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A South African Perspective on the Conflict in Sri Lanka

by H.E. RDS Roy Padaiyachi, March 23, 2008

So, I would need to make sure that you are left with quite a reasonable degree of clarity about where we are in terms of crystallizing our position as a government on this matter. At the same time I think both comrade Siza and I have had to also have the responsibility to communicate to you what the position is of the South African people, which is very distinct and separate form the South African government and in the course of that to be able to share with you, the viewpoints that have emerged amongst the South African people and take a note, when I say South African people I am not talking about Tamil people only, I am talking about the South African nation led by its premier organization, the African National Congress, the ruling party and I am talking about the multitude of community driven, peoples based organizations of civil society in South Africa....

We find that the parties want to talk to us about what it is that the African National Congress did to prepare itself for this transformation. What did it have to do and how did it have to change, both in its perspectives and in its practices to prepare itself from a period of its existence which was dominated by the armed struggle and the politics of mass mobilization and mass organization, when we had to make South Africa ungovernable to advance our vision of a democratic South Africa. How did we transit and transform ourselves into a party that is preparing itself for governance?

A South African Perspective on the Conflict in Sri Lanka

Full Speech Delivered by Radhakrishna Lutchmana Padayachie (Roy)
Deputy Minister of Communications
South African Government

23 March 2008

Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka

Seminar Hosted by the Global Peace Support Group,a registered Charity based in the United Kingdom

East London University, Docklands Campus. Dockland.London 22-23 March 2008.

Director of proceedings, Mr. Nathan, the Chairman of the Global Peace Support Group, Mr …Balasingam, the very eminent panel of speakers who addressed us yesterday, who are here and every one of them indeed is an extremely distinguished person. Ladies and gentlemen and the very many friends that we’ve come to make in the last day or two here in the UK, it is indeed an absolute privilege to be here over these couple of days and to have this opportunity to share with you, some of the thinking that is going on in South Africa about the Sri Lankan crisis.

I stand here with quite a disadvantage this morning. I am following a brilliant address by a revolutionary young tiger who spoke to you this morning. I feel like a veteran who is coming to you with a lot of battle scars to say some things that would contribute to the discussion that we have been having over the last two days but let me, first of all, express my personal appreciation to two gentlemen who behaved, when they visited South Africa, in the best spirit of a tiger. They came into my country having sent a letter in advance that they would wish to see me and some colleagues who were working on the Sri Lankan issue. They visited with many other people in South Africa and never relented to get an opportunity to have an audience with me. We were in different cities. They were in Johannesburg and I was in Cape Town and I was in the midst of a very hectic and busy parliamentary schedule because in South Africa right now, we are on the eve of our national general elections. We have roughly about eight months before we go to the national general elections to elect a new government for the country. So, all of us as ministers and members of parliament are sitting in the last eight or so months of our five year term and our mandate as a government. We are in an extremely busy mode trying to finish off the legislative schedule in our country, to cut the work of parliament down by about six months so that we can finish off by June and spend the rest of our time in the field in South Africa preparing for the national general elections. So, to get the minister to see you now is not the easiest thing and you can only win if you have the spirit of a tiger. These two gentlemen had it.

They never relented, they managed to get us into a hotel and for half an hour, impressed on us, the absolute necessity for us to take advantage of this opportunity and to come and discuss matters with the international community through this platform and to share what the South African thinking is on the current state of affairs in Sri Lanka and to share with the international community, what our view is on what it is that the international community can focus on to assist a forward and progressive movement in the settlement process in Sri Lanka. They were particularly concerned to want to know, what is the position of the South African government and what is the viewpoint of the South African people as to whether there is a possibility they could play some constructive role in bringing forward some support for a just and lasting solution to the Sri Lankan crisis and my good comrade, comrade Siza and I spent some time after they departed discussing whether we should take up this opportunity to be here in the context of all the obligations we have at home and so on and we became convinced that this was an excellent opportunity for us to be here. So, I want to say to both the gentlemen, thank you so much for being so assertive and for demonstrating that spirit that we all admire, the spirit of the tiger. Thank you very much for bringing us into this new world and most importantly thank you absolutely very much for having given us the opportunity to meet such a marvelous group of people in the presence of the eminent speakers who were here yesterday and are still with us and indeed a number of the other activists for the Sri Lankan cause that we have had many hours of conversation well into the early hours of the morning, every night since we’ve been here. That is indeed a privilege that both Siza and I are extremely appreciative of to this community for having given us. You have touched us, you have educated us and you have reinforced principle in our own minds of the absolute importance of revolutionary solidarity with human causes. I was indeed quite moved by the things that the good pediatrician doctor from Australia mentioned and the good professor and Karen and indeed all the other speakers and it illustrated to me what a marvelous class of people these are who can reach out of their own situations and find common cause with the sufferings and devastation of the people so many miles away from home and to be able to bring that humanity to us in the course of this seminar. I think it is indeed a humanizing and indeed a very enriching experience to have been in your company for the last couple of days. Thank you very much.

