4 December, 2021


Towards The Resolution Of Conflicts: Lessons From Mandela

By R S Perinbanayagam

Prof. R.S.Perinbanayagam

Prof. R.S.Perinbanayagam

One of the ways of resolving long-standing conflicts can be termed as as presentism and futurism. In deploying this strategy one focuses only on what his happening now and what is available on the ground and in futurism one focuses on what can be done to secure a better set of circumstances than what had been available in the past. In pursuing these two strategies, the first step is to ignore, however painful it had been, the past and start   anew and  constitute systems of relationships and programs that will ensure a relatively congenial and efficient functioning of the social order in the future.

This in fact was the strategy that Nelson Mandela adopted in South Africa, not only after he became president but even before that. In the beginning he favored a nonviolent approach in the fight against apartheid. He soon abandoned such a strategy, after certain events that had transpired, and opted for an armed struggle. Once he found out that that was not going to be fruitful he returned to the strategy of negotiating with the state as the intelligent and prudent and efficient way of achieving freedom for the black and brown people of South Africa. Negotiating for a non-apartheid South Africa meant that one underplays  all the injustices and cruelties of the past, leaving that to future historians, and seek to make fundamental changes in the current political structure so that the people who are living now and those who will live in the future are served well. It does not mean forgiving or forgetting the wrongs done in the distant or immediate past but focusing on “what is to be done” now so that the future can be better served. It also means forgetting about seeking revenge and retribution and working towards the future of the people for whom one is fighting as well as for the future of one’s one-time antagonists.

Revenge truly has no place in politics and in life too. “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution. In due time their foot will slip. For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.” sayith the God of the Jews, and not man’s. He will take care of vengeance in His own good time and did!.  Christ too spoke strongly against revenge in his famous sermon on the mount. The Buddha recommends compassion, right action and right speech In the Mahabaratha, which is really a narrative of events that lead to a great war, one may mention that after Krishna’s passionate recommendation to Arjuna of the virtues of the war, the Pandavas and the Kauravas were at peace with each other in the afterlife, described in the last chapter of the epic.

Mandela puts the idea of ignoring or underplaying the past and puts emphasis on the future of his people who now constituted the black and brown and white people--and their continued well-being. The wily strategist that he was, he uses every opportunity to forge that multiracial alliance. The passionate anti-apartheid white activist Chris Hani was assassinated and the black people were ready for violent reprisals. Mandela took to the air waves and used the fact that it was a white woman that recognized the number of the car that carried the assassins thus enabling the police to apprehend them to claim that a unity between the white people and black is possible for the future of South Africa. The gods of sport next gives him one of the most dramaturgically rich occasions with which to forge the unity of the people of South Africa: the South African rugby team reaches the final of the World Cup and the final was to be played in South Africa itself. Mandela uses the championship game to create both the drama of a unified South African nation but deploys various metaphors to demonstrate his loyalty to the team since now they represent not by white South Africa but the South African nation. Rugby has been a white man’s sport in South Africa   and in parts of the world too–but now Mandela stakes a claim to making it South Africa’s national game, the game with which white black and brown South Africans can identify. He memorizes the names of all the South African players and greets them at their practice and gives the captain of the team the handwritten copy of William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus and quotes the famous lines from the poem: “I am the Captain. of my soul; I’m the master of my fate” and claims that during his time of incarceration the poem helped him and may help the Captain, too at a critical time of the game. On the day of the final match he turns up wearing a version of the captain’s jersey with the captain’s number at the back..

And so on and so forth: the South African team, against all calculations and predictions wins the championship of the world and the new nation, where there would be no vengeful massacres, was initiated. Did Mandela mention Sharpeville? Did he mention that the land that was being occupied and cultivated by the whites once belonged to the black people? Did he–or his associates and writers and scribes– claim a Lebensraum with fanciful conjectures about the history and land and language and place-names and claim rights for the black people?

No, not at all: he was a presentist, devoted to the ending of long-standing conflict and the futurist , wanting to march towards a peaceful just and integrated future. Indeed if any group of people and its leaders had cause to complain of past injustices and oppressions and violence it is the black people of South Africa.  For Mandela.  The  past has passed, indeed is “another country” and the present is now and one must forge the future now.

I will quote in conclusion from his inaugural address:

We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. 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.

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign.

Perhaps, there is a lesson to be learnt from this for us in Sri Lanka? Or perhaps not…Or perhaps it is too late…Or perhaps we should be talking more of reconstruction rather than reconciliation alone…

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Latest comments

  • 2

    An excellent and concise presentation making out a case for genuine reconciliation using the analogy of Nelson Mandela’s strategy especially in invoking the theme of INVICTUS relating it to Rugby the favourite game in South Africa. Could not have been presented better. Bensen

  • 1

    The best thing Tamils can do for peace is LEAVE SL.

