A Victory for Deliberative Democracy
Last month’s award by the Norwegian Nobel Committee of the annual Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is the first to be granted to organizers of a nationwide dialogue process. Though Tunisia’s democracy is still under great stress, the richly deserved award heralded a return to bestowing the prize on those whose peace efforts directly stabilize societies on the brink of violent conflict.
In the weeks since the prize was announced, some commentators have cited the Tunisian experience as an example of what the Arab Spring still could be, and some have cautioned that the Tunisian experience is unique, with few, if any, lessons for other countries.
Even if the Tunisian case is exceptional, its experience is well worth studying. Tunisia has peacefully managed two political transfers of power and established a new constitution in the five years since the ouster of its authoritarian ruler, Ben Ali. As the Nobel Committee noted, a core element of this transition was the launch of the national dialogue process, instigated when a substantial portion of the country’s population had no faith that existing governmental bodies could negotiate a successful and broadly acceptable new political order.
The conditions that led to Tunisia’s political crisis, and which continue to challenge its new government, are not unique. Two years after the tragic self-immolation of the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi ushered in the Arab Spring, escalating violence by extremists outside of the political process, social tension attributed to economic frustrations, and broad disenchantment with the new status quo led to mass protests.
At the political level, the opposition parties and the pro-government alliance led by the Islamist Ennahda Party were at loggerheads, reflecting a deep polarization among all levels of Tunisian society about many issues, including the role of Islam in the new state. Variations of these factors have been present in most of the conflicts that rippled across the Middle East, and exist in other regions as well.
In 2013, the four organizations receiving the Nobel Prize, led by the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), came together in this volatile situation to launch a National Dialogue that brought all political parties to the table. The UGTT is the country’s largest labor union, with a membership of over 400,000 in a country whose population is only 10 million.
The authority and power of the coalition it formed with the other members of “the Quartet” to which the Nobel Peace Price was awarded – the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League, and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers – arose, in part, from the fact that it presented an unusual alliance of interests among labor, business and highly-reputed civil society organizations.
Tunisians were also keenly aware of the dangers their political impasse posed to society. The murder of two prominent politicians from the secular left provoked outrage among many. With young Tunisians comprising the largest segment of foreign fighters from Arab countries in Syria, many feared that extremist elements could cause the revolution to spin out of control, as happened in Libya.
With these dangers looming, an intervention of some sort was imperative. No foreign mediator would have possessed the legitimacy, authority and skills to bring the parties to the compromises reached in Tunisia’s process. What the country needed, and what they created for themselves (with well-timed assistance and support) was an organic national process of reform that led to the passing of a new constitution, the appointment of a new Prime Minister, and presidential elections. In the words of the Nobel Committee, the Quartet’s work was nothing less than a “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy.”
Unique as it may have been, Tunisia’s experience carries lessons for others, including the ability of civil society and business to play a complementary role in political processes and the necessity of compromise among political leaders. Houcine Abassi, the dynamic Secretary General of the UGTT, and an experienced negotiator, played a central role as both convenor and mediator/facilitator. Tunisia’s political leaders were just as central. Sheikh Rached Gannouchi, head of the Islamist Ennahda party (who willingly stepped down as president), and Beji Caid Essebsi, the secular leader (who later became president), ultimately led their parties to the compromises that were necessary.
Though Tunisia’s national dialogue process engaged diverse actors in what was essentially an outcome oriented political negotiation, participation was limited. Decisions were taken by smaller groups of leaders. Mediators and facilitators, both foreign and domestic, stepped in at key times to move the process forward. The elite nature of some discussions did not lessen the importance of participation from individuals and institutions representing diverse constituencies, such as the Al Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center.
Perhaps the most important contribution of Tunisia’s National Dialogue, beyond its contribution at a critical moment in Tunisia’s political evolution, is the attention it draws to an increasingly important strategy for political transformation – that of inclusive and carefully structured political dialogues established when existing legislative bodies are perceived as illegitimate, or simply deadlocked and unequal to the task of political reform.
