Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

Sri Lanka Reconciliation & South Africa: Here's what Mangala needs to know

By Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune Political Note
By Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune Political Note

Sri Lanka's foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera, in Washington 11 February on eve of his dialogue with US secretary of state John Kerry, signaled to the American administration that the new Sirisena-Wickremasinghe regime will seriously focus to bring an accountability mechanism parallel to that of the truth and reconciliation process undertaken by South Africa, a notion the United States and other major Western powers endeavored to impress on Sri Lanka after the defeat of Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

Mr. Samaraweera, in the course of his address, which sounded like a student presenting a progress report to the Master-in-Control with a whip, declared for the American administration to hear that "discussions will commence during the end of this month with officials from South Africa to institute a truth-seeking mechanism suitable for our circumstances, which will function in parallel to the accountability mechanism. Unlike the South African version, it will not be for the purpose of amnesty but to facilitate the healing and reconciliation process of the victims".

An erudite person himself, quality well known to this writer due to many discourses with him in the past, Mr. Samaraweera should have studied the impact and result of the South African 'experience' of 'truth and reconciliation' since the advent of the Black Rule in that country more than two decades ago before he went into his major address.

How Mangala Samaraweera got the impression of an 'extremely fruitful' working of the South African truth and reconciliation process is known only to him.

But let us educate Sri Lanka's foreign minister the effect and result of the South African experience from some research we undertook, and a firsthand account from a person very familiar with that process so that Sri Lanka could avoid falling into the 'trap' of the LTTE rump within the Tamil Diaspora, the rump who were aiding and abetting Prabhakaran's two decade or more carnage unleashed though his adventurism not forgetting his genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Mr. Samaraweera needs to develop a research unit in his foreign ministry so that he could be adequately counseled before he makes major foreign policy declarations.

Truth Commission or Poverty Alleviation

Since the end of the apartheid rule twenty years ago with the emergence of majority Black rule headed by Nelson Mandela, South African at the behest and lectures of the Western World, similar to what Sri Lanka faced since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, took the trajectory of finding the 'truth' and 'reconciliation' but little or nothing was undertaken to alleviate the utter misery and poverty of the vast majority of the Black population.
South Africa, while listening to the 'counsel' of the West, failed to undertake a broad and massive economic restructuring of the nation that would have clearly benefited the majority Black population which was under the bottom of the poverty scale during the long White apartheid rule.

At the conclusion of this Political Note, we will carry an article "Apartheid Did Not Die in South Africa: Twenty Years by Another Name" by a renowned international journalist and documentary maker John Pilger who presented the plight of the Black population twenty years after the end of the White apartheid rule.

The West was satisfied that South Africa appointed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the task of bringing the plight of the Black into the open fell into the lap of investigative journalists like John Pilger.

We carry his article to generate a discourse within the Sri Lankan society which is facing a similar scenario of Western lectures, to which Mr. Samaraweera seems to have succumbed to, to show the futility of the South African process.

Here, at the outset before coming to John Pilger's presentation, the true status of the vast Black population in South Africa, their economic condition and poverty rate in comparison to other racial groups in that country the Asians, Whites and Mixed Race.

And this is after twenty years under the Black rule using the 'truth and reconciliation concept' of the West, the same formulae Sri Lanka is being presented these days.

In contrast, Sri Lanka's previous Rajapaksa administration, undertook a massive and broad economic resuscitation in the nation especially in the predominantly Tamil Northern Region and the Eastern Region in which Tamils are a majority with a significant presence of the other two ethnic communities Sinhalese and Muslims.

South Africa failed in this attempt, and Asian Tribune will now present facts and figures to support that argument.

We present here a visual map for easy understanding courtesy Wall Street Journal:

The above gives a very clear picture as to where the vast majority of the Back population in South Africa is stationed.

The scenario is: Seven million more households have access to electricity compared with two decades ago in the country of 51 million. Access to education for people of all colors has vastly improved. And life expectancy has increased by eight years in the past eight years, reflecting progress in health care, notably the treatment of HIV-AIDS.