    • 5

      No Fat ” Mama ” Fuk U Shima:

      The best this you can do for peace in SL is if you go to Uganda and join your brothers like Idi Amin. Hurry up man what are you waiting for and invitation from Museveni.

  • 2

    True reconciliation needs astute political will from all parties with an interest in the outcomes. When ulterior motives, informal agendas and vengeance simmer beneath the surface, the behaviours and actions of the actors betray the lack of that will.

  • 10

    Prof. R.S.Perinbanayagam

    Truly great words professor, not only what Mandela said, but what you say as well. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the only way for reconciliation is to stop harping on past injustices seeking revenge, and instead focus on concrete measures in the present to bring relief to the long suffering people, and envisage a future where a new overarching Sri Lankan identity could be forged on the basis of equality and pluralism.

    The main challenge in this venture obviously is overcoming both the Mahavamsa mindset of the Sinhalese and what I would call the Jaffna Kingdom mindset of the Tamils. Sinhalese people should shed their siege mentality and the concomitant compulsion to monopolize state power. Tamils, on the other hand, should give up the minority complex and its attendant politics of victimhood. Both these mindsets are nourished by constantly invoking the past, more imagined than real. And it goes without saying that both depend on each other for their survival.

    Tamils are reluctant to give up their politics of victimhood because of the advantages it has brought them: international recognition, refugee status, passage to the west and the “good life.” Sinhalese people are reluctant to accommodate even the reasonable demands of the minorities fearing further escalation of “aspirations” leading to foreign intervention. So the Sinhalese attempt to hold the reins even tighter. We have to somehow break out of this vicious cycle if we are really concerned about the future of our children.

    Everything is not bad. The children themselves are the hope. The young are the ones showing some positive signs that everything is not lost in this dismal political landscape haunted by past demons. In my view the youth will slowly but unmistakably bring about change. Globalization while bringing on the much documented dislocations and new forms of exploitation has also spawned a cosmopolitanism among the youth.

    Information technology and the proliferation of media – especially the social media – has given rise to an increasingly homogenized youth culture across the globe. I’m not discounting the negatives such as porn, hate-mongering, bullying, etc. But overall it is a positive development judging by the experience of many countries. This global youth culture shaped by the fusion of varied cultural elements in music and fashion is also engendering a feedback loop: social values such as pluralism, acceptance of difference, equality, respect for human rights and intolerance of social injustice are beginning to impact upon the youth in developing countries. Those who are perceptive enough can see this already happening among our youth who have access to this new cosmopolitan culture. I am confident it will percolate to the rest of the country in the not too distant future.

    In ending the polarization of north and south and integrating all communities into a united country, obviously education will play a major role. Anti-racism classes should be part of school curriculum as well as taught to adults through a nationwide campaign. More cultural exchange programs between the different communities should be organized both by the government and civil society. The efforts taken by the government to accelerate the implementation of the official language policy and to pursue trilingualism vigorously are certainly steps in the right direction and should be applauded.

    We must build a Sri Lanka where racism will be looked down as a sign of mental retardation, and narrow ethno-nationalists disparaged as cultural neanderthals, and all varieties of fundamentalists shunned as primitive Godayas.

  • 3


    I don’t know which planet you are living on and let me correct you first before I comment on your vision for the future.

    *** Mandela was arrested on 5 August, 1962 after living on the run for 17 months, and was imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort. In 1964, Mandela along with other leaders of the ANC, were put on trial charged with involvement in planning armed action and a conspiracy to help other countries invade South Africa. They were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Mandela would spend only 18 years on Robben island prison.

    The above is the story of Mandela and not the one you have given which is factually wrong.

    As for your forgive and forget approach and the South African Model of TRC my friend it will not work in Sinhala Lanka.
    Nelson Mandela was speaking from a position of Strength and had it in his heart to let by gones be by gones learning from the terrible experience of Zimbabwe realising that driving the Whites out of the country will be detrimental to fortunes of South Africa. In that sense he was a clever man and was prepared to forgive and forget.

    Sinhala Lanka is a different story altogether and the atrocities on the Innocent Tamils are too horrendous which we cannot forgive and the wound is too deep which we cannot forget.
    Even the LLRC is dead and buried in its tracks even before it has started because MR is not prepared to implement even the basic minimum which doesn’t go far enough.

    Accountability is a PRE REQUISTE to RECONCIIATION and those who had a hand in the Genocide cannot be part of Reconciliation.
    If GOSL want to be part of Reconciliation they must subject themselves to an International inquiry and abide by the decision.

    I am not sure what brought you in to the foray and who knows may be you have been put up to this by MR with a Sweetner.

  • 1

    Unfortunately Mandela is a sad example because he after ridding South Africa of a white minority rule failed to make South Africa and South Africans a free and peaceful country and a Nation. The wealth is still in the hands of the whites. There is no unity amoung the people. The poor South African are poorer than they were. Is that the example Sri Lanka should follow. If not for the blithering of the Tamils, Sri Lanka is incomparrable to South Africa, in its development, peace and freedom of the people.