We are extremely pleased to announce the launch of the Peace Appeal Foundation's Peace Changemakers Fellowship.
For the last 15 years, the Peace Appeal has been privileged to recruit and work with extraordinary young peacemakers, whose skills, insights, empathy and dedication have greatly enhanced the peace processes we have supported. These women and men continue to distinguish themselves as they progress in their careers. Several are still working diligently in their own countries peace efforts, while others have gone on to work within the United Nations system, or with respected international non-governmental organizations supporting peacebuilding across several continents.
In recognition of their contributions, we are pleased to dedicate this fellowship, that will provide financial support, mentoring and other assistance to the recipients. The fellowship will continue the Peace Appeal’s tradition of supporting and mentoring young peacemakers and build a growing circle of remarkable change agents working in peace and conflict resolution globally.The 2015 Fellowship will be awarded to Singmila Shimrah to support he work with the Naga ethnic groups participation in the Myanmar/Burma peace process.
(The Nagas, an ethnic community affiliated with several dozen tribes, live in a largely mountainous region straddling both Northeast India and Myanmar/Burma.) Singmila is a remarkable Naga woman who returned in 2014 to the region of her birth after pursuing graduate studies in conflict resolution in the United States. With support from the Peace Appeal and our partners, Singmila will travel extensively throughout Myanmar’s Naga areas to assist local communities and their leaders as they prepare for full participation in the regional and national ceasefire negotiations and political dialogue.
Author: Desmond Tutu
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Description: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chair of The Elders, and Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, along with his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu, offer a manual on the art of forgiveness—helping us to realize that we are all capable of healing and transformation.
Harvard Divinity School, January 29, 2015
Remarks offered by Jeff Seul, Chair of the Peace Appeal Foundation
If we focus narrowly on the perspectives and actions of the Charlie Hebdo attackers and their victims on the magazine’s staff, there are few contemporary situations that seem more polarized and intractable.
Restricting our field of vision in this way, one may well be inclined to characterize our current situation as a hopeless clash of civilizations. As Nicholas Kristof of the NYT pointed out in a recent editorial, some in the West now see “Islam as inherently extremist,” and some Muslims he has interviewed around the world see the U.S. (and, no doubt, France and other Western, or Western influenced, countries) as “an oppressive state controlled by Zionists and determined to crush Islam.”
Polarized perspectives like these share certain characteristics. They are partial narratives with foregone conclusions. They are partial in two senses of that word: they exclude information and perspectives that won’t fit neatly into the narrative, and they sift and interpret the remaining information and perspectives in biased ways. These neat little stories lead to seemingly inevitable conclusions, often justifying extreme, coercive, even violent, action.
Civilizations, cultures, identity groups – whatever we may call them, and whatever their contestable contours may be – are never monolithic and static. They are internally diverse and dynamic, and the polarized narratives tend to lose their coherence and sense of inevitability as we both widen our field of vision and sharpen our focus within it.
As we open up to the true messiness of our current situation, resisting overly neat little narratives, I believe we will begin to see practical possibilities for shifting the dynamic over time; ways to begin making a seemingly intractable situation tractable.
As I’ve listened to and read many diverse voices over the past couple of weeks – religious and secular, Muslim and non-Muslim, French and non-French, liberal and moderate and conservative – I’ve realized the messiness of my own perspectives on the situation. I’ve found myself wanting to affirm many perspectives, even when they seem to diverge, when the voices sound a bit cacophonous together.
I say “no” to the violence – to the killing – of course. There is too much killing, and not only in Paris, and not only in the name of militant forms of Islam.
But I say “yes” to free speech, and “yes” to exercising that right responsibly, and even “yes” to possible curtailment of the free-speech norm in some cases. And “yes” to possible reappraisal of contemporary Islamic norms regarding blasphemy, as some Muslims intellectuals have urged.
“Yes” to not holding the vast number of moderate Muslims responsible for the actions of the relatively very small (but substantial and demonstrably potent and apparently growing) percentage of Muslims who are violently militant, and “yes” to encouraging even more reflective speech and action from moderate Muslims in response to militant forms of Islam.