I think it is important, let me talk a little bit about the challenges that I face in this short address. The first challenge that I do face is that I would like to convey to this audience in this seminar, what the point of view is of the South African government, because I am conscious of the fact that I am here as a deputy minister of the South African government. So, I would need to make sure that you are left with quite a reasonable degree of clarity about where we are in terms of crystallizing our position as a government on this matter. At the same time I think both comrade Siza and I have had to also have the responsibility to communicate to you what the position is of the South African people, which is very distinct and separate form the South African government and in the course of that to be able to share with you, the viewpoints that have emerged amongst the South African people and take a note, when I say South African people I am not talking about Tamil people only, I am talking about the South African nation led by its premier organization, the African National Congress, the ruling party and I am talking about the multitude of community driven, peoples based organizations of civil society in South Africa. Primarily  amongst them are the leading institutions within the Tamil community, the democratic formations in other parts of our country who also have common cause with Sri Lanka. So, it is that plethora of viewpoint that we also want to share with you today so you get a broad capture of where the movement for support in Sri Lanka is at this stage in its growth in South Africa and I think its important that we do that, and do that quite clearly so that you understand that notwithstanding the fact that I speak as a minister, I would certainly share with you what the government's position is and then also at the same time try to communicate the evolving ideas on how we as a South African people think we can support and relate to the work that needs to be done in support of the Sri Lankan cause, the Tamil people’s cause.

So, in trying to do that, perhaps the first thing that I would like to convey is the context of South Africa’s engagement with this particular matter and let me say that the South African government’s engagement on this matter emanates from a very slow process of historical connection with what is happening in Sri Lanka and this, we find ourselves in a situation now where as a government we are increasingly being brought into the process where parties are seeking us out to talk with us about our own experiences in democratic transformation in the country, to talk to us about the challenges and problems that we have experienced in establishing a post democratic state, to talk to us about how we addressed the problem of transforming ourselves to a ruling party from a revolutionary movement, a revolutionary organization into a political party that has to have the responsibility not only of mounting a revolutionary struggle but of building a national democratic state in a modern world and what are the challenge to that.

We find that the parties want to talk to us about what it is that the African National Congress did to prepare itself for this transformation. What did it have to do and how did it have to change, both in its perspectives and in its practices to prepare itself from a period of its existence which was dominated by the armed struggle and the politics of mass mobilization and mass organization, when we had to make South Africa ungovernable to advance our vision of a democratic South Africa. How did we transit and transform ourselves into a party that is preparing itself for governance?

So these, we find, are the things that people are very interested in, we also find ourselves in the center of peoples' search to…because people are so vitally concerned about what do you do once the conflict has gone beyond the point where at least some settlement has emerged and you have to start the process of rebuilding a new nation. How do you break away from the legacy of the past? And how do you build in the context of reconciliation and the context of tolerance and in the context of building a new just society. How do you overcome all of this hate and all of this notion of war, the notions of revenge and what do you do to build a nation so that this new nation can cohere out of the divisions of the past and have a focus to come together. So, this is the plethora of experiences that we find ourselves at the center of search from movements throughout the world and both the South African government and the ruling party, the ANC are finding itself being actively sought out by many parties throughout the world who find themselves in conflict situation that they are seeking to resolve. So, as a consequence of this, as a government supported by the ruling party, we find ourselves actively involved in supporting peaceful settlements in  the conflict in the Congo, Burundi and Coite de va in the west coast of Africa and we find ourselves actively sought out and involved in supporting and facilitating a settlement in Zimbabwe,who are our neighbors.

Now, of course South Africa’s foreign policy interest is very squarely focused on Africa, that’s the region we prioritize as our theatre of action when it comes to our foreign policy interests. So, we spend a lot of our time and our energy in making sure that we are driving the process together with African governments under the auspices of the African Union, driving the renaissance, stabilizing the conflict situations in Africa and contributing together with the efforts of other African nations and peace loving peoples throughout the world towards the building of a new vision for Africa. That is our foreign policy focus and it is certainly the center of our interests.