But the gap between rich and poor has increased, based on the Gini Coefficient, which measures a society's equality.

The income disparity between white and black South Africans remains stark. The average annual income for a black South African remains one sixth of a white South African, government data show.

Empowerment programs that offer equity stakes and other concessions to non-white South Africans have failed to close these gaps.

People below poverty level: Blacks are the highest with 55%, while among the Mixed Race it is 30%, Indian/Asians less than 3% and the Whites just 1%.

Adults with High School Diploma or better: Again the Blacks are the worst with only about 15%. Whites and the Indian/Asian are the highest that exceeds 60%, the Whites topping at more than 70%.

Among the 23 countries surveyed, South Africa tops the list of being Least Equal in comparison of races in that country.

The household with tap water, a basic gauge of any family's living condition, the 2012 statistics indicate that the Black household have the least (33%) facility of tap water while the highest are Whites and Indian/Asian households, exceeding 90%.

While the unemployment among the Black population exceeds 30%, among the Whites and Indian/Asians less than 10%.

This then is South Africa since it ended the White-dominated apartheid rule in 1994, the 20-year record.

Where does the Western-advocated 'truth and reconciliation' mix with this sorry state of affair?

Apartheid Did Not Die in South Africa: Twenty Years by Another Name

Sri Lanka's new approach to reconciliation seems to be looking toward South Africa, a longtime recommendation by the West using as a 'Global Example' of reconciliation , to establish a 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission'.

'Reconciliation' and 'Transparency' are two sound bites of the West. Sri Lanka's new foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera touched on these when he addressed the Carnegie Think Tank 11 February in Washington.

We give here an alternate view about the 'success' of the South African 'experiment' of 'Truth and Reconciliation'.

The internationally recognized documentary maker and investigative journalist John Pilger who made a documentary film in 1998 'Apartheid Did Not Die' describes the South African 'experiment' in this manner:

“Apartheid based on race is outlawed now, but the system always went far deeper than that. The cruelty and injustice were underwritten by an economic apartheid, which regarded people as no more than cheap expendable labor. It was backed by great business corporations in South Africa, Britain, the rest of Europe, and the United States. And it was this apartheid based on money and profit to allow a small minority to control most of the land, most of the industrial wealth, and most of the economic power. Today, the same system is called – without a trace of irony – the free market.”

John Pilger was banned from South Africa for his reporting during the apartheid era. On his return thirty years later with Alan Lowery, he describes the extraordinary generosity of a liberated people, but asks who are the true beneficiaries of a democracy – the black majority or the white minority?

John Richard Pilger (born 9 October 1939) is an Australian-British journalist based in London. Pilger has lived in the United Kingdom since 1962. Since his early years as a war correspondent in Vietnam, Pilger has been a strong critic of American, Australian and British foreign policy, which he considers to be driven by an imperialist agenda. Pilger has also criticized his native country's treatment of indigenous Australians and the practices of the mainstream media. In the British print media, he has had a long association with the Daily Mirror, and writes a fortnightly column for the New Statesman magazine.

Pilger has twice won Britain's Journalist of the Year Award. His documentaries, screened internationally, have gained awards in Britain and worldwide. The journalist has also received several honorary doctorates.

We decided to carry Mr. Pilger's revealing article after Mr. Samaraweera made the statement referring to South African approach to ethnic reconciliation.

Although Mangala Samaraweera said, "it will not be for the purpose of amnesty but to facilitate the healing and reconciliation process of the victims," the South African 'approach' was in fact healing and reconciliation. To find out whether it worked, read Mr. Pilger.>

Here is John Pilger's article in full:

On my wall in London is my favourite photograph from South Africa. Always thrilling to behold, it is Paul Weinberg's image of a lone woman standing between two armored vehicles, the infamous "hippos," as they rolled into Soweto. Her arms are raised, fists clenched, her thin body both beckoning and defiant of the enemy.