“Yes” to police and military protection, and “yes” to concerns about living in a police state and exacerbating tensions and perpetuating violence through dominant Western states’ excessive show of force to extend and safeguard their interests.
One way to open up to the true messiness of our situation and to begin to learn and discover practical options for shifting the current dynamic is dialogue within and between communities. There have been many calls for dialogue following from the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has acknowledged that he intended to spark a vigorous debate this week by saying that a “territorial, social and ethnic apartheid” exists within France.
Federica Mogherini, the EU Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, said this week that “[w]e need . . . a dialogue” to face the issue of terrorism, which she does not see as an issue between the West writ large and Islam writ large.
When asked what he thought of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the Prophet, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, mused that the world would be a nicer place if everyone respected everyone else’s opinion. He added, “Unless we learn to respect one another, it will be very difficult in a world of different views and different cultures and civilizations. We won’t be able to engage in a serious dialogue . . .”.
But calls to dialogue generally are just that. Little is offered in terms of the who and what and how and why of these proposed dialogues. And fledgling efforts at dialogue too often are ill conceived, and so fizzle or fall short. When they do occur, they often occur exclusively through highly formalized and constrained legal, political and diplomatic mechanisms.
The organization of which I’m a part, the Peace Appeal Foundation, helps stakeholders in conflicts create and sustain their own broadly inclusive peace and national dialogue processes. We think a lot about how authentic, constructive, and ultimately action-oriented conversations can begin and be sustained in highly complex, charged, usually violent situations.
I’d like to offer a thought or two about some of the qualities dialogues about our current situation must have in order to produce change over the long-run. I’ll focus on three qualities of genuine dialogue that seem especially germane to the events and controversies we’re considering tonight.
The first quality I’ll emphasize is need for honest, analytical attention to the dialogue context, including history.
The second quality is the spirit in which people must meet.
Finally, on the substance – on the principles and policies and practices at stake in any genuine dialogue – I’d emphasize the need for openness to compromise, even some compromise of principles we hold most dear when that’s required to serve other principles we hold dear, or principles others hold dear.
Last October, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India - both indefatigable advocates for children's rights. In Friday's announcement in Oslo, the Nobel Committee cited the recipients "struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."
In bestowing this year's Peace Prize on these two inspiring advocates, the Nobel Committee reaffirms
the much needed expansive definition of peace - of positive peace, not simply characterized by the
absence of war, but by the presence of the broad spectrum of human rights. As the Nobel committee noted, "It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected. In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation."
Breaking free from generational cycles of violence, whether in small communities or whole societies,
requires more than the cessation of hostilities brought about by negotiated settlements. Indeed the all too frequent relapse into violence of conflicts with signed "peace agreements" is a testimony to this challenge. Positive peace – peace created by repaired relationships and respect for the broad spectrum of human rights - is the only sure way of fundamentally transforming violent conflict.
The work of Malala and Kailash highlights how our world still falls short of protecting one of the most
fundamental human rights, the rights of children to education in an environment free of fear and exploitation. Whether we live and work in conflict-affected societies such as Pakistan's tribal areas, or in more stable democracies such as India or the U.S., these rights remain an unfulfilled promise for far too many children.
Twenty-seven years ago, this concern for the future of children led all of the living Nobel Peace Laureates to issue a call, known as the "Appeal of the Nobel Peace Laureates for Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World" which inspired much global activism, including the founding of the Peace Appeal Foundation itself. In the intervening years, there has been much progress on multiple fronts, including 78 million fewer child laborers in the past 10 years alone, and an estimated 50% reduction in the number of girls not attending primary school between 1999 and 2009. Still much remains to be done to realize the aspirations of the Laureates Appeal. Child soldiers remain a particularly disturbing trend, with young children being used in multiple conflicts across the globe, most recently in Libya and Syria.