Now, for what conceivable interest could we as a country have in a place like Sri Lanka, which is far away in South East. This is an important issue for us to address and understand because when the question was posed yesterday, what guarantees can we provide for a solution to Sri Lanka, I thought hard about it yesterday. I needed the time to think about it last night, I thought that there were a number of other subset questions that drove that particular one. The one is that I think somebody somewhere might be saying, “Why would South Africa have an interest in Sri Lanka?” Would there be some suspicion about whether South Africa has some foreign policy interest in that part of the region, do we have economic interest in Sri Lanka, do we want your tea plantations, we’re not your neighbor, we are not concerned about the borders that India is concerned about, we’re not in the south, east, west or north of the border of Sri Lanka. We are very far away, the ocean separates us, so we can’t conceivably having a geographical or geopolitical interest in Sri Lanka. What then is our interest ?

I think, I am convinced, the thing that drives us in wanting to be of support to a solution in Sri Lanka, is because we in South Africa and particularly in the African National Congress, we still consider ourselves as a liberation movement. We do not see ourselves in this phase in our development as a normal political party in a mature democracy. We regard ourselves as a national liberation movement in transition, a revolutionary movement prosecuting a national democratic revolution in our country and as a revolutionary movement, we find ourselves having a character which has a duality in it.

One is that we want to retain all the commitments and principles and visions of a revolutionary movement and at the same time, do the necessary transformation within our structures so that we can become a movement in the modern world capable of building forth a modern democracy with all the elements and principles of freedom and human rights that modern society demands of good corporate governing societies. So, we still consider ourselves as being a disciplined force of the left in the global world. We still consider ourselves as a revolutionary party.

 We find that increasingly in all the international forums where left thinking parties aggregate, the parties which think of progressive and socialist democracies and parties who have at the center of their ‘reason de te’, the construction of a new world order and a vision that the struggle for a better world must remain firm on their agenda. We find ourselves at the center of this amalgam of forces in the world today. In South Africa and in particular the ANC and the South African government led by the ANC considers it as its revolutionary international duty to build solidarity with the progressive causes in the world and to support struggling peoples for a just and proper solution to the conflicts that they are a part of.

And that, ladies and gentlemen is the principle foundation reason for South Africa’s interest. We abhor the destruction of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. We are outraged at the murderous violence that has engulfed the island. The destruction of lives, and not just a few lives, I mean, all of you have seen the photographs from the exhibition that has been put on. No decent human being anywhere in this world can not be outraged by the savagery of those deeds, nobody. So, we are moved by that and we are moved by the need for us to express the greatest solidarity with that human condition and to do whatever it takes to bring a speedy end to that kind of conflict and that is the only reason that South Africa will remain ceased with the Sri Lankan question.

Now, over the past couple of years, particularly since December 2002 when the parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka signed a memorandum of understanding for a comprehensive ceasefire agreement, we saw that ceasefire agreement as fundamentally initiating an indefinite and mutually agreed cessation of armed conflict and at that time believed that that ceasefire would have significantly ushered in a peace process which we saw being managed in some sense and under the guardianship of Norway. Now, we noted that the government of Sri Lanka officially exited the ceasefire agreement on 2 January 2008. At the time, given the stabilization of the ceasefire and the growing confidence between the LTTE and the government, we thought that those talks in Sri Lankan’s history which began in Thailand in September 2002 and then continued with two rounds of talks in Geneva in February and October of 2006, that that process would have delivered some considerable progress towards a peaceful resolution of this conflict. Unfortunately, the reality that we face now is that none of those engagements between the two principle parties in the conflict have taken us to the point where there is any realistic possibility that a settlement is on the table.

Instead we have noted a breakdown in the peace talks and what we have noted is that this breakdown has ushered in a period of increased military engagement and a seemingly hard lined approache by both parties to the conflict. It would appear that the government of Sri Lanka is conducting itself as if it is recently buoyed by certain military victories in the eastern province and have become convinced, and this is our reading from afar, that they can achieve a similar result in the LTTE strongholds in the North. So, what it would appear is that the message that the Sri Lankan government is sending to the international community by exiting the ceasefire agreement is that it no longer believes that it is necessary to engage in a process of internal settlement and that it might in fact be pursuing the idea that a military option is indeed the one that would determine, of course if we dig a bit deeper we will certainly understand that the strategy that is being pursued by the one party might in fact have a certain duality in it in that on the one hand, the option of a military setback and a military conquest remains firm on the minds of that government yet on the other hand they appear to be indicating signals that they would pursue a process of internal settlement with some selected parties in the conflict. Now, we’ll talk a bit more about that, because that would answer the question as to what is our understanding currently, as to what is the nature of the situation  before us.

Let me just illustrate a bit more about how we are being drawn in.

