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Home > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > Peace with Justice, Australia >   South Africa and Lessons for Peace

International Conference on the Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Peace with Justice, Canberra, Australia, 1996


Pravin J. Gordhan M.P.
Chairperson, Portfolio Committee on Constitutional Affairs, South Africa.


Since the 1940's South Africa has been a subject on the agenda of the international community and its organisations. Today from the polecat of the world, notorious for decades for its policy of apartheid, it serves as one of the models of a successful transition from minority rule to democracy.

The people of South Africa have established a constitutional state based on democratic values such as universal franchise, multi-party democracy, non-racialism, non-sexism and equality and liberty based on a Bill of Rights.

However, human conflict, violations of human rights, deprivation of political rights, sectarian discrimination and religious strife are all international phenomena and plague humanities body politic resulting in the loss of life and the perpetuation of violence as a means of resolving political conflict.

Equally perennial has been humanity's search for peace, harmony and co-operation. For the peaceful resolution of political conflict.

This conference on the ever-deteriorating conflict in Sri Lanka is an indication of the kind of international concern which was demonstrated by the international community in solidarity with our struggle for freedom in South Africa. May I pay tribute to the valiant efforts of the organisers of this conference to focus the minds of the international community on Sri Lanka and the search for peace and reconciliation by its peoples.

It is my humble privilege to share with you our experiences in South Africa with a fervent desire to contribute to the achievement of peace and justice in Sri Lanka. South Africa's transition to democracy and the painful transformation of apartheid's legacy has much to offer other communities and nations. But we will be the first to say that no one country's experience can be mechanically translocated to another.

Each country has its own unique history, social composition, social forces, political dynamics and cultural and other idiosynchracies. These are the ultimate determinants and shapers of the trajectory that any peace effort will follow. At the same time the experiences of South Africa has many lessons to offer, many pitfalls to avoid and many creative ideas to adapt to the specific conditions of another country.


South Africa's apartheid system is well known among the participants of this conference. This system was based on racial oppression and class exploitation. It deprived the black majority of their political rights; excluded them from meaningful participation in the economy; neglected the socio-economic development of majority; inculcated and perpetuated a colonial and racist ideology; physically partitioned South Africa in implementing its Bantustan policies; and developed the "white" part of the country along first world standards and the blacks along third world standards.

The apartheid system created a number of political parties that participated in the various political structures in the homelands and in the old Parliament. These forces ultimately became participants in the negotiations process.

These measures were buttressed by a ruthless and efficient security force which was used to impose the worst forms of repression. Today the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is beginning the process of uncovering the brutality of the apartheid regime.

In the last 30 years apartheid governments had the backing of several western countries. The ANC as the leading liberation movement enjoyed virtually total support from most `third world' countries and the Scandinavian countries.

In addition, the ANC built a formidable underground organisation within the country. The armed struggle intensified in the 1980s matched by intense mobilisation and mass struggles within the country.

The call for the racist minority regimes to negotiate with the ANC occurred throughout the decades of non-violent resistance prior to the illegalization of the ANC in 1960.

In 1961, just before his arrest, President Mandela once again issued a plea to the minority government to enter into negotiations. Instead, repression was intensified.

It was the decolonization process in the former Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola, the independence of Zimbabwe, the defeat of the South African army in Angola and the subsequent negotiated settlement in Namibia which spurred oppressed South Africans.

In the case of Sri Lanka, a careful evaluation is required of the international and sub-continental context to establish whether external factors favour a peace initiative. Certainly the cautious progress in the Palestinian territory and the early stages of the process in Northern Ireland suggest that the trend towards finding negotiated solutions still exist.


However, negotiations as a mechanism to resolve local and other issues became increasingly prominent in the mid-1980s - at the same time as severe repression was unleashed, accompanied by a state of emergency. It was in the midst of this period that President Mandela, while prisoner at Robben Island, wrote to P.W. Botha, as head of government, urging Botha to meet with him to discuss an end to the senseless violence sweeping the country at the time.