This year's Nobel Peace Prize underscores how individuals, whether a 17 year old Pakistani school girl or a 60 year old social entrepreneur from India, can make a difference for thousands of children globally. At a time when peace may seems ever more elusive and conflicts abroad too remote for us to influence, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi should remind us that we can all be agents of change.
The United Nations Development Program hosted a three-day expert consultation on "Reconciliation as a Mechanisms for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding." in Johannesburg, South Africa from September 2 - 4, 2014. Peace Appeal Foundation Director, Shirley Moulder, along with Harn Yawnghwe, head of the Euro Burma Office with whom we collaborate on work in Myanmar, attended and spoke. Substantively the conference focused on prospects for evolution in the use of truth and reconciliations commissions. A related resource on the topic has been authored by George Wachira, with Prisca Kamungi and Kalie Sillah, published by NPI-Africa, resulting from a multi-year research project in Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Africa. For further information see: Stretching the Truth.
2014 and 2015 have brought greater attention to the emerging role of national dialogues as transitional mechanisms for countries in conflict to chart their political futures. The first large scale international conference on "National Dialogues and Mediation Processes" was hosted by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs from March 30 - April 2 in 2014. This past October, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. And On November 15th of this year, the second annual conference, titled "Non-Formal Dialogue Processes and National Dialogues" will be convened again in Helsinki, with the sponsorship of the Finnish Foreign Ministry and numerous partners.
Following last year's conference, a report entitled "National Dialogue and Internal Mediation Processes: Perspectives on Theory and Practice" was issued by the Finnish Foreign Ministry. The publication provides an overview of dialogue processes in conflict transformation, examines the role of external actors and presents case studies from Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Also in May of this year, the UK based Conciliation Resources ACCORD series published ACCORD Issue No. 25 "Legitimacy and Peace Processes: From Coercion to Consent."
The Peace Appeal Foundation's co-founder and Senior Technical Adviser, Hannes Siebert, authored "National Dialogue and Legitimate Change" which framed essays on dialogue processes in the Basque region, Myanmar/Burma and Yemen. With discussions and expressions of interest in launching broadly inclusive national dialogues in countries across the globe, including Sudan, Myanmar/Burma, Libya and Ukraine, the Finnish Foreign Ministry will host a second conference on the topic in 2015.
Conference on National Dialogue and Mediation Processes
In partnership with the Finnish Foreign Ministry and others, the Peace Appeal Foundation hosted the world's first conference on national dialogue processes in Helsinki, Finland from March 30-April 2, 2014. A full conference publication is now available here.
Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act (HAFA) Will Remove Barriers to Charity and Peacebuilding - "The Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act (HAFA) is bipartisan legislation that would remove barriers that humanitarian aid and peacebuilding groups face when working in conflict zones."
Click here to contact your representative in support of HAFA.
An article by PAF Executive Director Derek Brown appears in the Stanford Social Innovation Review Winter 2014 issue.
Author: Andrea Bartoli
Publication Date: December 20, 2013
Description: When conflict has shattered a society in its foundation and the memory of individual and collective traumas is so deep that it cannot be eliminated by oblivion alone, the desire to explore new ways is great and very difficult. Sometimes the tension between the need for an alternative and the lack of that alternative is resolved by the dedication, presence, advocacy and innovation of NGOs. In the past decades, some interesting trends that link non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and peace processes have been observed. This volume is an attempt at understanding this nexus.
Hannes Siebert, co-founder and Senior Technical Adviser for the Peace Appeal Foundation spoke with fellow South African and Peace Appeal Foundation board member, Shirley Moulder on peacemaking and recent developments in the Middle East and Burma. These interviews are part of an ongoing research initiative into the role of peace and dialogue structures in peace processes internationally.
Q: What have been the important changes in peacemaking in the last two decades?
Hannes Siebert: We have seen an extraordinary increase in the number of people and institutions entering the field. When new conflict breaks out in a region or new peace processes emerge, one witnesses a huge international competition between major INGO’s and international agencies staking-out a role and space for them- selves. While there are positive aspects to this trend—new people with energy and more resources that can be deployed for peace— the trend sometimes has a
negative impact on national and local peace processes.