Shortly after the ceasefire agreement was signed, our government was approached by the Sri Lankan government and in discussion between our two foreign ministers, the idea was mooted that South Africa should consider hosting a round of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. Of course we were quite agreeable to that because it was part of what we thought was the responsibility that the international community could do to support the parties coming together. But that matter was not taken up then in 2002,  somehow later on, the contact continued and in other forums where there was an opportunity to meet again between our government officials, particularly in the non-aligned movement in Havana, it was an opportunity which the Sri Lankan president sought to have a short discussion with our president  and where he intimated that he would like South Africa and its experience to be made available to the parties in the conflict so that these parties could learn how to make the transition into a process of peaceful settlement. Of course our president, again responded that he was quite willing as the South African government to encourage that process and that matter got followed up in subsequent contacts between other ranking officials and a request was made that a working visit to South Africa should be allowed with some of the ministers of the Sri Lankan government who would like the opportunity to come and consult with South Africa and the South African people. Those exchanges led to the visit of a Mr. Douglas Devananda who was the minister of social services and social welfare and of course at the time all of us understood who Douglas Devananda was and where he had come from and we were quite informed about all of that. In the wisdom of the South African government we encouraged that visit to come to the country. There were very broad consultations in South Africa about that visit and what we sought to do was to make available contacts with the South African people to these two representatives who came on the mandate of their president. The department of foreign affairs organized meetings with various organizations in the country. They were given the opportunity to put their case, to explain the position of the GOSL to the various parties in South Africa and given the opportunity to ascertain the viewpoints of the South African people.

Let me put this very crisply, the two Tamil Sri Lankan leaders visited South Africa in April 2007. Their purpose was to consult with the South African government on ways to return Sri Lanka to a peaceful solution and to witness for themselves how South Africa managed to effectively deal with issues of racial and ethnic discrimination and inclusive constitutional development. This was to seek ways of transiting in their own country from violence to negotiation.

Now, of course they were given the opportunity to meet and at the same time they also had experienced a taste of South African democracy because wherever they went there were organized groups in the community that protested and demonstrated at their presence in support of the LTTE.

They were given a free and open opportunity to put their position to the South African people, to explain why the atrocities were happening in that country and were equally taken to task by the representatives of the South African people who were there.

In 2005 the ANC also made available, Mr. Ebrahim Ebrahim who is a very senior leader in the ANC and Mr. Roelf Mayer who was a chief negotiator from the Nationalist Party, who also had discussions with them explaining the process of the Congress of a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and how we managed the internal settlement discussions for a transition from Apartheid to democracy.

Also in 2005 Mr. Ebrahim hosted then, the main political head of the LTTE, the late Mr. S. P. Thamilselvan to South Africa for discussions and there the purpose of his visit at the time was for the LTTE to learn from the ANC structures on how to begin to engage and prepare itself effectively for the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

Following these contacts  a special meeting in 2007 for the visiting Minister and representative of the GOSL was organized in Johannesburg on April 24 2007 in which these two representatives of the GOSL addressed an assembly of well over 200 people representing an entire spectrum of Tamil and broader South African organizations.

In attendance were the visiting SL Minister of Social Services, Douglas Devananda, the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, Mr. Anandasangaree and the SL High Commissioner, Mr. Arunarajakaruna. Also in attendance was the Deputy Minister of Communications, myself and Mr. Roelf Mayer. The South African Tamil community was represented by the South African Tamil Federation, the Dravidians for Peace and Justice, the Gauteng Tamil Federation, Kwa-Zulu Natal Tamil Federation along with members of various alliance organizations. The event was hosted by our ambassador Mr. Matjila and the ambassador Miss E.M Pheto of the Department of Foreign affairs who is now I think, as late as January 2008 the resident commissioner in Colombo.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide the environment for a constructive engagement between the Sri Lankan delegation and the leadership of the South African community hosted by the DFA. I am going into detail because it tells you a little about the South African community and the way they are engaging on the matter. But of importance, there was a very robust exchange at this meeting. The South African community did not hold back, that room was like a war room with the minister and his colleague. Now, what was important was the decisions that were taken at that meeting because that constitutes the platform from which the South African community is sending a signal to the S.A government on how to manage its association with this conflict and the outcomes and recommendations from this discussion were as follows:

  1. The South African delegations insisted that a process must be set, and we said to the GOSL representatives they must go and communicate this to the President Rajapakse of Sri Lanka,  because you are his emissary; you are consulting us and this is the message you must take from South Africa via our government to your president and it said…A process must be set in place to re-institute the ceasefire agreement of 2001
  2. Insofar as we have given you the right to come and visit South Africa, and to put your case and talk to the South African people, they called upon the South African government to facilitate a visit of the LTTE leadership to South Africa for comprehensive talks.
  3. They further called upon the S.A government, that South Africa together with the Sri Lankan government must facilitate a process that must open up the possibility of broad ranging talks and dialogue and interaction between various sectors of Sri Lankan society and sectors of South African society. So, we want a dialogue, a people to people dialogue with Sri Lanka and South Africa and not just the Singhalese, we want to talk to all the people whether they are in Vanni or in Colombo and the South African people want that process. Whether you are a businessman, whether you are a plantation worker, whether you are a civil servant, whether you are in government as a minister or whatever, we want a broad front process for dialogue and engagement to take place and that process must be facilitated.
  4. They insisted that the GOSL must assist and provide an atmosphere in which genuine negotiation can recommence. The deputy minister reminded the meeting that you cannot have negotiations if you have the status of a prisoner. You cannot have negotiation if there is no free political activity in Sri Lanka. The people must be free without fear and prejudice to express their political opinion on a preference for a political solution. You cannot ascertain the will of the Sri Lankan people in the midst of bombs and in the midst of violence and terror. So, conditions have got to be created in Sri Lanka so that people can feel free to express their views on matters of politics.
  5. They called upon the South African political parties such as the ANC to assist the LTTE in the transformation from a military organization into a political party willing to find a political settlement.
  6. They called upon both the governments  to create a framework for peace and dialogue for these engagements between Sri Lanka and South Africa.
  7. They were very insistent that a visitation mission representing the South African community and representatives of government must be allowed to visit Sri Lanka and have access to all areas in Sri Lanka and have the capacity to talk to everybody and whomsoever they so wish to talk to about the Sri Lankan question and they required of the GOSL to give the assurances that those visits and those discussion will in fact take place.
  8. They called on the GOSL to provide the necessary assurances that humanitarian aid must be allowed to flow to all areas of Sri Lanka and that the closure of the A9 highway must be opened up so that free passage to the people can in fact be done.
  9. That meeting also established very firmly that it was the view of that meeting that the Sri Lankan conflict can ultimately only be resolved by the Sri Lankan people themselves and that the role of the international community is to act in support of an internal process that must seek a just solution in the wisdom of that process.
  10. The meeting appealed to both the Sri Lankan government and the South African government to help facilitate this dialogue and to seek ways to find a resolution and to make these decisions actually happen.

Now, we took that decision in April 2007 since then, we are still pursuing the active implementation of these decisions between from that consultative meeting and in the course of all of that engagement the ANC also took a decision that increasing contact must in fact be made between all the parties in Sri Lanka and itself.

 Now, bilateral relations between South Africa and Sri Lanka have steadily strengthened since the inception of diplomatic relations on 10 September 1994. Sri Lanka of course is a long-standing member of the non-aligned movement and the commonwealth. It is also a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association Regional Corporation and South Africa is actively involved in these international bodies. Now, in terms of trade and opportunities for future multilateral and bilateral diplomatic corporations, Sri Lanka is indeed becoming somewhat of an increasingly important country for South Africa’s South South co-operative objectives. Now, we find ourselves in line with these responsibilities having taken a decision to establish a micro-mission in Colombo in January 2006. We then transferred the first official in February 2006 to head up the administration in Colombo and a roving ambassador was accredited to Sri Lanka on 14 August 2006. Right now the process of building our presence in Sri Lanka has resulted in the establishment of a mission in Sri Lanka. We have a resident ambassador, High Commissioner Pheto who took up the post in Colombo in January 2008 and the presence of this resident High Commissioner would certainly allow for South African officials to interact with all the parties in Sri Lanka and to begin the process of managing and executing some of the decisions that we have taken.

So, in the last two years there has been a steady build up of our contact and our relationships in the context of the framework of the matters which I have actually disclosed to you today and that’s how we have come to be increasingly engaged with the Sri Lankan situation. The government of course readily agreed that I should come as a minister for this meeting and that mandate comes out of the need for us to keep ourselves properly and adequately informed of the Sri Lankan crisis so that we must know what is happening on the ground and in particular we wanted to hear what the Tamil Diaspora and what the viewpoints of the Tamil Diaspora is for the work of this seminar on the various complex matters that will lay before all of us as we actively apply ourselves in trying to find ways to support the Sri Lankan process.

 Now, what is our understanding of the current situation and the challenges before us?  Clearly the most disturbing thing that we note is that the ceasefire has indeed collapsed, the ceasefire agreement and in effective terms, right now there is no international mediation taking place. So, as of 2 January 2008, we noted that the cabinet of the government of Sri Lanka unanimously decided to withdraw from the Norwegian facilitated ceasefire agreement entered with the LTTE in 2002. Although the ceasefire agreement has largely existed purely in theory due to violations by both parties, the official decision taken by the government of Sri Lanka with effect of 16 January 2008 is significant in that it formally ended the mandate of the Nordic- Sri Lanka monitoring mission as the designated mediator in the conflict. Now, of course we know that Norway responded on 2 January 2008 by expressing their regret especially in light of the general escalation in violence in recent times.