This marked the beginning of a long process of cautious and tentative contact between the ANC leadership in exile and various role-players from within the ruling bloc:

- the very first contact was between a few academics from the Afrikaaner

establishment and the ANC;

- followed by, contact between security force heads and the ANC - each

anticipating that they would be seeing the devil himself in their adversary!

- the first contact between monopoly business interests and the ANC leadership

in exile

- delegations of leading Afrikaaner intellectuals and academics meeting the

ANC in Africa

- contact between the ANC and Afrikaaner media representatives;

- by 1988 there was a stream of delegations from the country making contact with

and entering into dialogue with the ANC in exile;

The Commonwealth initiated a process in 1985/6 resulting in the establishment of the EMINENT PERSONS GROUP. The former Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Malcolm Fraser was among the Group which met with the ANC, apartheid government, the United Democratic Front and other role-players within the country. This initiative collapsed.

At the same time, within the country:

- NGOs were creating forums where government representatives and anti-

apartheid activists were debating and exchanging views

- by 1987 intensive debates and research was taking place on policies for the post-

apartheid period

- foreign governments began to invite ANC aligned activists and leaders to visit

their countries and get first hand experience and knowledge of various matters

- large numbers of post-graduate and undergraduate students left the country to advance their academic development in preparation for the post- apartheid period

What are the lessons of this period?

The mobilisation of international opinion on an informed and sustained basis certainly earned the ANC the `high moral ground' and increasingly isolated the apartheid regime. International opinion must today do everything to support peace efforts in Sri Lanka. The mobilisation of the broadest possible alliance of internal forces across ideological, political, religious and sectoral divides is critical to create an internal climate for change. Central to this process must be a growing resolve for peace and reconciliation among all role-players in your country.

Initiating some contact and dialogue between even peripheral members of each `side' is critical to the breaking of rigid perceptions built over decades. This contact could be between sections of the intelligentsia on either side; it could be facilitated and driven by the religious leaders. Elements in the media need to be exposed to all dimensions of the problem. Equally crucial is the need for sections of the security forces to be exposed to the possibilities of peaceful co-existence.


South Africa's `miracle' had many dimensions which reflected of both external and internal objective conditions and the subjective factor. In other words, developments inside and outside South Africa created a balance of political and military forces which required political leaders and organisations to consider negotiations as an option.

It was clearly emerging by the late 1980's that a negotiated solution might be an alternative to political and military conflict. The ANC acknowledged its political superiority and its immediate inability to defeat the apartheid military. The National Party government conceded its political weakness and understood that an intensification of the military option would devastate South Africa.

Whilst it is impossible to capture the full complexity of our process here the following elements were crucial:

- convergence of a whole range of factors which created conditions for the political leaders to take the initiative;

- having a leadership in the dominant political parties who had the vision, political will and the courage to seek a negotiated solution;

- constructing a uniquely South African negotiations process and culture

- conceiving and negotiating a phased transition process which assured both stability and transformation at the same time

- testing the boundaries of conventional wisdom and creativity

- sought a win-win solution where the country will be victor not just a party

- created a whole new culture of `national unity' where consensus politics cohabited with majoritarianism;

- merged ideology and pragmatism

- determination to find a South African solution negotiated by South Africans.

The question which arises is how these factors will be reflected in the Sri Lankan case. It is my firm belief that both this conference and the role-players in Sri Lanka must concretely address these issues in an effort to focus the collective mind to the process of shaping the peace process in Sri Lanka.

The following sections will briefly outline:

a) South Africa's negotiation process

b) The nature of South Africa's negotiated package

c) The transition process in South Africa.


The following schematically captures the main stages in the negotiation process in South Africa:


This is the exploratory or `feeling out' stage which took place in the mid-1980's involving contact between the ANC and various individuals and agencies connected to the minority government.


