The world recently celebrated the 92nd birthday of Nelson Mandela. The PPP commemorated the occasion by a public event at the National Library. The continued presence of Nelson Mandela among us is a source of inspiration to those who treasure forgiveness and reconciliation.
The dismantling of apartheid in South Africa necessitated a transitional arrangement of power sharing between the African National Congress and the National Party. An editorial in the Guyana Chronicle at the time, while Cheddi Jagan was President and Moses Nagamootoo was Information Minister, entitled ‘The Mandela Formula,’ spoke glowingly about the arrangement when it was put in place. There was discussion about the ‘Formula’ in the PPP leadership at the time in relation to the issue of shared governance generally but these were inconclusive. Cheddi spoke supportively about the ‘Formula’ in interviews.
But the Mandela Formula as a partnership between the political parties, representing the majority of South Africa’s Black and White communities, did not envisage power sharing as an end product of what the ANC, through Mandela, wanted to achieve. Temporary power sharing, while negotiations were continuing for the abolition of apartheid, was accepted by the ANC as part of the negotiated, peaceful scheme towards the dissolution of the apartheid structures.
The Mandela Formula was at its core a tactic in the overall strategy for the ANC to take political power peacefully. To do so meant persuading the National Party to relinquish power. To succeed in this it was necessary to demonstrate that whites had a place in South Africa and that there would be no revenge or recrimination by the ANC. In this context reconciliation became the pre-eminent political tactic in support of the overall strategy of taking political power. It continued by means of the Truth Commission after the ANC won the first free elections.
Even though Mandela has repeatedly insisted that the strategy was that of the leadership of the ANC, we know that it was he who masterminded it and persuaded his colleagues in prison, who were initially opposed or lukewarm, to accept it. But there are three things to note. Firstly, Mandela’s political perspicacity enabled him to understand that the situation in South Africa had reached a revolutionary point where change was possible; he saw before anyone else that change could occur peacefully through reconciliation and negotiation. Secondly, Mandela must have known that proposing talks when the main leaders of the ANC were behind bars would have been perceived as weakness and could have led to manipulation and possible failure; he displayed uncommon courage in taking a serious political risk and knew it. Thirdly, reconciliation, born of political necessity, was pursued by Mandela with such single minded determination, in an atmosphere charged with so much hate, that it betrayed the nobility of character which he tried so much to conceal.
Guyana is not South Africa. But, like many other countries, we do have our history and it sometimes weighs heavily on us. The events over three years of the 1960s and some subsequent events have left a legacy of memories that is still driving much of the political undercurrent today. It forms a substantial part of our political narrative, underscored by commemorative events of heroic deeds and tragic events. Under normal circumstances this would be fine. But the narrative is an accusatory one because during the events our two large communities faced down each other. It attributes guilt. It maintains anger. The role of the foreign instigators, always a baleful presence in Guyana’s history, is barely acknowledged.
We do not have a Mandela in Guyana; and Guyana, I repeat, does not have the conditions of South Africa. But the PPP speaks about Mandela because we want to propagate his message, to learn from it ourselves and to persuade others to be inspired by it. Mandela’s main lesson is that in healing we can move forward.
While we cannot forget, we need to make greater efforts to construct, and then celebrate, that additional, all-embracing, layer of our national narrative. It is of a people of different backgrounds, culture and ethnicity who, thrown together at first by exceptional brutality and later by deceit, joined the original inhabitants whose consent to our presence was not sought, and have overcome odds with fortitude and courage that seemed impossible.
We need to begin placing our history within an ennobling national narrative of our survival as a people where we can all celebrate the lives of our heroes and martyrs without imposing on the celebration the hurt of our difficult past. This is harder than it sounds, I know, because the pain is still raw. And I am conscious that it will take more than words like these. No doubt it will require the fulfillment the ideals of our founders. While this is a tall order at this time, a start can be made somewhere.
Our communities, and not only the two major ones, suffered grievously during the sixties. A collective anger took hold of us. It led to collective anguish. This we need to acknowledge. Once acknowledged, the healing can begin. 2012 will be 50 years after 1962. It’s time.
HAPPY EMANCIPATION DAY.