We have also noted the assassination of the Sri Lankan Minister of Nation Building Mr. D.M Dasanayake. We have noted the attack, counter attacks, the attack by the Sri Lankan Army’s Deep Penetration Unit in a place call Paalamadu in Mannar which resulted in the death of the LTTE’s head of military intelligence, Col. Charles on 5 January 2008. We have noticed that further violent attacks during this period which included a bus blast in Buttala in the South East of Colombo on 16 January 2008 where army sources have indicated that 26 people were killed and 60 hurt. Of course the army has blamed the attack on the LTTE and their military strategy following the end of the CFA and so on. So, in short with the attacks and counter attacks and bombings and destructions that are taking place, the net resultant effect is that this war is now escalating far more intensely that it has previously been. Our conclusion is that if this process continues and if this is allowed to continue, then the resultant effect will be that more and more people in Sri Lanka will die and that we believe, is not a situation that the world must countenance.

We believe it is absolutely necessary now that the nations of the world be moblized to put a stop to the war in Sri Lanka.

I think it is important in the context of understanding the challenges before us to also look more closely at what the Sri Lankan state is doing. I am going to quote here, an extract which was made from a statement issued to the diplomatic court in Colombo on 24 January 2008. The minister of foreign affairs, Rohitha Bogolagamma, highlighted the following points and I quote: “The basic steps envisaged to overcome the existing shortcomings with regard to the devolution of power are the following,

1. Recognising that the devolution of subjects and functions to the provinces through the concurrent list had not taken place due to fact that most of these subjects and functions were retained by the center. The government should fully implement the 13th amendment to the constitution in terms of legislative executive and administrative powers.

2. It also seeks to overcome existing shortcomings especially through adequate funding of the provincial councils by the central government.

3. The holding of provincial elections immediately in the Eastern province and alternative arrangement sin the Northern province to enable the people of that province to enjoy the fruits of devolution. Accordingly the recommendation is for the establishment of an interim council.” All of these I am quoting from this statement just to get an insight as to what is in their mind as they are moving along now. “…is for the establishment of an interim council as a temporary measure for the Northern province in terms of the constitution, reflecting the ethnic character of the province which will aid and advise the governor in the exercise of his executive powers until the elections are held. 4. Measures to provide for the full implementation of chapter 4 of the constitution on language. This includes recruitment of Tamil speaking police officers, taking steps to recruit interpreters, translators, providing and facilitating other relevant facilities in the courts of law in sufficient numbers, recruitment of staff and procurement of equipment to enable Tamil speaking people to transact business in public bodies in their own language. Similar steps have to be taken to determine the disadvantage of the Sinhala minorities in the North and East.” Which illustrates the kind of approach that they are considering. Now, in tandem to that, we also note that the development of the Tamil People’s Liberation Party, the TMVP, the political arm of the Karuna faction, formerly led by Col. Karuna Amman. That party recently won 53% of the votes in the main Eastern city of Batticaloa which is translated into 72 of the 101 seats on the local district of Batticaloa at the local government elections held on 10 March 2008 in Eastern Sri Lanka.

Now, in addition to that, I think it is extremely significant to take note of also the moves by the GOSL to establish the APRC and what that indicates is that possibly the kind of strategies that are in place right now is a strategy which speaks to the possibility of pursuing a military option so that the SL state can get an upper hand on the balance of forces and at the same time, moving in tandem with creating an almost alternative internal settlement process with political groups that claim to represent Tamil speaking people so that a domestic settlement emerges which excludes the actual central involvement of the LTTE. Analyts claim that this is the process at play at this particular moment and whilst this strategy and counter strategy is being implemented you have a situation where the negotiating table has collapsed, the parties no longer have the conditions within which to reassert the possibility of a negotiated settlement,  alternative options are now being pursued by the SL government.