Before entering the negotiations stage, the ANC prepared and sought support for the Harare Declaration which set out the ANC's vision of the principles, pre-conditions and stages of the negotiation process.


This stage involved talks between Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk which laid the basis for some minimum level of trust and understanding. The pre-conditions of the ANC included the unbanning of the ANC, the release of political prisoners and the return of exiles.


This entailed the release of senior ANC leaders from prison, the actual unbanning of the ANC and the free entry of ANC exiles to prepare for talks.


This stage was formally initiated by the signing of the Groote Schuur Minute in May 1990 signalling the commitment of the ANC and NP to find a negotiated solution and set into motion a process to release political prisoners and address other issues. This was a long and complex period.


These were bilateral negotiations developing the process and structures for the negotiations process. During this period the ANC united various forces within a patriotic front.


This stage was initiated in November 1991, with 20 organisations who met to decide upon the negotiations process. This result in the establishment of the Conference for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). Lasting about 6 months this stage revealed that government was not ready for serious negotiations and was instead pursuing a `double agent' - violence and negotiations. The ANC pulled out of these talks.


Intense internal pressure and a refusal to engage in any full bilateral talks by the ANC, eventually resulted in the signing of a Record of Understanding between Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk. This laid the basis for the resumption of talks.


These commenced in March 1993, and resulted in an agreement on:

a) a transition process which was multi-stage

b) an interim constitution to be implemented after the first democratic election

c) the date of the first democratic election - 27 April 1994

d) the establishment of a Transitional Executive Council to level the playing fields and

create conditions for a fair and free election. It worked for about 5 months before

the elections.

e) the establishment of an Independent Electoral Commission to run the elections.

f) the basis for drafting of a `final' constitution by an elected Constitutional Assembly.

g) several other measures


South Africa's transition to democracy is a long and complex one. Whilst there might be the appearance of a definite switch from apartheid to democracy, the following stages give some indication of the process which emerged from the negotiations:

a) the unbanning of the ANC and the negotiating process described above;

b) the Transitional Executive council (December 1993 - April 1994) which signalled a

muted form of "dual power"

c) the elections for a new national parliament and provincial legislators and a

Government of National Unity for 5 years.

d) the drafting of the "final" constitution (finished 8 may, 1996) and it's


e) local government in South Africa had it's own transition process which is likely to

be completed in 1999.

These periods only apply to changes in the political structures. South Africa has many distortions. Government adopted a Reconstruction and Development program to transform all major aspects of life in South Africa. Each country or situation will give rise to a different transition process to meet the needs of the specific context.


The interim constitution drafted during the negotiation reflects the political settlement between the major antagonists. The following are some of the main aspects:

a) A Government of National Unity which offered appointees to parties who obtained more than 10% of the vote to participate in government thus ensuring inclusivity and stability

b) A proportional representation electoral system permitting a wide range of parties to be in parliament

c) All civil servants were guaranteed their jobs and current salary levels

d) Politicians in the apartheid parliament were guaranteed their pensions - even if

they were re-elected to the new parliament

e) A provision for the possibility of ancestry, in a sprit of reconciliation, to the old security forces

f) A number of provisions which dilute full democracy at the local government level

g) The establishment of a Volkstat Council to promote sections of the Afrikaner community to explore self-determination options

These elements reflect our attempts to obtain stability, democracy and transformation and, at the same time meet the main concerns of various groups


This brief overview of the South African Transition to democracy demonstrates the complexity both of our situation and the solution we found for our problems. All sides in Sri Lanka, I suggest, need to realise the long term limitation of the military option. Every effort must now be made to influence and shape circumstances in and outside Sri Lanka to favour a political settlement.

Peace, Justice and reconciliation for all the people of Sri Lanka must come sooner rather than later. There has been enough suffering, pain, destruction and death. Now is the time for the people of Sri Lanka, to cease the moment, to shape their own destiny, to demand that political leaders find the will to lay the foundation for peace and justice.



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