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Tribute to His Excellency, Former President of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Architect of the Free and Democratic South Africa

Hits: 2234 | Published Date: 16 Jan, 2014
| Speech delivered at: 67th Sitting - Tenth Parliament
| Speech Delivered by : Hon. Clement J. Rohee, MP

Mr. Rohee: The motion, I understand stand from our Chief Whip, is a consensus motion which, of course, already has the basis for the agreement with the full sitting of the House but we have our responsibility, our duty, to speak to the motion and to look at one man from different perspectives, look at one man through the eyes of, first of all, the world, region and our own national situation. I think the key thing here we ought to be examining is: What lessons can we learn from Nelson Mandela?  What lesson can we learn from this man as an individual?
I have two concrete examples that I would like to demonstrate in this respect. I had the honour and privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela on two occasions. The first time was in St. Lucia at a CARICOM Heads of Government meeting when he came to meet with Heads of Government and to have an exchange of views with them. At that time there were two issues which CARICOM Heads of Government were seeking to grapple with. One was the question of a diplomatic presence of South Africa in the Caribbean and which country should have hosted a diplomatic mission of the new South Africa. The second was which country should have been the stopover for South Africa Airlines. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs in those days discussed this matter at length but could not have reached an agreement and so it was left to the Heads to settle the matter.
When they met in caucus they themselves could not reach agreement and they decided that they would have discussed the matter with President Mandela in order to evince some kind of solution from him as to how he saw the questions, both questions. When they sat in caucus with President Mandela and they spoke to him about establishment of a South African embassy in one of the CARICOM countries, he sat quietly and listened. He was accompanied by Alfred Nzo who was at the time the Minister of Foreign Affairs. After the discussion had wound up so to speak he had to say the following: That when he was in prison in Robin Island he received a letter from a child in Soweto who wrote asking him that when he came out from prison she would like him to take steps to ensure every residents in Soweto would have drinking water running through the taps.  He related that story in such an interested and graphic way that at the end of the discussion it became clear to those of us who sat and listened to him that he had different priorities. That the priority at the time was not so much the establishment of a diplomatic mission of the new South Africa in CARICOM but to provide his people, responding to this child, with pure drinking water from a running tap.
The second experience was when I attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Edinburgh  in which there was  the question of the admission of countries in Africa that were not colonies of Britain but which wanted to become members of the Commonwealth. The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, turned to Mandela and asked him what were his views on the subject, because traditionally and by convention it is only former colonies of Britain in Africa, apart from Canada, which would be accepted as a member state of the Commonwealth.  Mandela used some very persuasive arguments that at the end of the day it was agreed that steps would have been taken for those countries of the Commonwealth to become members of the Commonwealth.  That actually happened at the next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. That demonstrated, first of all, the national perspective and focus of this man, Mandela, and how he has established his priority for his people and, secondly, the international dimension of his thinking with respect of broadening international relations vis-a-vis representation in the Commonwealth.
Mandela was therefore no stranger to the Caribbean or even Guyana.
Someone mentioned the early 1950s irrespective of the South African question being debated in this country and in the then House of Representatives. I think that mostly Guyanese would recognise and accept that it is not only by name but by deed Nelson Mandela is a name that resonates throughout the length and breadth of this country. Why that has happened? This has happened because Guyanese leaders, our fore parents, were able to make the connections between the struggles of people in various parts of the world for national and social liberation for independence with the struggles we were waging  here in Guyana and they were able to, so to speak, spread the gospel. When the leaders introduced, for example, a day - I see a lot of people trying to bring it back now - called Ghana Day it used to be held in the Bourda Green many years ago. It was part and parcel of the global reach, the global vision of the leaders in those days and how they were able to link and connect Guyana with the struggles for independence of these Africans countries, but also others as well. Let the separation of Guyana and the struggles of similar people in other colonies, notwithstanding we are geographically separate, the fact of the matter was that people in these countries, including ours, were struggling for our emancipation, our independence.