It is scarce in this competitive environment to find “peacemakers” who take time to understand all the human dynamics and the essential core of each process. Few are willing to stand in (or create) those spaces in the “middle” where the conflict is most intense, but the potential for conciliation the greatest. Far too many in this “field” have become part of an armchair industry where peacemaking or peace building is just another contract or project in which we trade in generalizations and second hand knowledge.
But despite the prevalence of project based peacemaking, we have also seen the emergence of courageous peace activists, professionals and leaders in these conflicts who mediate and negotiate ceasefires, access to food, basic services etc. against all odds and at great risk of to their own lives. It is immensely encouraging and humbling to see and read of many such cases in Syria right now. Many of the “inside peacemakers” are getting abducted or arrested, but their numbers are
growing and they have become much more effective over the past years. It is common that when international agencies withdraw their people from wars because of the security risks, local leadership and activists increase their work and efforts to stop the conflict.
In the last 20 years there has also been a tremendous increase in the levels of education and understanding of various countries and conflicts around the world by international peacemakers and those on the inside. These individuals have advanced their education, they have studied their own and international conflicts, and they have dedicated themselves to peacemaking.
Q: How are conflicts themselves changing?
Hannes Siebert: We are now in a “post post-colonial” era where the governments and leaders that replaced colonial era governments, are being replaced by new democratic forces. The old guard now being replaced was for the most part an incarnation of the strongmen who preceded them. These new movements are re-defining democracy, they are innovating new forms of representative governments, and many are re-considering the nation-state concept. But as each of these countries is trying to cut the umbilical cord from its former colonial powers, we see an increase in civil wars, some of which have become proxy conflicts exacerbated by the interests of new international powers.
With the increase of internal conflicts and “checkbook wars” (wars over natural resources and their transport), we have seen a reduction in external foreign mediation and an increase in national dialogues as tools of political transformation. With this
significant phenomenon, local and national peacemakers and communities work together to resolve their conflict by creating joint instruments, national dialogues and supporting peace infrastructures out of these local contexts.
Q: Where do you see national dialogues, and other types of joint peace instruments having an impact today?
Hannes Siebert: What we are witnessing now in Burma/Myanmar is the emergence of a national dialogue, including plans for a national conference after 60 years of civil war. This is a hugely significant development and is an authentic expression of the Burmese parties coming together to design their own framework for a peace process. This process does not negate the importance or value of mediation; for instance, mediation is being used in specific intrastate conflicts between the government and the Kachin and the Shan. These specific conflicts often still require mediators. However, if you consider the situation as a whole, you are dealing with more than 18 armed groups and 16 ethnic political parties in addition to the mainstream opposition parties, democratic forces, the government and the army. You are potentially sitting with almost 50 political actors, all of whom are significant. The complexity in this sort of conflict is too multifaceted for mediation. It requires the creation of new structures and mechanisms that include all relevant actors.
Another example is Yemen, where the Yemenis, with the support of international stakeholders, have created a very good national dialogue conference that is in the end phase of what is really the ”first phase” right now. They will probably move on to the next phase early in the new year. They have made substantial progress on many issues, but there are still many issues remaining, e.g. the issue of the South’s status and the issue of how many regions they will divide the country into in
a federal framework. But they have created the mechanism of a national dialogue to resolve conflicts and, despite tensions heightening in Yemen, people are determined to resolve their differences and build a new country!
Q: What do you see as the challenges for the international community in working to support these efforts?
Hannes Siebert: With the rise of new democratic and people’s movements and related national processes throughout the Middle East, in Egypt, Tunisia, here in Lebanon and now Libya, which has just appointed a national dialogue council, the big challenges for the international community is to re-define and re-visit its role as “mediators”. Our biggest contribution to each other is to walk these peace journeys together with the credible, emerging leaders and peacemakers in each country.
