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Will The South African Model Of TRC Suit Sri Lanka?

2013 Dec 30

Bandu de Silva

Many seem to think that an inquiry of the type of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is appropriate to be applied to the post war reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. This is based on a mistaken belief that TRC provides a magic formula which could be advantageously applied to the Sri Lankan situation or any other situations arising from conflict.

Who are the advocates of this? Doesn’t  one see the Western hand in it now picked up especially by pro- Eelam lobbies overseas? During and before CHOGM held in Colombo, the idea of the South African TRC seems to have been put across to the Sri Lankan government by the South African side. President Zuma was seen right at the centre of these on-going suggestions. Here we may pause for a while to ask “Who is President Zuma”? Does he represent Nelson Mandela’s ideals? If so, at the funeral ceremony in the Stadium when Zuma’s picture appeared on the screen after that of the deceased Nelson Mandela, why did the audience ‘boo’?

Prof. Horace Campbell has also asked why the stadium where the memorial service was held was half empty when the memory of the departed leader, Madiba was being honoured? Over 90 world leaders had been present. President Obama was given the honour of making the funeral oratory, not the head of the OAU, or the new Chair of CHOGM although President Rajapaksa had expected, quite rightly that he would be given a slot to speak on behalf of the Commonwealth leaders. No CHOGM was recognized there. It was Prince Charles and David Cameron who shined, if at all, after Obama. That is the reality which post-Mandela South Africa is. In other words, it is a regime which closely collaborates with Western Capital.

If the Sri Lankan government thinks that President Zuma is projecting Mandela’s ideals, it is mistaken.  So do any others who so believe.

The recommendations now pouring in for Sri Lanka to emulate South Africa’s TRC process is then could be seen as another trap laid for Sri Lanka over which the government has to tread very carefully before it puts its foot into another mess like the LLRC.

Why do I say this?

Firstly, the South African situation was entirely different from that in Sri Lanka. Secondly, the TRC’S mandate did not extend to investigate the most vital issue – the horrendous period of the cruel persuasion of the Apartheid policy by the Apartheid regime of South Africa which violated all basic human rights and practiced a vicious kind of racism even worse than that pursued by the Fascist regime of former Germany.

The investigation by the Commission held under the Chairman ship of Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu, was confined to a period from 1960 to 1994. That is, it covered only a part of the Apartheid era and the years of the transition period.

Reading in between lines of what has been claimed as its positive side, (see Wkepedia) , its real objective was nothing but to prevent any extreme form of dealing with the past and the situation arising in the post Apartheid period from transition to the establishment of democratic rule. As Prof Campbell observed, “In the three years after the release of Mandela, the international media was predicting a bloodbath in South Africa if Blacks were to emerge victorious from the first democratic elections in 1994. Those with strategic control over the means of violence sought to make this bloodbath a reality right up to the moment when Mandela was inaugurated in May 1994 as the first Black President of a Democratic Society.”

It was against this fear of a black uprising against the minority Afrikaaner and their African collaborators in [against] the background of suppression under the Apartheid and earlier colonial regime- acknowledged/apologized/compensation paid as the majority of South Africans expected. The Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No. 34 of 1995 was passed to give the legal framework for the establishment of TRC.

Was it then an exclusively, Mandela/Tutu/ ANC initiative? It cannot be so. In my view, judging from all presently available data, it was a compromise, though the former President Ian Botha refused the summons of the Commission calling it a “ Circus” and earned a fine and a suspended sentence for that but acquitted in appeal.

As I wrote elsewhere, when I met Nelson Mandela, in my capacity as Sri Lanka’s most senior serving professional diplomat, soon after he was released from prison, he was undecided. Even if the African ideal of Ubuntu,(reconciliation)  like the Buddhist ideal of of “Nahi-verena-verani”, or the higher ideals of Metta and Karuna,may have been present in Mandela’s mind, and even Archbishop Tutu might have made a profound impact on him, the demand of the oppressed majority Africans was not out of his mind when I met him. The force of vengeance demanded by extreme sections, which Campbell described as “those with strategic control over the means of violence … seeking to make this bloodbath a reality right up to the moment when Mandela was inaugurated in May 1994 as the first Black President” was also not out of his mind.