I have here with me a copy of the Hansard of the 16th November, 1960 where a motion on the boycott of trade with South Africa was introduced in what was called the legislative council. On the 16th of November, 1960, six years prior to our country becoming independent, a debate took place on this motion which pointed out that since 1951 Dr. Jagan had tabled a motion asking the council to denounce race and segregation in South Africa. That was important because it demonstrated that the international character of the leaders in those days brought into this building, which we are now sitting, having now inherited the seats from those were there before us making the link, making the connections,... I would like to quote from a debate that took place in 1952, on the 25th of July.  I quote from the Hansard in which Dr. Jagan was speaking.
“But let me assure you Hon. Members that what is happening in South Africa today is not merely a racial question, it is above all an economic problem.”
The Hon. Mover has given us a number of Acts which were passed by the South African Government but when we examine all of them, whether it is the Group Areas Act, Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act or Population Registration Act, we would see that what the South African Government did was merely use political power, which it had, to deny economic rise to the masses of the people of South Africa. He went on further to state:
“It is not, as I have said before, merely a matter of racial segregation. Above all, it is a means of using political power to keep the masses of the people in a subservient state, in a downtrodden state, to keep them half-starved and ill-educated. That is the position we are dealing with in South Africa.”
I feel proud as a Guyanese of this generation to know that so many decades ago our predecessors in this hallowed Chamber debated the issue of South Africa. I think it is important for us to honour those who were here before us and I think the motion, quite correctly, does that. It puts it in historical context.
It is interesting to note...and we note that even within recent days the issue of sport and South Africa was inextricably linked insofar as the effort to dismantle apartheid. In that very debate I had referred to, the questions of sport in South Africa and participation of West Indian sportsmen in South Africa also came up. In that debate, Dr. Jagan publicly expressed his view that a West Indian cricket team should not play in South Africa under the conditions which existed there, unless its all coloured team was accepted in full equality. Interestingly enough, this public statement was fully criticised by some locally.
Further, what was of interest was that the then Secretary General of the African National Congress, Mr. D. Macau wrote to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) stating the following:
“We were greatly impressed when we read an article by Dr. Cheddi Jagan in which he objected to Worrell’s tour of our country.”
He was speaking here of Sir Frank Worrell.
“We are happy to say that through our joint efforts we were able to make sportsmen understand that the tour would not be in the interest of our struggle. We should express our gratitude to your countrymen for agreeing to call off this tour.”
That statement alone, which emanated from our country, then known as British Guiana, put us in the international limelight, so much so that outstanding fighters in South Africa recognised that in faraway British Guiana they had allies in the struggle for their own emancipation.
Mandela was a man from which many drew inspiration as a result not only of his personal struggles and contributions, but also that of other freedom fighters in South Africa. It was not only the struggle but the principles which guided them in that struggle. I think one of the lessons that we can draw from the experiences of the South African freedom fighters is that they stayed with the struggle until the end, save and except for one point in time when some of those who were in the African National Congress (ANC) left and formed the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Even when that happened, the PAC was a much more radical breakaway from the ANC. Even when they did so, according to Mandela’s biography, he took painstaking efforts to maintain some relationship with the PAC.
The independence struggles in India played a very important role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Gandhi’s presence in South Africa and Mandela’s world vision all helped to make the South African struggle become mature. Mandela was even at one time not supportive of joining with the Indian National Congress (INC) which was waging a serious battle on behalf of Indian South Africans who were equally ostracised and who the South African government in those days were seeking to create various levels of citizenship between black South Africans and Indian South Africans. It was only after Mandela saw the struggle that was waged by the INC that he recognised the importance of alliances. He recognised the importance of the ANC building an alliance with the Indian National Congress in South Africa because he recognised that both had a common enemy and there was absolutely no point whatsoever in the ANC fighting the INC. This is where he was able to build some very strong allies in the struggle at the local level.
The struggle of the liberation fighters in South Africa, led by the ANC of which Mandela was an integral part, attracted worldwide attention. I think it was because, principally, the struggle that was being waged by the then leaders of the ANC, Mandela found not to be coinciding with the wishes and aspirations of the South African people and he decided many times to challenge the leadership with a view to encouraging them to change the course of action and to change their strategies and tactics. He was defeated on many occasions and he recognised the importance for him to build allies within the ANC for his position in order for him to win the day within the leadership of the organisation.