Now, what is happening, is not very dissimilar to the Apartheid experience. There was a certain phase in the struggle between us as a revolutionary movement in the Apartheid state though the Apartheid government didn’t feel it was necessary to bother to even talk to us. They felt they could militarily defeat us. They felt that they could crush us and so they pursued an alternative option of settlement with the local people in South Africa, so they put out Bantustans and self-governing territories for the African people and split them up into tribes, the Zulus here and the Xhosas there and the Phedis there and gave them chambers which we call toy telephones. They came to the Indian people who constitute 1.5 million people in the population of 48 million and they came to the Coloured people who are about 500,000 and then of course they had the White minority which is just a couple of millions who were the main base, social base of the Apartheid state so they said, “alright, lets just tinker a bit with this privilege that the Whites have under the Apartheid system so we’ll create a new type of parliament and we’ll give the vote to the Indian people and we will give the vote to the Coloured people and we’ll give them separate chambers and we’ll have another chamber which is called the National Assembly for the Whites.” So, they tried to entice these two minority groups to join hands with them and set out this new parliament and of course the seduction to the Indian people and the seduction to the Coloured people was that, “well, you can become parliamentarians, you can have all the laws to govern your own communities, you can make decisions about your languages, you can build your own schools, you can have hospitals and from the birth to the grave you will be an Indian going through an Indian institution.” That’s what they sold to us and they failed because as revolutionaries we mobilized every man, Jack and his dog in the various communities and just said no to Apartheid, we reject these dummy institutions. We want one solution and that solution is a united democratic South Africa for all the people and we mounted a popular revolutionary struggle on the basis that we will make South Africa ungovernable until the Apartheid state comes to realize that it has to accept the inviolate principle that the ANC is the principle leader of the South African people. We used all our creativity as a South African nation as comrade Siza said, we mounted four pillars in the struggle. We had a revolutionary internal armed struggle; also bombing institutions and attacking, not civilians, attacking the armed forces of the Apartheid state. We had what we called the political underground, completely making sure that the armed cadres of the ANC came into the country were secured and given support and sustenance as they executed their programs of the ANC. We built the political structures of mass organization and mass mobilistaion at a legal level, a semi-legal level and at an underground level and mobilized the people as a whole. We went into every niche of the enemy and mobilized fragments of opinion amongst the ruling class whether it was a white businessman; whether it was a white sympathizer in the university; whether it was the Indian people, coloured people and the African people and most significantly the fourth pillar of our struggle was to have built a massive international movement in support of the anti- apartheid struggle; and this proved to be one of the most significant developments of support work that the world has ever noticed in favor of any particular struggle.

In the last two days I was telling comrade Sisa that having engaged with so many people here it became so abundantly clear to us of the absolute value and importance of the work of comrade Oliver Tambo when he came out into the international community sent by the ANC to go and build the external mission of the ANC so that the people and the nations of the world could be mobilized in support of the anti-apartheid struggle.

The question in my mind is don’t you think its time that you did that for the peoples of Sri Lanka? Don’t you think its time that we began to address the enormous need for us, as all the speakers have said today here, to rebuild the consciousness, to heighten the awareness and to heighten the involvement of peoples, nations, governments and international organizations throughout the world for this idea of global peace in Sri Lanka.

We don’t want to make any prescriptive statements about what it is that we can do and cannot do as South Africa. We don’t want to arrogate to ourselves any sense of importance in this conflict. All we do say is that we have a humble experience in revolutionary transformation and would like to make that experience available to the parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka so that they could profit and benefit as they seek to fashion a solution which must come from their own struggle with each other to find a just solution.

Now there are some very important principals that would guide our approach as we  continue to deepen our engagement on this matter and let me just quickly enunciate these:

  • First is that a just solution can only be found as a consequence of the settlements by the principal parties in the conflict in Sri Lanka and the key protagonists in the conflict in Sri Lanka is the LTTE on the one side & the Sri Lankan Govt. on the other. There may well be other parties which have come and emerged which consider themselves voices of this or that fragment of the Sri Lankan people and whose voice needs to be heard at some negotiating table but we don’t think a just solution can be found. Not unless the LTTE and the Sri Lankan govt. sit down and lead the process of a peaceful transition together.
  • The reality of our own experience and our own understanding of conflicts of this nature tell us that there cannot be any military solution to this problem. There has to be a political settlement. Now saying that is quite an obvious thing but what is even more important is that there has to be a recognition by the two principle parties in the conflict that neither side can win the war. Therefore they must be at the negotiating table. If they don’t; if one party does not believe that, we will not have conditions for a negotiated settlement. So this sense, this understanding must come to the parties in the conflict that they now need the negotiating table if they want to save their own people from death and destruction. So that’s very important.
  • The fourth principle that will guide our approach is that whilst we understand and say all of this, the reality of life is that not unless the appropriate conditions are created for the parties to come round to the negotiating table and to discuss how they will move forward, we will not be able to bring the parties together. It has to be the will of the parties and we have to, as an international community ensure and facilitate the emergence of appropriate conditions. In the context of our experience before we decided on the negotiating table we had to have contact with the apartheid regime and we initiated the process of talks about talks. There were preconditions that were set. We said don’t expect us to talk to the apartheid govt. and lay down our arms if you do not unban the organizations; if you do not release the political prisoners; if you don’t set conditions for pre-political activity; and if you demonstrate your willingness to do all of these things then we are prepared to say that we’ll suspend the armed struggle and go into negotiations.

