godot’ from outside, the primary responsibility however being on the part of the leaders of the majority community, as Nelson Mandela himself personified.
  • Talk directly, as Nelson Mandela did with F. W. de Klerk without neglecting all the stake holders or their leaders.
  • Justice is primary. Justice however does not mean revenge, but correcting the wrongs and empowering all the victims through truth and appropriate compensation.
  • Never resort to violence or coercion, never again. This is the primary lesson of Nelson Mandela.
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Latest comments

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    Reconciliation with any un-reconcilable party is unimaginable after all these atrocities, mayhem, murder and we don’t have any Mandelas on any side. The fellow citizens are treated like dirt and worse than virtual enemies. The mindset of the people on both sides have gone badly beyond repair, reconciliation, compromise or adjustment and thus our need today is not a Mandela but a sincere International intervention. Sadly, our Locals are not ready for any meaningful local remedies but only hatching up plots to delay and cheat the victims locally and internationally. The wounds are septic that needs Western surgery and not Ayurvedic or home grown Homeopathy treatments. It’s too little too late even to consider local anesthesia. The aiders and abettors should accept their roles, do the needful and sincere deeds. The days of cheating the affected, the world community and themselves should be numbered. Expecting justice, fair play, truth or reconciliation is a far cry from a stubborn, thick headed, racist regime on earth. The kind of racism practiced here in SL is no match for South African apartheid. Ours is cancerous and theirs was a sickness which got cured with proper help and Mandela- medication.

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    Are we living in a nation of destroyers ?

    Doctors destroy Healthcare..
    Lawyers destroy Justice..
    Universities destroy Knowledge..
    Government destroys Freedom..
    The Press destroys Information..
    Religion destroys Moral..
    Banks destroy Economy..
    Politicians destroy People..
    Mahinda destroys the whole Nation..

    We have no Mandelas.. What’s the remedy ?..!

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      You live in fear and that exactly is Insanity- start rowing a paper boat!0-0

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    ” Development and Justice should go together ” says Dr Laksiri.What a noble idea if the very people who cry foul allow the Development to proceed…What did the great majority of our inhabitant population have until 2006 ?…Terrorism, Tears, Mangled bodies, Poor Rural Youth sent home in Coffins every week,frightened Parents and kids , who didn’t know when they would be blown up, Gangsters killing even High Court Judges.and the list is too long to mention.,,,,Where were these Foreign Lankan Dissenters then???…Where were these learned People offering advice for Good Governance and Justice to go hand in hand with Development….But there were Cheer leader and Cheer Squads in the great Capitals of the first World raising more funds to deliver “Justice and Development”….

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      K.A Sumanasekera ……. “What did the great majority of our inhabitant population have until 2006 ?” …………Their stupidity, loads and loads of it, the possession didn’t exhaust in 2006 and they are blessed with it for another 2500 years. ……….

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        Native Veddah…………………………………………..

        “Their stupidity, loads and loads of it, the possession didn’t exhaust in 2006 and they are blessed with it for another 2500 years. “………. ………………………………………………….

        The data supports the hypothesis that Stupidity is a Virtue in Sri Lanka, especially the Buddhism taught by Sinhala Buddhism, as opposed to Buddhism from India, Maha Bharat aka Dambadiva, followed by the politicians and a section of the population…………………

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    As the president of the country, one has to think of the big picture and what is best in our interest.

    WE can’t allow army to fight & make decisions with limited knowledge of their surroundings. You need a commander in chief to guide and give orders being fully aware of the external factors. You guys do the fighting, I do the decision!

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    Situation in South Africa is a different kettle of fish. Our problem is with Indian imperialism and colonialism. There are no lessons to be learned from the situation in South Africa. The only lesson is how the Indians in South Africa is doing well and the blacks or Kafirs as Indians call them are still poor or worse off than they were under apartheid. Note that Yasmin Sooka and Navi Pillai are both Indian colonial parasites from South Africa.