  • 2

    I am sure the professor will reply to Kali in good time but I want to refer to his last line,the coup de grace of his arument:

    “I am not sure what brought you in to the foray and who knows may be you have been put up to this by MR with a Sweetner”

    Why is it that kali and his mates seem to slip so readily from assasination to character assasination? Is it an addiction?

    • 2

      From Yalpadi to Mahintha Puhalpadi,

      Mahintha Puhalpadi,

      Who is the assassin and whose character are you referring to.

      Mahintha is the assassin and he is the one who is addicted due to his thirst for Tamil Blood and any one who attempts to let him off the hook like the Prof will be vilified.

      For your information Mahintha Puhalpadi your boss has tried to bribe every one to cover his tracks so don’t talk rubbish.
      Recently he wasted 100 Million Rupees trying to get American Administration to back Sinhala Lanka and they have taken the money and politely told him sorry mate. MR even tried to bribe a BJP man so you can see how desperate he is even Muthia Murali was paid not to dig just in case he finds his balls buried.

  • 3

    Kali please do not write things that you donot know about. If you have been to Sri Lanka write about how it has developed since elimination of terrorism. Do not go by what others say to support their respective agendas.

    • 4

      Charles you Bloody Ignorant:

      Don’t talk rubbish mate. You make me laugh when you say how Sri Lanka has developed. Man Mahintha is living on borrowed Money. 8 Trillion rupees borrowed from Chinese to build Roads and Airports to fool the World except you with no means to pay back and in the Process the Siblings have squandered billions. Where else did you think Gotha got the money from to own the White House in the heart of the City.
      I don’t know where you live may be in the Wilpathu Jungle. I have driven the length and breath of Tamil Eelam and people are living in fear and nothing has been done. I have better knowledge of Eelam than you and I know how disproportionate the development is Start to Finish. We are not prepared to take lectures from you lot any more.
      During my visit I went to Pray at Nallur Temple but to my horror I found it was guarded by two soldiers. I went up to them and asked them what brings you here but no comment from them.
      There are no Tigers to guard against except Peacocks.
      Then I went to Nainathivu and the Ferry Service is now controlled by Bhikkhus and this amount to complete Colonisation and you expect me to accept this as development.
      We have our own agenda and the World is behind us except Mugabe, the Mullahs from Iran and the likes you are currently Courting.

  • 1

    The Angry and intemperate and incivil Kali.Perhaps you should change your name to Karli?

  • 3


    You cannot be a Tamil in Sri Lanka. The Tamils in Sri Lanka are more polite and cultured. Even if there are some jokers in the TNA. They would have never addressed me or any one as you have done.

    You must be a Tamil born and bred in some foreign country. In modern times there is no country in the world which does not exist with out financial support from other countries. Even USA has burrowed money from China to support its economy. France had received financial aid from Libya. Greece has avoided bankruptcy by taking loans from the EU Countries. France is also in debt. It is how the countries exist today. If Sri Lanka did not get financial aid from China, Russia, Japan, Iran etc. It could not have developed so fast. IMF granted loans to Sri Lanka as Lanka pays back its loans. These monies have been utilised for the purposes for which they were taken. Rajapaksas were a rich family from the South. They did not get enriched from the foreign aid Sri Lanka had received. There is corruption in Sri Lanka, but you cannot put everyone into the same basket, and corruption is not inique to Sri Lanka either there is corruption in every Western country as well.

    I have been to Jaffna and stayed there for two weeks. I have been invited to Tamil families, and shared meals with them. I have been to Nallur temple, but there were no soldiers there. In some other places I have met Soldiers (two in each place) guarding places that need security. I have been driven in three wheelers and I have been walking alone in the towns , and all the Tamil people were kind and helpful. When I got into a crowded buss there were those who got up to give their seat to me. So good are those people. The future, peace, progress and happiness of the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka is in being with the Sinhala people. The place of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka is with the Sinhala and not with the Tamils dispersed in foreign countries, nor with the White west who detest the colour of your skin Kal, though they pretend to support the Tamils living in their countries.

    So stop your harangue and use your head and begin to love Sri Lanka and the peoples of Sri Lanka-Tamil, Sinhala and Muslims.

  • 2


    the Problem is you have gon to a Tamil Eelam and travelled the legnth and breadth of it. But there is no wonder the misconception with which you write without thinking for what moment exactly what you are writing about.

    There is no Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, my Friend. There are only Provinces. You should have gone to the North and East of Sri Lanka to see the development that has taken place there. The Tamil Eelam is in your mind and you visit North and East of Sri Lanka thinking it is the Tamil Eelam it will not coincide with your mental image of the Tamil Eelam with the reality Next time you go to Sri Lanka go with an open mind, not with images and prejudices of your own.

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