Having done so, he further recognised that to win support for the new strategy and tactics that were adopted by the ANC and with the eventual formation of the Umkhonto We Sizwe, like the Vietnamese people, he needed international support and solidarity to be successful. This is where he handed to Mr. Oliver Tambo the responsibility to mobilise international support in respect of the arms struggle that was being waged in South Africa, while he handed the responsibility for the arms struggle to be waged locally to Mr. Joe Slovo.
My reading of the history of the South African struggle tells me that for a man to be in prison and to be able to conduct successfully the international relations of the ANC, at the same time to conduct successfully the arms struggle and to win the support of other African countries, is a remarkable achievement. There are many of us who believe that mobilisation of international support for our cause, even in these present conditions, and the mobilisation of the people to rally them in defence of specific issues can be done easily. This is painstaking work that is required with the support of strong and reliable comrades to be able to get the work done. It also requires unity of purpose. These are some basic lessons we need to learn from the ANC’s struggle in South Africa. Tambo did a fantastic job and I believe that it was because of this that Mandela held him in such high esteem. It does not mean to say that the others did not do a good job as well.
Some people feel that the struggle in South Africa was black and white. I do not support the view that the struggle in South Africa was black and white, cut and dried or compartmentalised. It was a very fluid, dynamic and complex struggle that required skills and tenacity in order for the ANC to arrive at a situation where they were able to force the apartheid regime to the negotiating table.
What was important in this struggle was that under Mandela there were the elements of flexibility and compromise and, at the same time, firmness of purpose so that while the leaders were able to exercise a tremendous amount of flexibility, given the complexity of the struggle in South Africa - we need to remember that the western world firmly supported apartheid for the longest while - to breakthrough that situation was no easy task. The elements of flexibility and compromise together with firmness and unity of purpose are ingredients that eventually led to the victory of the ANC and the freedom of Nelson Mandela.
There were many leaders that emerged, but there was a primus inter pares and the primus inter pares among all of the others who made equal contributions was Mandela. How did he emerge to be accepted as the leader, so to speak, of all the others who were even there before him? It was precisely because he was able to apply strategy and tactics that resonated with the aims and aspirations at every given point in time of every stage of the struggle with the South African people.
Mandela made the point that unlike many revolutionaries...there are different types of revolutionaries. There are revolutionaries who are red inside and white outside. I call them the turnip revolutionaries. Mandela, unlike many revolutionaries of his time, had a quite unique introduction into politics. He was not a politician. In fact, he avoided politics like the plague, at the beginning. He never wanted to get involved in active politics. He avoided the ANC. He avoided the communist party of South Africa. He avoided many other movements in South Africa. He avoided the trade union movement for a while. It was only because of constantly going to meetings and observing what was going on that he eventually recognised that his place was with the ANC.
In his book that many have quoted from, this is what he had to say about his introduction to politics:
“I cannot pinpoint a moment when I became politicized, when I knew that I would spend my life in the liberation struggle. To be an African in South Africa meant that one is politicized from the moment of one’s birth. Whether one acknowledges it or not, an African child is born in an African only hospital, taken home in the African only bus, lives in an African only village and attends African only schools, if he attends school at all.”
He went on:
“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, “Hence forth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”
Presiding Member [Ms. Shadick]: Hon. Minister, your time is up.
Mr. Hinds: Hon. Member, I propose that the Hon. Member be given 15 minutes to continue his presentation.
Question put and agreed to.
Mr. Rohee: I come back to the question: what is the relevance of Mandela to Guyana? What lessons can we learn? I can only point to the following:
First of all, the need for respect and tolerance of each other’s political goals and objectives, providing – and this is the important caveat – that it does not impinge, deny, impose an injustice or take away the fundamental rights of any individual, any group, race or class of people. While it is important to recognise the plurality of political parties in a democracy, it is important that one party does not trample on the rights of another. I repeat, once again, for the sake of emphasis the need to be firm on matters of principle, flexibility and the question of tactics.
Hon. Member Nagamootoo spoke about multiculturalism and multiracial issues. We have our own national peculiarities in this country but I believe that we have to be careful that we do not overestimate or underestimate this question of race and politics in Guyana, that we do not accept the connection between race and class in our country. As was said in a statement that was issued by the People’s Progressive Party, we do not see race in compartmentalised situations. We have a very fluid process where social and political formations tend to go off in different directions, depending on interests, social interest and class interest. Mandela lived through that experience and he was able to see his country become free in the process, becoming the first democratically elected President of his country.