Ubuntu in practice, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

Commenting on the establishment of TRC, Campbell observed that “one of the sterling contributions of the South African struggle was to be able to clarify the differences between restorative justice and retributive justice, based on Ubuntu. In fact, Mandela not only embraced Ubuntu, under his political leadership, there was an attempt to bring the ideas of Ubuntu from its philosophical level to the level of practical politics in ways that helped avert bloodbath to form a better society, however imperfect. And this was in part done through the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

The TRC was then established against the background of a predicted blood bath in South Africa which could emerge from the first victorious democratic elections held in post- Apartheid South Africa. One year after Mandela became President, the Parliament of South Africa established the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No. 34 of 1995 to provide the legal framework for the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Mandela threw his international weight behind the process of Reconciliation.

While the TRC was holding sessions, Mandela made a number of public gestures to demonstrate the fact that he supported full reconciliation between the oppressed blacks and the oppressors. Of the two most public of these gestures were the visit to have tea with Mrs. Betsie Verwoerd at Oriana in 1995, and donning the jersey of the segregated South African rugby team in the World Cup in South Africa.(Campbell).

Mandela took the bold step of travelling to this all- white town of Orania to demonstrate to Mrs. Verwoerd that the new South Africa was based on forgiveness and willingness to share, core principles of Ubuntu. This gesture was relayed all over the world by the local and international media as Mandela sat down to have tea with the people who were responsible for arresting and incarcerating him, Campbell observed.

Earlier, Mandela had orchestrated another public act by going to the Rugby World Cup Match and putting on the jersey of the South African team. As Campbell observed, sporting activities had been one of the strongest bases for segregation in the society and in all areas of sporting activity Mandela inspired South Africa to rise above the structural violence that had become part and parcel of South Africa.

Legal view

At the legal level, South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution is seen as one of the most progressive in the world, and one seen as drawing on Ubuntu to enshrine equal constitutional rights for all – black, white, coloured, women, youths, elderly people and same-gender-loving persons. Bringing in Ubuntu here can be seen as a clever strategy to pacify the extremists mobilizing public opinion to create violence.

This effort at Reconciliation at the legal level and at the public level went side by side as the TRC started hearings in Cape Town in 1996.

The Mandate of TRC

The mandate of the Commission, to put it  in summary, had been to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as reparation and rehabilitation. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights, violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings.

Restorative Justice

Campbell observes that a new concept was being developed in the context of seeking restorative justice beyond the Nuremberg Model of winners’ court. The healing power of the process was manifest in the rituals that emanated from victims and oppressors, creating a space that could be the basis of holding the society together. This ritual of the TRC with the spiritual underpinnings of forgiveness and healing was utilized as a powerful antidote to the three hundred years of white racist oppression. He quotes:Malidoma Some: Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual, and Community.

It was in the TRC where one saw some of the ideas being worked out. During the Hearings of the TRC there were public hearings as the narratives of perpetrators and victims moved in  a constant motion across time (from present to past and present to future) and space (spiritual, social, physical, emotional) in a movement that may be called recursive.

As Campbell summed up: “Here was a profound moment in the history of South Africa as the African people offered a crucible for healing the society. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu will go down in history as individuals who opened up the possibilities for another form of society. This healing process offered by the TRC, despite its imperfections, placed Ubuntu on the philosophical map breaking the ideation baggage of individualism, greed, competition and revenge.”

The recent critic Campbell was not the only one who saw the purpose and results of TRC in negative terms. There were others which Wikipedia has listed. The BBC itself observed that the mandate of the TRC was to “uncover the truth about past abuse, using amnesty as a mechanism, rather than to punish past crimes.” So, the TRC was no more than what Botha called a “Circus,” not for the reasons he thought, but for reasons of its appearance and content. The success of the “TRC Method” versus “Nuremberg Method” of procedure is open to debate, as Wikilpedia observed.

Hijacking of Reconciliation by the West.