We need to be very careful that we do not see or use national dialogues as instruments of intervention (in the hands of external third parties or international agencies). International agencies and INGO’s role must be to support local parties as they create their own authentic processes and instruments.
Q: What then should be the focus of international assistance?
Hannes Siebert: The key challenge is to create an inclusive, legitimate, and focused process that is disciplined and systemic. With a strong national peace and dialogue process in place or developing, it is clearer for international agencies how to provide meaningful support. National players need to carefully manage their international resources and ensure that the agendas of the “resources” do not manage them in the end.
Q: Tell us more about how these processes are developing, particularly the work in Lebanon?
Hannes Siebert: In Lebanon, the main stakeholders, government institutions and resource organizations addresses each of
the main root causes of the conflict through the Common Space Initiative—a research and dialogue mechanism and structure they jointly created. The key areas they work on include political, judiciary, and economic reforms, Lebanese-Palestinian relations (with almost 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon), and the development of a national defense strategy. The need expressed by the main stakeholders was to create a knowledge-based dialogue process that would produce policy options and new reform frameworks. We are fortunate to witness this evolving process at the Common Space and how it contributed to creating an environment for substantial political reform discussions and served as a deadlockbreaking
The support from Lebanon to the Syrian peace initiatives is at an early stage, but the urgency to respond to the needs of inside peacemakers is a strong driving force. The fires of conflict burned very high for very long, and are still burning very high, but we have begun to see encouraging signs of key individuals who are starting to work together, and more cooperation between UN Agencies and individual organizations. Unlike much of the work with refugees, which is coordinated mainly by the UN, the peacemaking work is led by the Syrians themselves and is gaining support from the international community.
Q: How best can we support these peacemaking initiatives?
Hannes Siebert: We need to support the peacemakers and mediators inside each country. They are the oxygen of every process. They need support for their processes, structures and survival. Some of them might need capacity support, to be exposed to other experiences that can help them in their strategy development, or simply need support to re-kindle hope and re-discover their own value in desperate situations.
If we look at the Peace Appeal Foundation’s work over the last decade, and reflecting on the processes from which it was born (South Africa, Northern Ireland and Argentina), our commitment to support national stakeholders and peacemakers and their emerging processes and structures remains the most constructive and valuable contribution one can make to assist the creation and building of peace. Our support in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Lebanon, Burma and Syria will always be guided and driven by the stakeholders’ and partners’ needs and the nature of our collaborative/peer relationships in each country.
Q: So the support mechanism serves to nurture local peacemakers, allowing them the space to create their own paths?
Hannes Siebert: Yes. These mechanisms, this support process, its central focus must be to aid local peacemakers, supporting the innovations that address the needs of their people, their conflict. That is where our support is quite critical. It is about supporting the creation of environments and common spaces that allow innovation and creativity in a peace process. It is not about coming up with models. For a long time, many people have been asking us, “Can we get the Common Space model?” Our consistent message is be wary of models, we are against them! It may sound counter-intuitive, but it is not. Yes, there are principles and lessons we learn from each process, there are many characteristics of the processes we have worked in that are similar, and each can learn from the other. But fundamentally you cannot short-cut the hard work of developing the framework for a process, of developing the structure and mechanisms and innovations for each of these processes. What is absolutely critical is that the emerging mechanisms, innovations and processes are deeply rooted within the context of the conflict, including the political culture, history, structure, past failures as well as current challenges and assets that they have. For national stakeholders, that context is where the innovation comes from. That’s the wonderful part of it – if we can play a constructive supportive role, we can contribute to their innovation. In essence what we contribute to is to enrich the creation of open frameworks of innovation for peace processes, mechanisms, structures and thematic solutions.
Q: Your description of the work reminds me of the wonderful quote from the Spanish poet, Antoni Machado, “Traveler, there is no path, The path is made by walking….”
Hannes Siebert: Yes, it is a step by step process of mapping the footsteps of the peacemakers in each country.