It was May Day 1985; the last great uprising against apartheid had begun. Twelve years later, with my 30-year banning from South Africa lifted, there was a pinch-me moment as I flew into Jan Smuts and handed my passport to a black immigration officer. "Welcome to our country," she said.

I quickly discovered that much of the spirit of resistance embodied in the courageous woman in Soweto had survived, together with a vibrant ubuntu that drew together African humanity, generosity and political ingenuity -- for example, in the dignified resolve of those I watched form a human wall around the house of a widow threatened with disconnection of her electricity, and in people's rejection of demeaning "RDP houses" they called "kennels"; and in the pulsating mass demonstrations of social movements that are among the most sophisticated and dynamic in the world.

On the twentieth anniversary of the first democratic vote on 27 April 1994, it is this resistance, this force for justice and real democratic progress that should be celebrated, while its betrayal and squandering should be understood and acted upon.

On 11 February, 1990, Nelson Mandela stepped out on the balcony of Cape Town City Hall with the miners' leader Cyril Ramaphosa supporting him. Free at last, he spoke to millions in South Africa and around the world.

This was the moment, an historic split-second as rare and potent as any in the universal struggle for freedom.

Moral power and the power for justice could triumph over anything, any orthodoxy, it seemed. "Now is the time to intensify the struggle," said Mandela in a proud and angry speech, perhaps his best, or the last of his best.

The next day he appeared to correct himself. Majority rule would not make blacks "dominant." The retreat quickened. There would be no public ownership of the mines, banks and rapacious monopoly industries, no economic democracy, as he had pledged with the words: "a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable."

Reassuring the white establishment and its foreign business allies -- the very orthodoxy and cronyism that had built, maintained and reinforced fascist apartheid -- became the political agenda of the "new" South Africa.

Secret deals facilitated this. In 1985, apartheid had suffered two disasters: the Johannesburg stock market crashed and the regime defaulted on its mounting foreign debt. In September that year, a group led by Gavin Relly, chairman of the Anglo-American Corporation, met Oliver Tambo, the ANC president, and other liberation officials in Mfuwe, Zambia.

The Relly message was that a "transition" from apartheid to a black-governed electoral democracy was possible only if "order" and "stability" were guaranteed. This was liberal code for a capitalist state in which social and economic democracy would never be a priority. The aim was to split the ANC between the "moderates" they could "do business with" (Tambo, Mandela and Thabo Mbeki) and the majority who made up the United Democratic Front and were fighting in the streets.

The betrayal of the UDF and its most effective components, such as the National Civic Organization, is today poignant, secret history.

In 1987 and 1990, ANC officials led by Mbeki met 20 prominent members of the Afrikaner elite at a stately home near Bath, in England. Around the fireplace at Mells Park House, they drank vintage wine and malt whisky. They joked about eating "illegal" South African grapes, then subject to a worldwide boycott, "It's a civilised world there," recalled Mof Terreblanche, a stockbroker and pal of F.W. De Klerk. "If you have a drink with somebody ... and have another drink, it brings understanding. Really, we became friends."

So secret were these convivial meetings that none but a select few in the ANC knew about them. The prime movers were those who had profited from apartheid, such as the British mining giant Consolidated Goldfields, which picked up the tab at Mells Park House. The most important item around the fireplace was who would control the economic system behind the facade of "democracy."

At the same time, Mandela was conducting his own secret negotiations in Pollsmoor Prison. His principal contact was Neil Barnard, an apartheid true believer who headed the National Intelligence Service.

Confidences were exchanged; reassurances were sought. Mandela phoned P.W. Botha on the his birthday; the Groot Krokodil invited him to tea and, as Mandela noted, even poured the tea for his prisoner. "I came out feeling," said Mandela, "that I had met a creative, warm head of state who treated me with all the respect and dignity I could expect."

This was the man who, like Verwoerd and Vorster before him, had sent a whole African nation to a vicious gulag that was hidden from the rest of the world. Most of the victims were denied justice and restitution for this epic crime of apartheid. Almost all the verkramptes -- extremists like the "creative, warm" Botha -- escaped justice.