As Campbell says, “If the Black people and the oppressed majority were willing to turn a corner, international capital was not. Plans for the Reconstruction and transformation of South Africa were shelved in the face of the timidity of the political leadership in calling for the cancellation of the apartheid incurred debt. The repercussions of managing the neo-liberal programme of international capital cut off the top leadership of the ANC from the rank and file. Questions of the social reconstruction after apartheid had to be shelved until new emancipatory formations arise in South Africa.

“International capital took the lessons of South Africa to heart and sought to promote a neo-liberal agenda where a small minority collaborated with international capital in the new template for the exploitation of the majority. This form of class rule came to be understood as the globalization of apartheid without its racial baggage.”

The above observation of Campbell seems to stand in somewhat contra-distinction, if not contradiction to Campbell’s earlier assertion that “those with strategic control over the means of violence sought to make this bloodbath a reality right up to the moment when Mandela was inaugurated in May 1994 as the first Black President.”

Hijacking by the West?

The crimes committed by the apartheid regime were such that it would have called for an international investigation considering the way the West, using the UN as a tool is pressing for international investigations elsewhere. By supporting, if not directing Mandela/Tutu/ANC to a programme of reconciliation, the West and the former Apartheid leadership succeeded in avoiding such a step. The ideals behind Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials by the victorious nations after WW II, were not brought in to apply to a far more heinous form of racial segregation programme under Apartheid, applied by a minority Afrikaner against a majority Africans in their own country. As Campbell put it and quoted earlier: “Plans for the Reconstruction and transformation of South Africa were shelved in the face of the timidity of the political leadership in calling for the cancellation of the apartheid incurred debt. The repercussions of managing the neo-liberal programme of international capital cut off the top leadership of the ANC from the rank and file. Questions of the social reconstruction after apartheid had to be shelved until new emancipatory formations arise in South Africa.”

One can then understand why the people booed when President Zuma’s picture appeared on the screen at the memorial service. That was an expression of feelings against what obtains in post–Mandela  South Africa as a collaborative regime with close links with Western Capital rather than with the suffering masses of South Africa. As Campbell puts it, Mandela’s  membership of the ANC “pointed to the differences between the promises of the anti-apartheid struggles and the realities of the enrichment of a new class of African exploiters. It was appropriate that this celebration of the life of Mandela [at the funeral] marked a new stage for the corrupt leadership of the ANC.”

The Stadium had been half empty. The African people had not been provided facilities to attend but some had walked long miles to be there. The assessment is that the present leadership feared a mass mobilsation, a common occurrence during the anti-apartheid struggle at funerals, by controlling attendance at the mass attendance at the funeral of the popular leader.

Mandela was “Caged” again

If Mandela gained his reprieve in 1990, a few months before I had the privilege of meeting him, he became a captive again, this time of a strong section within his own party, the ANC, which had capitulated to Western Capital. He was subjected to Western Capitalism indirectly through this section in the ANC. Where Desmond Tutu stands in this project is unclear. Whether or not Tutu was harking back to principles of Christianity mixed with the African traditional concept of Ubuntu, or whether he too despite his external image, in the final analysis, succumbed to Western pressure is yet to be made clear. There can be more than the God-man element in this whole affair if the totality of circumstances is taken into account.

Why Mandela left after first term

It is hard to think why, as Marxists might wont to say, Mandela, a man who was the product of South African agony, and symbolized their aspirations, left after his first year term as President. Altruistic and noble qualities have been assigned for this.  Circumstances leave room for doubt. He left the ideals of serving his people he had very much in mind, which he told me when I met him, unfulfilled. Why? He was seen throughout his Presidency, engaging on behalf of the people trying to liberate themselves in other lands in a pro-active role when he opposed the Western designation of [these] states as sponsoring terrorism and “openly supported Fidel Castro of Cuba, Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) the Saharwi Arab Democratic Republic and the political leadership in Libya,” as Campbell remarked.  He was very critical of U.S. intervention in other states in Africa. On the part of US, its Defence Department did not remove him from the list of terrorists until very recently, though the State Department de-listed him only a few years back.

