Guyana played a more than commensurate role in the liberation of South Africa

Dear Editor,

Guyana should be made aware of the more than commensurate role it played in the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and in the liberation and democratisation of South Africa. If this seems a surprising statement, it is because the individuals who contributed, did so through institutions and less as individuals. I will elaborate later.

Because of these connections, Guyana should be represented at the funeral by the President and he should ask the Leader of the Opposition, David Granger, to join him and they should go as far as possible as a team, and not as distant individuals, so as to provide scope for reflection and for the Mandela message and mood to seep in.

The large role played by Guyanese as indicated below, together with the fact that Guyana desperately needs the conciliatory outlook and politics of Mandela, means that maximum use should be made of this period of reverence to explore this relevance to Guyana.

It will not be easy but we must, however slowly, refresh the dank atmosphere.  UG or some politically uncommitted organisation should organise a serious and thoughtful discussion on the relevance of Mandela to Guyana.

The need for some kind of reconciliation process or commission and how this could be organised, could well be the result and hopefully lead to a kind of game changer.

On the Guyanese role in South Africa, I am referring less to the strong anti-apartheid stance and campaign of Jagan and Burnham (stronger than most other Caribbean countries) and any material and moral support they gave to the whole anticolonial struggle in southern Africa, and more to the practical contribution made by the incomparably brilliant diplomatic role played by that eminent Guyanese, Sir Shridath Ramphal, as Commonwealth Secretary-General.

He saw the need for a wider involvement than South Africa to help to bring about change in South Africa and he influenced a leveraging process, involving the anti-colonial struggles in Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and the independence process in Namibia. There is a great Guyana connected story here which time will fully reveal.

Sir Shridath led the call for economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa and despite strong opposition from Mrs Thatcher, he was able by very shrewd diplomacy to get the Bahamas meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1985 to adopt limited sanctions, guided by a study done on sanctions by my own division in the Secretariat, Economic Affairs, for that Bahamas meeting.

The Commonwealth was the first inter-governmental organisation to adopt economic sanctions. From that meeting, a momentum of diplomatic action developed in the Commonwealth through a Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group and later through a Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on South Africa on which Mr Rashleigh Jackson, Guyana External Affairs Minister sat. The Commonwealth push on economic sanctions was followed by others and led to a stronger sanctions regime, which was crucial in causing the apartheid South African government to relent and to the agreement on the release of Nelson Mandela.

Soon after that release, Mandela visited London, and his first port of call was the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Let us mourn this truly great, towering and graceful man but let us in Guyana also reflect on how the kind of person he was, is relevant to our own country.

Yours faithfully,

Prof Bishnodat Persaud

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