    India is playing havoc in Indian colonies.

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    The unemployment rate in SA is as high as 40% among the blacks. But thousands of Indians are going to SA to work in Indian establishments.

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      But you are kallathoni from Bihar. Bihar is next to Lumbini where Gautama the Indian/Baharat’n died as a hindu in the hindu kingdom of today.
      Free education and begging bowl you bite that hand that feeds you??? Your days are numbered after Equinox- Mugabe loves You.

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    Dr Laksri,

    Before I comment on your topic of Lessons to be learnt I wish to reflect on the Election Results in India where Congress has been ROUTED. It was Congress Party which has shielded MR from facing Jstice. MR is now looking into the Abyss.

    I have said many times that MR cannot be Part of the RECONCILIATION process before he has faced ACCOUNTABILTY. The TRC of South Africa is not suitable for Sinhala Lanak under MR. In South Africa TRC was set up my Mr.Mandela the victim from a postion of Strength. Without wishing to take away Mandelas willingnes to say let Bygones be Bygones he also had other reasions to do what he did. He was a Clever man and he knew the importance of keeping the Whites in the Country to avoid what happened in Rhodesia under Mugabe where all the Whites left leaving the Coutry( Which under white rule was thket of Africa ) leaving the Country Poor.Sinhala Lanka MR is vastly different from South Africa.

    As for Following Recomendations let me deal with them in that order

    1)After a transition, and in this case, the end of the war in Sri Lanka, reconciliation should take priority. Economy is undoubtedly a supportive factor for reconciliation but not a primary mover.
    *** I disagree with you and say ACCOUNTABILTY takes priority.
    2)Reconciliation is foremost a political matter for the leaders to resolve and for the people to support. It is best that the leaders of all sides should take the lead without ‘waiting for Godot’ from outside, the primary responsibility however being on the part of the leaders of the majority community, as Nelson Mandela himself personified. *** MR cannot be part of RECONCILIATION as he is not capable and is not fit for that purpose.
    3) Talk directly, as Nelson Mandela did with F. W. de Klerk without neglecting all the stake holders or their leaders.
    *** I think you are being naive in suggesting MR is interested. Certainly he is not.
    4)Justice is primary. Justice however does not mean revenge, but correcting the wrongs and empowering all the victims through truth and appropriate compensation. *** This should have been the No one Priority and punishment is not revenge.
    5)Never resort to violence or coercion, never again. This is the primary lesson of Nelson Mandela. *** Say this to the 20 million Racists of your community who have practised violence for the last 64 years.

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      Kali, You may be right in saying that TRC in its full form like in SA might not be the best form for Sri Lanka or even for SA. I have known of a person named William Craig who worked for the BOSS (spy/security) organization who was allegedly involved in many disappearances of SA students but escaped any punishment or even due process. I came to know because he also disrupted our scholarship program at WUS where I worked. This is to say that I hold the view that clear perpetrators of both sides should be punished (or pardoned in rare cases) through due process. However, the question might arise why for example the Canadians or the British approved TRC for South Africa but might not approve for Sri Lanka? There is certain bias/hypocrisy in this instance in respect of justice. I don’t see much relevance of your point on the Indian election. In respect of whether MR can be part of the reconciliation process, I have already given my answer to Shiva. Sorry, I don’t flinch on my five summary points. For example, accountability is part of reconciliation, and not priority over reconciliation. In one of my previous articles on “Experiences of Reconciliation: Burma, Cambodia, El Salvador and South Africa” (Colombo Telegraph, 19 August 2013) I have highlighted four elements in a reconciliation process: (1) Restoration of Justice and Accountability (2) Decommissioning and Demobilization (3) Institutional Design and Constitutional Reform and (4) Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges. These are not steps, one after the other, but could take place or be implemented simultaneously. Important thing is reaching agreement or fighting for it. Fighting for it might be the correct task now in Sri Lanka.