These postures began to show a marked accentuation after he left the Presidency than when he was in office. So did his concerns over the problems that the African masses faced, like the problem of standards of living, health, sanitation, education, begin to be expressed in sharper terms after he left the Presidency. Was it because they were not being addressed as he expected?

How can one explain this dual frame of mind? Doesn’t it point to Mandela speaking his mind again once he was released from the ‘cage’ he was entrapped as President of post-Apartheid republic?

Was it like President J.R.Jayaewardene paying lip service to Non Alignment while hobnobbing with the West, particularly, U.S and Israel? Could the ANC have permitted him to continue with his attitudes favouring liberation movement in other lands and his anti-US policy in person, while its pro-Western section ensured that the rhetoric did not affect the handling of internal policy, and the regime for all effective purposes could go along with its internal policy of collaboration with Western capital and former Apartheid elements?

The question then is: ‘Was Mandela disenchanted by the caged situation he was placed in, unable to redeem the problems that the African masses faced, even if he had moved towards Ubuntu in the management of social relations’?

This might look as if a lesser over-all role is being assigned by me to Mandela in the management of South African affairs in the post -Apartheid phase under the first African Presidency.  But that is a reasonable deduction to make looking at the reality that a close examination of available evidence, one could make.

Can we then conclude that Mandela was left a disenchanted man, unable to fulfill his mission in the Presidency?

Relevance to Sri Lanka

The above discussion provides the background to South Africa’s TRC process. Its mandate was limited and was not intended to investigate causes of the most serious human rights issue that South Africans faced, and provide ‘justice’ that the South African people expected. Its objective was primarily to prevent a blood bath taking place by going into post- Apartheid issues over a limited period.

However, its objectives and the whole environment surrounding it as has been mystified along with Mandela’s personality, when it was clear that he had clearly held different views from reconciliation when he stood for Cuba, Palestine, Libya, Yemen  and others, and was harshly critical of US. Are we to then believe that his personality was imported into a West –sponsored project of reconciliation which was meant to save the Afrikaner minority and for Western Capital to continue with the economic exploitation of South Africa with African collaborators within and outside ANC?

What is then the magic of TRC which Sri Lanka can derive?  Is it just the misleading nomenclature  given to the South African project? Let us de-mystify it.

Sri Lanka’s Post-War Situation

The post- Apartheid conditions which obtained in South Africa do not exist in Sri Lanka. Though there was no post-war blood-bath here as was expected in South Africa where it was sagaciously avoided, there have been two different trends in Sri Lanka . One was to treat the LTTE terrorists leniently. Except for those who were found guilty of serious crimes against whom Court actions were proceeding, others have been rehabilitated and have now joined the mainstream of the society. Former LTTE stalwarts, Muralitharan (Karuna), Chandrakanthan (Pillayan), K.Pathmanathan (K.P) and Tamilini stand as distinctive symbols of that healing process.

The other trend was to proceed on a path of victory celebrations by the state, which took the shine away from, if not vitiated the effects of the ‘healing’ process introduced by the lenient treatment of former terrorists.

Negative Effects of Victory Celebrations

A mistake which this writer did not hesitate to point out many times, was the holding of grand- scale victory celebrations after a national disaster of an unimaginable magnitude, with much cost in terms of loss of human life, loss of property and retarding development for near 30 years and the continuation of these victory celebrations going on year after year, some in the form of wasteful projects, which are also questionable and seen not helping the healing process. There might have been reasons for that like retaining the morale of the armed forces but that need not have gone to these extensive proportions.

The other I pointed out was the construction of a Victory monument in Mulliaweli, the last theatre of the war. That was, as I wrote, an unnecessary and undignified affair to come up in the midst of a majority Tamil area, however much it was defended, which ignored the far more important aspect of loss of human life all round and against our national culture and religious ethos. That national ethos was exemplified by the way emperor Asoka, turned Buddhist, conducted himself after the massacre in the Kalinga war launched by him, and of our own hero king Dutugemunu who built a monument for his fallen adversary.  What should have been constructed was a national monument of remembrance to commemorate the evil of armed conflict and of the dead all round, as Spain built in Esqurial after the Civil War. That was my view.