Author: Andries Odendaal
Publication Date: September 2013
Description: In places as diverse as South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Nepal, negotiators of national peace plans have for years sanctioned the creation of local peace committees (LPCs) to address community-level sources of grievance and thereby to build peace from the bottom up. Peace practitioners working with LPCs around the globe have operated in the hope that such a robust peace infrastructure that facilitates collaboration between all sectors and levels of society, including government, would finally bring lasting peace to societies entrenched in conflict.
"Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace."
The Power of Forgiveness
by Shirley Moulder and Derek Brown, (as printed in the Daily Progress, Commentary, 12/7/2013)
A generation from now when parents, teachers, politicians and others seek to describe moral courage and distinguished leadership, there will be one person from their lifetimes whose name will rise to their lips: Nelson Mandela.
There are very few true global heroes; Mandela was one.
Though millions across the globe have been awed and inspired by a man who chose reconciliation over revenge, moral leadership over personal gain, and justice over tyranny, Mandela was first and foremost a South African, whose dedication to his country has only been matched by his countryman’s reverence for and dedication to him.
In 1990, upon his release after 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela gave a speech in Cape Town demonstrating the qualities that would cement his reputation. He concluded his speech with the same words that he spoke at his trial in 1964:
“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Mandela thankfully lived, leading his country in one of the 20th century’s most profound political transformations. In the process he has become an icon to much of the world for his statesmanship, his dignity, his tolerance and ability to forgive, and his commitment to non-violent political change.
His status as a global hero is all the more remarkable in our media-obsessed age, where leaders are subject to intense scrutiny of their personal lives, not just their political careers. No statesman or woman today has enjoyed the near uniformity of approval that was bestowed on Mandela.
Despite this seemingly heavy burden of respect, Mandela wore the label of hero lightly. He took the limelight when it was necessary, but was happiest when stepping back to let others take the lead. He often described himself as just “a country boy.”
Those who worked with him spoke of his ability to identify what was needed and to pursue it with single-minded determination. In his post-presidential years, he was a tireless advocate for children’s education, devoting much of his time to raising funds for new schools and education programs throughout South Africa and the world.
The most important legacy of Nelson Mandela, in his life as well as in his death, may well be his remarkable ability to bring parties of all persuasions together, ultimately transcending the deepest divisions, suspicions and even hatred — a skill that only grows in importance in our world.
His cohort of political activists, many of whom were defendants with him at the time of the Rivonia Trial in 1964, represented a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious panoply of South Africa: black, white, Asian, Xhosa, Zulu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian. Following his release from jail, this cohort was transformed into a remarkable coalition that included representatives of the government that imprisoned him — a coalition that brought a post-apartheid, democratic South Africa into being.
Mandela’s ability to work across political divides in South Africa would have warranted him a special place in history by itself. Yet it was his extraordinary ability to inspire and connect with people that vaulted him into the rarest pantheon of global statesmen and women.
One of his many acts of political genius and moral leadership was portrayed in the movie “Invictus.” When racial divisions still threatened the dream of a united South Africa, Mandela donned the captain’s jersey of the South Africa’s newly minted world champion Springboks rugby team, and walked onto the field post-game — amidst thousands of white fans, many waving the nationalist flag of 1928 — to present the trophy to the team. With this simple act, he managed to win over millions of skeptical white South Africans to the cause of a new, multiracial and democratic South Africa.
Even in these past months of his declining health, he brought unity amid diversity in his nation. Across South Africa, from the Johannesburg to Mandela’s ancestral home community of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, people have publicly honored the man many call “Madiba” (his ancestral clan name), or simply “Tata” or father. In the all-white Afrikaner community of Orania in South Africa’s Northern Cape province (home until her death of Betsie Verwoed, widow the former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoed, who was architect of the apartheid system), the community began praying for Mandela daily this past summer.
The collective reverence that has gripped most of South Africa these past months, and indeed much of the world, comes at a time when tremendous political divisions threaten to divide the country. (Less than 12 months ago, the cover of The Economist magazine featured South Africa with the cautionary heading “Cry, the beloved country,” raising questions about South Africa’s political and economic leadership). These challenges serve as a reminder that the South African national journey will be an ongoing project as it seeks to fulfill the vision that Mandela so tirelessly pursued.