There are some who, in our local conditions, used to make the point that the People’s Progressive Party could never win the majority of votes in this country because of racial polarisation. I think it was Dr. Jagan who made the point that even if all East Indians were to vote for the People’s Progressive Party, as some people claimed, we could not win a free and fair election. This happened because there were people from other classes and social strata who came across to the PPP and it is important that we see our politics in this dynamic way.
There have been several instances and sittings in this Chamber when both Government and Opposition took a united stand on issues related to South Africa and Africa as a whole. Regrettably, most of the occurrences have been on international issues, that is to say when the opposition and governing party would come together, it would be mainly on international issues.
The Hansard would show that in 1978, with the unilateral declaration of independence by Mr. Ian Smith in Rhodesia, the then Legislative Council took a united position in denouncing the unilateral declaration of independence of Rhodesia which is now Zimbabwe. When Rhodesia invaded Zimbabwe, the Legislative Council on all sides took a united position as well. When Guatemala invaded Belize, the National Assembly took a united position. The same was in relation to apartheid in South Africa. On the issue of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, this National Assembly took a united position on it as well, not forgetting that the Turkish invasion of Cyprus was also denounced in this National Assembly.
There are some issues that have arisen in the course of our engagement with South Africa and the course that Guyana sought to take on this matter. It is to be recalled that we had some differences on the question of the marketing of Guyana’s bauxite by the Phillips brothers in South Africa. There were many debates on this matter. Eventually, the then government disengaged with the Phillips brothers, who it had signed a contract with to market Guyana’s bauxite internationally.
We also had some differences in respect of...I think the Hon. Member made a mistake when he spoke about GD$50,000. I think he really meant United States dollars.    [Mr. B. Williams: I said US dollars.]     No, you said Guyana dollars. There is some misinterpretation still that we opposed this gesture. The records will show that we did not oppose the gifting of the US$50,000 to South Africa freedom fighters. We supported it. What we did say was that there were freedom fighters in other parts of the world – Vietnam, Nicaragua – and they also needed assistance. Because of the divisions at the time within the Non-Aligned Movement on what positions the Non-Aligned Movement should take in respect of Vietnam, on whether Vietnam should be seated in the United Nations (UN) and the Non-Aligned Movement, the then Government did not find it fit to support.    [Mr. Ali: Read the records, Mr. Rohee.]     My Colleague is encouraging me to read. I will read just one paragraph. I know it is getting late. I will come back to that when I find it.
That is basically the position that the party took in relation to the Phillip Brothers who was the agents of Guybau and the contribution made by the then Government to the freedom fighters in South Africa.
This motion that is with us this evening at this late hour is a good one. I think when the history is recorded of our commitment to South Africa, future generations... This is the section here. This is what Dr. Jagan said in a debate in the National Assembly about the “Condemnation of The Samoza Regime and the Recognition of the National Government of Reconstruction of Nicaragua” 5th July, 1979. It states:
“We have a lot of experience in this Government. When I spoke to the Prime Minister in the old days of Vietnam, I asked him what about support for Vietnam. After they came back from the Non-Aligned Movement 1970 they said they were going to give $50,000 in aid. We said okay. What about Vietnam? What about Brazilian Freedom Fighters? They said they do not have money. We said that Vietnam does not need money; all it needed was the normal support. But they did not have the guts to say that even as late as 1970.
When I dealt with the point of sanctuary for African freedom fighters, I said, Okay, good. But this is a far way from Africa. The comrades do not want to be all the way in Guyana, they want to be nearby. What about the freedom fighters nearby in Brazil?”
It is not that these steps were opposed. It is not that these gestures were opposed. The position that was taken was to qualify the gesture to mean if you are giving sanctuary to South African freedom fighters, if you are giving aid to freedom fighters in one part of the world, you should give aid to freedom fighters in other parts of the world. That was the principle of the position of the PPP in those days, and I do not think you can fault the PPP for that. As we have learned in this Parliament, we all have different views and different positions, and the record speaks for itself.
In closing, I wholeheartedly stand here as a proud Guyanese knowing that in this hallowed Chamber decades before we eventually came here to take up seats – I would not want to say before we were born – there were individuals before us who raised the flag of support and solidarity and recognised the struggle of the South African people, led by Mr. Mandela. In a similar fashion, we, true to that legacy, continue to do so in the best interest of our relations between Guyana and the Republic of South Africa.
Thank you. [Applause]

Related Member of Parliament

Designation: Minister of Home Affairs
Date of Birth: 16 Mar,1950
Date Became Parliamentarian: 1992
Speeches delivered:(18) | Motions Laid:(0) | Questions asked:(0)

Related Member of Parliament

Date Became Parliamentarian: 1992
Speeches delivered:(18)
Motions Laid:(0)
Questions asked:(0)

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