The celebrations, then are a serious mistake we continue to repeat. We cannot do the way Christian nations celebrated war victory annually after destroying much civilian life and property in Japan and Germany by aerial bombing after the war was won. We need to apply our own yardsticks according to our cultural ethos.

It is human nature to expect negative reaction to such exuberant manifestations which lead to friction and conflict rather than reconciliation. The US did not gain by dropping two Atom Bombs on two highly populated cities in Japan. The negative response to the dropping of Atom Bombs continues as the Japanese people continue to demonstrate to this day, not in violent demonstrations but in peaceful [Buddhist and other] ceremonies to remember the dead and the holocaust, where the reciting of the Saddaharma-punadrika Sutta (Namyo Horenge kyo) by millions of participants was a principle feature. (I was a willing participant in these ceremonies in Nagasaki and Hiroshima). That was also a way of protesting against U.S.’s own inhuman atrocities and racial discrimination even in war.

The victory celebrations in Sri Lanka do not contribute to reconciliation, but rub the people in the wrong way.

What is the reason for these celebrations then? Aren’t they are a means by which political propaganda is carried out by the government, i. e., to use war victory as a tool to continue to remain in political power, by appealing to a baser element of human nature?

Applicability of South African Model

Whatever the circumstances in which the South African TRC was brought about, and proceeded with its investigation, it helped to control a volatile situation from erupting. We did not face such a situation here. Over-celebrations were the only negative element. Perhaps, it might be argued that it took away any element of extremism that might have been present, and erupted but everything was well under control. But why continue?

As far as the mandate is concerned, there appears to be very little to draw from the mandate issued to the South African Commission. Bereft of its underlying implications, taking only the outer manifestations, like the nomenclature (title), the TRC process can have a meaning only if Sri Lanka is prepared firstly, to tone down on these negative-resulting celebrations, as far as reconciliation is concerned.

The objective of South Africa’s TRC has been, apart from recording, in some cases, to grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as to provide reparation and rehabilitation, and to receive amnesty from criminal prosecution. That is not the expectation of the West and of others in Sri Lanka.  That may not be the objective for holding a South African type TRC in Sri Lanka where the issues are different. The roles of both sides to the conflict here have to be investigated as these have given rise to serious grievances, not the way it was done in South Africa, but in a far more meaningful way. There should be no interests to protect like the Western Capital in the South African situation. To imitate that would be a mockery.

In my view then, there is nothing to gain from South African experience, “no pervasive weight,” except its mystifying name now enthroned by the West as an example of noble human conduct. That is because it served their purpose, the protection of the former perpetrators of Apartheid and interests of Western Capital. Even Jay and Eric Vera who wrote on the effectiveness of the TRC observed its usefulness only in terms of bringing out the truth of what happened during the Apartheid regime, [but the whole truth nothing but the truth, was missing]. Many witnesses were found to be lying.  5, 392 amnesty applications were rejected; only 849 were admitted and over 2000 others were withdrawn.

Sri Lanka has enough human resources and historical, religious and cultural resources of its own besides, accumulated legal wisdom to draw from, in formulating its own mechanism if the LLRC process needs to be taken forward. We need not go to South Africa’s Ubuntu values, if that were the base that provided the inspiration of its TRC process, or , realistically looking, the Western agenda hiding behind it which was to safeguard interests of Western Capital, and hide the horrendous human right violations in that country over decades under apartheid, if not over three centuries of repressive colonial rule.

One should see that behind this projection of the South African model to Sri Lanka lies a subtle programme to gain support to the West’s attempt to market a project to popularize that deceitful strategy in order to continue exploitation by Western capital while at the same time proceed with raising human rights issues in other countries, which is but a ploy to hide the West’s own human rights violations. That is a new way of continuing with the colonial agenda to keep certain countries under perpetual subjugation and pressure.

*The writer was Sri Lanka’s former senior Diplomat accredited to a number of countries in Europe besides France the Vatican and UNESCO, and later the country’s first Resident Ambassador to Iran. Since retirement, he has turned writer and writes to the printed and electronic media and academic journals.

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