How ironic that it was Botha in the 1980s -- well ahead of the ANC a decade later -- who dismantled the scaffolding of racial apartheid and, crucially, promoted a rich black class that would play the role of which Frantz Fanon had warned -- as a "transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged."

In the 1980s, magazines like Ebony, Tribute and Enterprise celebrated the "aspirations" of a black bourgeoisie whose two-garage Soweto homes were included on tours for foreigners the regime sought to impress. "This is our black middle class," the guides would say; but there was no middle: merely a buffer class being prepared, as Fanon wrote, for "its historic mission." This is unchanged today.

The Botha regime even offered black businessmen generous loans from the Industrial Development Corporation. This allowed them to set up companies outside the "Bantustans." In this way, a black company such as New Africa Investments could buy part of Metropolitan Life. Within a decade, Cyril Ramaphosa was deputy chairman of what was effectively a creation of apartheid. He is today one of the richest men in the world.

The transition was, in a sense, seamless. "You can put any label on it you like," President Mandela told me at Groote Schur. "You can call it Thatcherite, but for this country, privatization is the fundamental policy."

"That's the opposite of what you said before the first elections, in 1994," I said.

"There is a process," was his uncertain reply, "and every process incorporates change."

Mandela was merely reflecting the ANC's mantra -- which seemed to take on the obsessions of a super cult.

There were all those ANC pilgrimages to the World Bank and the IMF in Washington, all those "presentations" at Davos, all those ingratiation at the G-8, all those foreign advisers and consultants coming and going, all those pseudo-academic reports with their "neo-liberal" jargon and acronyms. To borrow from the comic writer Larry David, "a babbling brook of bullshit" engulfed the first ANC governments, especially its finance ministries.

Putting aside for a moment the well-documented self-enrichment of ANC notables and suckering of arms deals, the Africa analyst Peter Robbins had an interesting view on this. "I think the ANC leadership [was] ashamed that most of their people live in the third world," he wrote. "They don't like to think of themselves as being mostly an African-style economy. So economic apartheid has replaced legal apartheid with the same consequences for the same people, yet it is greeted as one of the greatest achievements in world history."

Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission brushed this reality, ever so briefly, when business corporations were called to the confessional. These "institutional" hearings were among the most important, yet were all but dismissed. Representing the most voracious, ruthless, profitable and lethal industry in the world, the South African Chamber of Mines summed up a century of exploitation in six and a half derisory pages. There was no apology for the swathes of South Africa turned into the equivalent of Chernobyl. There was no pledge of compensation for the countless men and their families stricken with occupational diseases such as silicosis and mesothelioma. Many could not afford an oxygen tank; many families could not afford a funeral.

In an accent from the era of pith helmets, Julian Ogilvie-Thompson, the former chairman of Anglo-American, told the TRC: "Surely, no one wants to penalize success." Listening to him were ex miners who could barely breathe.

Liberation governments can point to real and enduring achievements since 1994. But the most basic freedom, to survive and to survive decently, has been withheld from the majority of South Africans, who are aware that had the ANC invested in them and in their "informal economy," it could have actually transformed the lives of millions. Land could have been purchased and reclaimed for small-scale farming by the dispossessed, run in the co-operative spirit of African agriculture. Millions of houses could have been built, better health and education would have been possible.

A small-scale credit system could have opened the way for affordable goods and services for the majority. None of this would have required the import of equipment or raw materials, and the investment would have created millions of jobs. As they grew more prosperous, communities would have developed their own industries and an independent national economy.

A pipe dream? The violent inequality that now stalks South Africa is no dream. It was Mandela, after all, who said, "If the ANC does not deliver the goods, the people must do what they have done to the apartheid regime."

(This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times, Johannesburg)

- Asian Tribune -

Sri Lanka's foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera addressing 11 February event in Washington
Sri Lanka Reconciliation & South Africa: Here's what Mangala needs to know
Sri Lanka Reconciliation & South Africa: Here's what Mangala needs to know
diconary view
Share this


.