So, these were things we had to trade off in the preparation for substantive talks and so these are matters which have got to be addressed and often you can’t have these things addressed if the parties are not talking to each other and if there is not a third party that assists in trying to get these matters thrashed out and worked out. So at some stage to come back to the negotiating table may require the facilitation of parties who are sympathetic and parties who are respected by both the protagonists.

Now for South Africa, we cannot be involved in the resolution of any conflict in any part of the world if we are not invited by both parties. When we go into Zimbabwe, Cote d’lvoire”, Burundi, it is at the invitation of the parties to the conflict. We will never ever impose our involvement in any party to the conflict. In so far as the Govt. of Sri Lanka is disposed to inviting South Africa’s involvement, it is equally important that the other protaganist i.e LTTE is equally disposed to our involvement and has to invite us. Otherwise we can’t play a role as a South African Nation.

Let me now address this question of who constitutes the credible and legitimate representatives of the parties to the conflict.

I received a very interesting pamphlet yesterday from members of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights. Really quite a brilliant pamphlet which I want to recommend to everybody. It’s called “The Tamil Peoples right to self-determination”.

I thought that if any one of you is really not sure what the South African peoples understanding is about this question about who is the authentic leader of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, I want to read to read to you something which I think resonates a lot with the way South Africans think about the Sri Lankan conflict.

It says here in this pamphlet and which I think we agree “ the legitimacy of the LTTE lies in the Tamil’s right to self-determination under international law. Excluded from the democratic process of 1977 the vast majority of Tamils did not vote again until the general elections in 2004 when once again they had the opportunity to vote and exercise their right to sel-determination. By this time the ceasefire agreement signed in February 2002 and facilitated by the Norwegian Govt. had conferred an official de jure recognition of the LTTE as one party to the armed conflict recognized by the Sri Lankan Govt.which accordingly de-proscribed the LTTE.

In the 2004 general elections the Tamil National Alliance, a grouping together of the majority of Tamil political parties won overwhelmingly in 22 electorates in the north-east; TNA won 22 out of 25. Their manifesto stated that the TNA accepts the LTTE’s leadership as the national leadership of the Tamil Eelam Tamils and the Liberation Tigers as the sole and authentic representative of the Tamil people.

The TNA election manifesto of October 2004 stated that the LTTE should be the sole negotiating partner with the Govt. The people elected them and showed real determination to vote despite restrictions and obstacles imposed on them by the govt. The humanitarian needs of the people were of the utmost concern and the TNA pledged to work with the uplifting of the embargo and an end to the HSZs( i.e the areas of Tamil homelands area occupied by Sri Lankan armed forces and a halt to the atrocities against Tamils.

The main sticking point has always been that the govt. goes for negotiations outside the country with the LTTE but returns and claims that the LTTE does not represent Tamil people. This contradicts the recognition of the LTTE as a legitimate peace partner which has been stated by indeed many many nations of the world; stated by United States as well as the co-chairs i.e the US, EU, Norway & Japan.

So its very clear that the LTTE despite the fact that the LTTE has been categorized by some countries as a terrorist organization so the booklet says while holding a ground swell of support in the Tamil homeland.

The Sri Lankan Govt. has recognized the LTTE’s de jure nature by de-proscribing it and entering into negotiations with it.

What the international community needs to do now, so the booklet says, is to demand that the Govt. of Sri Lanka talk to the LTTE to bring about a permanent durable and just solution and it goes on to say that with the current political climate framed by the war against terrorism maybe it is now timely for the international community to reassess and to review its assessment of the LTTE as a terrorist group as it would seem clear that it is resorting to the right to self defence while struggling for the right to self determination.

The international community needs to take a balanced account of this conflict. It also needs to give diplomatic support to the LTTE to negotiate with the Sri Lankan Govt. If the international community wants peace in this part of the world it must encourage this particular process”.

So it is clear to all of us what this booklet says captures the hearts and minds of the way peace-loving   democratic people throughout the world feel and think about the Sri Lankan situation.

Ladies and gentlemen today, it is absolutely clear that the two most pressing challenges that we all have before us is to ensure that our work, whether you are located in Govt., in civil society, NGO’s or in any community, must be directed at  supporting a return to the ceasefire and to the negotiating table between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government and at the same time to escalate in the international community our efforts in support and solidarity for peace in Sri Lanka on a permanent basis.

I Thank you very much!

Radhakrishna L Padayachie (Roy)
Deputy Minister of Communications
South African Government