The highest honor we can pay this extraordinary man, whether we are citizens of South Africa, the United States or elsewhere in our world, is to renew a commitment to his vision of democratic and free societies in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
Let Mandela’s dream live on.
Shirley Moulder and Derek Brown, based in Johannesburg and Charlottesville, respectively, are board members of the Peace Appeal Foundation, founded in 1999 with the support of five Nobel Peace laureates.
From the Daily Progress, 12/7/2013
Commentary and Tributes from around the globe....
STATEMENT FROM ARCHBISHOP TUTU ON THE PASSING OF uTATA NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA
(For the original statement and video of Archbishop Tutu's remarks, please click here.)
Condolences: To uTata Mandela’s beloved wife, Graca Machel, his former wife, Winnie Madikizela, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and to all the Madibas – we express our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your paterfamilias, your patriarch. Although we collectively claim him as the father of our nation, and the pain we feel is similar to that of losing a close relative, he was your husband, your father and your grandfather. We pray that God will dry your tears and renew your strength. We thank you for sharing uTata with us. And we thank God for him. We are relieved that his suffering is over, but our relief is drowned by our grief. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
People cared about Nelson Mandela, loved him, because of his courage, convictions and care of others’. He set aside the bitterness of enduring 27 years in apartheid prisons – and the weight of centuries of colonial division, subjugation and repression – to personify the spirit and practice of Ubuntu. He perfectly understood that people are dependent on other people in order for individuals and society to prosper.
He transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his warmth and through his willingness to listen and to emphasise with others. And he restored others’ faith in Africa and Africans.
Was Nelson Mandela an anomaly, an exception that proves the rule?
I would say, no. Certainly, he was exceptional. But the spirit of greatness that he personified resides in all of us. Human beings are made for greatness. Nelson Mandela embodied and reflected our collective greatness. He embodied our hopes and our dreams. He symbolised our enormous potential, potential that has not always been fulfilled.
Nelson Mandela was not a lone wolf, and he did not fall from the sky. He learned about leadership and culture growing up in the care of AbaThembu Regent Jongintaba after the death of his father. He learned from the experience of developing a voice for young people in anti-apartheid politics, and from physically prosecuting the struggle. He learned from the comrades who surrounded him, an extraordinary generation of leaders. To all of this, the crucible of prison seemed to add a deep understanding of the human condition and a profound ability to empathise with others.
Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.
Did he have weaknesses?
Of course he did, among them his steadfast loyalty to his organisation and to some of his colleagues who ultimately let him down. He retained in his cabinet underperforming, frankly incompetent ministers. This tolerance of mediocrity arguably laid the seeds for greater levels of mediocrity and corruptibility that were to come.
Was he a saint?
Not if a saint is entirely flawless. I believe he was saintly because he inspired others powerfully and revealed in his character, transparently, many of God’s attributes of goodness: compassion, concern for others, and a desire for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
What will happen now that our father has died? Does it spell doomsday and disaster for South Africa?
To suggest that South Africa might go up in flames – as some have predicted – is to discredit South Africans and Madiba’s legacy. The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next… It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on. As we enter the mourning period, as a nation, we do so with the greatest dignity and respect because that is what we owe Madiba and ourselves.
Over the past 24 years Madiba taught us how to come together and to believe in ourselves and each other. He was a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison.
He taught us extraordinarily practical lessons about forgiveness and compassion and reconciliation. The Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park comes to mind, and his visit to Mrs Betsy Verwoerd, the widow of the architect of apartheid, for tea and koeksusters.
He taught us that to respect those with whom we are politically or socially or culturally at odds is not a sign of weakness, but a mark of self-respect.
As a mark of our respect for him, let us use this moment in our history to reach out to one another again, to prove to ourselves and the world that our greatness was not illusory – that it exists.
Let us love one another as we loved him. Let us celebrate Madiba, together, and not let him down.