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      The Sinhalese never fought for independence but hid in tamil nadu lungi and spied for the Japanese. Freedom means taking responsibility but the points above Dr Laksiri does not want to take the responsibility- this is the fun loving predicament of the Sinhalese.
      Come on Lankans fight for your freedom, and then you understand the responsibility that it carries!!

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    There was a typing error which should have read ( Which under white rule was the Bread Basket of Africa)

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    Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, Sambanthan and Wigneswaran are behaving like Mandela, but Mahinda and Gothabaya are behaving like Id Amin, and all the power is in the hands of the Idi Amins.
    To add to the misfortune of Tamils, Jathika Hela Urumaya, Budhu Bala Sens, Ravana Balaya et al are used by the Lankan Idi Amins to commit genocide of Tamils. Ironicaly, Ravanan was the ancient Tamil Hindu king of all Sri Lanka,

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      “|” king of all Sri Lanka,”|”
      ______________________________________________________
      Hanuman ki Jai 。◕‿◕。

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    Dr.Laksri,

    Let me answer the following as you raise some important issues.
    1) However, the question might arise why for example the Canadians or the British approved TRC for South Africa but might not approve for Sri Lanka.

    *** I have already answered this before ( not in response to your Article)but I will repeat. In SA the setting up of TRC was by the victims from a position of Strength ( assuming power ) which was commendable having served 27 years in Jail for simply being black so the Western Countries had no problem rubber stamping it. As I have said above he had every reason to forgive and forget to stop the Whites from leaving the Country depriving the Country of skills.
    But in Sri Lanka the Western Countries cannot approve the setting up of TRC by those who are accused of Genocide. As I said before the World expects a much higher Standard from GOSL as elected representative who cannot just simply ignore the accusations. If they have nothing to hide why are they reluctant and they cannot just sweep it under the carpet as an internal matter.
    2)There is certain bias/hypocrisy in this instance in respect of justice. I don’t see much relevance of your point on the Indian election. In respect of whether MR can be part of the reconciliation process.
    *** I don’t think there is any bias and it is a Legitimate expectation by the Civilised World and if Sri Lanka considers herself to be one then MR owes a duty to the Country to uphold its honour and integrity. In respect of whether MR can be part of the Reconciliation process I will submit this to you in the hope that you are a reasonable minded and civilised Individual. In the face of very serious charges of Mass Killings , Disappearences, Ethnic Cleansing not just by the Tamils but by the World Community ACCOUNTABILTY is a pre requisite to RECONCILIATION in that order . This is being demanded not jut by the so called enemies but also by friends such as China. I am sure you will admit that MR is paying a lip service to RECONCILIATION as the LLRC recommendations are lying Dormant.

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      Kali, I think the difference between you and me is that you consider the state to be the only perpetrator and the Tamils to be the only victim and in my case I consider both the state and the LTTE to be perpetrators and the Tamils and the Sinhalese to be victims. I am referring to Eelam War IV. I also think that the West opinion was closer to mine in the past and since the LTTE is now gone they perhaps think differently. Otherwise, they could have intervened in the situation in 2009, not now. This is where the so-called hypocrisy stands. Even I doubt their serious engagement now. We can wait and see. This is not because I have serious prejudice against them, but this is ‘real politics.’ This is a matter primarily to be resolved ourselves with of course their support and even influence. I might consider the dialogue between us close for the moment on my part.

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    “Otherwise, they could have intervened in the situation in 2009, not now.”

    The West did not intervene because, there was recognition and concurrence that the LTTE needed to be defeated for peace and justice to prevail. This is what was conveyed from Lakshman Kadir to MR and the rest. Now that the LTTE is no more; injustices to the Tamils are still omnipresent; this is what the West is keen to address. I do not believe that the MR regime would agree to TRC that will be devoid of their control. Such a commission with expose their direct involvement and will be inimical to their interests.

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    Dr.Laksri,

    You have hit the nail on the head and let me see if I can reason out with you and arrive at an answer which is just and fair and reflects the mistakes of Successive Sinhalese Governments. This dialogue started in the aftermath of the great man Nelson Mandela. If we respect his message of Forgiveness then there must be an admission of Guilt on your part and I don’t men you personally and I am sure you understand that. I am speaking as a person who lost three generations of my family during race riots . The second one who was a Station Master at Anuradhapura and was killed during the 1983 riots. He could have taken the train as soon as the riots started but chose to stay behind to put all the Tamils heading North to save their lives but he was stabbed by raging Sinhalese mobs and when he was taken to the hospital they followed him to the Hospital and prevented the Doctors from saving his life and he bled to death. The third one was only 23 and had just qualified as an Engineer and that death was even more harrowing.
    It has been 63 long years and you as the Majority had it in your hands just as Mandela had to satisfy the Tamil Aspirations but failed to do so . I am sure you will admit LTTE was a creation of Sinhalese atrocities and it is no point denying it and if you do we are wasting our time. The Majority could have avoided the terrible carnage if they had the same Human Qualities of the highest calibre just as Mandela. It is no use pretending that it is the 30 year Freedom Struggle which has blighted the country where as in fact it is the Sinhalese Atrocities for 64 years which has blighted so many Tamil lives including mine.
    As a Majority you controlled almost everything and the fault lies with you for all the terrible things and I hate to disagree with you on the following. “This is a matter primarily to be resolved ourselves with of course their support and even influence”. ***This cannot be resolved from within as the vast Majority of the Sinhalese will never agree to giving the Tamils their legitimate rights. Let me ask you the Question. ” If they haven’t agreed to it for the last 64 years why would they agree now?

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      Dear Kali, I am sorry about the family tragedies and do apologise as a so-called Sinhalese. This does not however mean that I am personally guilty. No. I was 13 years when I ‘lost’ my childhood friend Perumal in 1958. ‘Lost’ means not that he was killed, but they moved out of Moratuwa never to see again. I have written about it before. Incidentally, my Bill lost his only son aged 18 years in 1996 due to the Train bombing at Wellawatta/Dehiwala. But my Bill or the family doesn’t have any ill feelings, except shattered by the loss. I believe even I was brought up in a family where we never cared for ethnic, caste or religious differences. I know it is rare. Yes, I agree that ‘a Mandela’ should have emerged in 1948. However, I am an incorrigible optimist. I do believe that the ‘Sinhalese’ will change. They have to. I was rather compelled to write this note although I wanted to end the dialogue after my last comment. It is good that you wrote your personal experience.

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        Dr Laksri,

        Thanks for your comment and it was not my intention to apportion blame on you. We live in hope and let us hope that some good will come out of our current difficulties if there is enough goodwill.

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        “|” I know it is rare.Yes,I agreethat ‘a Mandela’should have emerged in 1948. “|” Enjoy Mandela Tribute.!!
        _______________________________________________
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGmHpn-prd0

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    “|!but this is ‘real politics.’ This is a matter primarily to be resolved “|”

    ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ஜ۩۞۩ஜ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬
    I CAN’T SEE IT….ARE YOU SURE YOU..? – A POLITICIAN IS ONE WHO
    SPEAKS THE` TRUTH AND SANDWICHES THEM WITH LIES`-
    GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
    ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ஜ۩۞۩ஜ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬

    。◕‿◕。◕‿◕ 。◕‿◕。◕‿◕

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    Memorial service – 10 December 2013
    President Obama is likely to deliver an address at the event, among 59 world leaders. (^‿◕)
    So the South Africans have excluded the Chair of Commonwealth rajaporkistan from making a speech at the (stadium) funeral. Obama will lead, no European but Cuba because of its unstinting support during the dark days.。◕‿◕。|。◕‿◕。

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