Sri Lanka has been a country that has gone through a lot of turmoil of its own.
Speech by South Africa’s Special Envoy to Sri Lanka, and Deputy President of the African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, on April 18th at an event organised by Shri Mariammen Temple in Mount Edgecombe, KwaZulu-Natal.
I am extremely honoured and overjoyed to have been given this very rare opportunity of saying a few words to all of you.
This is indeed a special moment in the calendar of our people. It is also particularly an important day, because it is the day that you all take your pilgrimage to this place. A place that has historic significance in the lives of Indian people in our country, in the lives of Hindus in our country.
It is important because it reminds us of a very painful past that we have had in our country. That when Indian people were brought to this country as labour they were made to work and toil for 365 days of each year in the sugar canes without any rest, under a load of pressure and exploitation. There was one day, when – if you like – the white slave masters, allowed our forebears to come here, to have this one day free when they went to church. It was the one day that our forebears could all be free to come and meet. And this is what has made this place so historic and so significant. That they were able to come from all corners, to come to this very place, to this temple, and have a moment of rest, have a moment of communion, have a moment of meeting each other, have a moment of practising their religion, their culture, and have a moment of being together with each other.
So in many, many ways it is the most significant day. We as a country, as the people of South Africa embrace this day, also as an important day for us. And that is why we have also joined this pilgrimage, to come here, to associate with you, to have communion with you, and to be present, also at this place.
So we pay tribute. We pay tribute to those who came before us, for having walked this journey, and now today, we continue walking this journey. But you don’t do it on your own, you do it with all of us. So I thank you for allowing us to be a part of this.
So I am overjoyed that this opportunity has been made available. I will just say two things and will not waste your time, having said those introductory remarks in order of this place, and the people who undertake this pilgrimage.
The first one is that we belong to a South Africa that has become so broadly accepted around the world. The dramatic changes that have taken place in our country, where we made a break with our terrible past [and] we emerged as a new nation, a new nation that was led by our icon Nelson Mandela. A new nation that has embraced human rights, a new nation that has embraced democracy, a new nation that has embraced the best of human behaviour that you can ever imagine, and that has endeared us to many around the world. Many countries have embraced us. Our country used to be the pariah of the world, and today we are the darling of the world. We are revered, we are respected, we are wanted all over the world.
What we have been through, in the form of reconciliation, in the form of building a new nation from the ashes of Apartheid has made many many countries around the world to want to learn from us. They want to know how did we succeed to defeat the monster of Apartheid, how did we defeat racism. How did we defeat exploitation that was imposed on a many of our people by a few.
Some of those countries that have come to respect us greatly are countries like Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka, where quite a number of you through your forebears are associated with, has been a country that has gone through a lot of turmoil of its own.
They have been struggling to find peace. They’ve been struggling to come to terms with their own history, and last year they reached out to us. When our president went to Sri Lanka, the president of Sri Lanka said, ‘President Zuma please could you assist us to find permanent peace amongst our people here in Sri Lanka’.
He said he would like South Africa to play a critical role in helping to cement the people of Sri Lanka together. They have been through a terrible war, that has cost a lot of lives. They then requested the president of the Republic of South Africa to lend a hand, to make sure that they reach permanent peace. A number of our own compatriots have been busy with the peace making process in Sri Lanka for over ten years.
Last year they felt they wanted to inject more life, more energy in the process by asking President Zuma to get South Africa more deeply involved. To this end, he then appointed a special envoy that is myself, to get more formally involved in consolidating the peace process in Sri Lanka.
We have been having a lot of consultations with a number of role players that have come here to brief us about the situation in Sri Lanka. We have met with the government delegation, and they gave us a full briefing of the efforts they are making to consolidate peace there. We also met a delegation of the Tamil National [Alliance] who were also here to brief us just a week or so ago. We met them and had deep and long discussions with them.
Soon we will be undertaking a visit to Sri Lanka, with Deputy Minister within the President’s office, and a number of other comrades, we will be going to Sri Lanka, to go and have deep discussions with various role players in Sri Lanka. To see to what extent we can assist them [to] come to terms with their own recent history, with a process that they were undergoing of finding peace during a war situation, and now recently with the peace that is beginning to emerge. How we can help them consolidate and how we can help them to deal with the inherent difficulties and challenges that they are going through at present.
All I can say is that there is hope. There is a great deal of hope and we as South Africa are going to be able to share our own experience – an experience that all of you know, that all of you and all of us lived through – [of] how we were able to build our own peace, and how we were to begin the process of building a nation, from the ashes of terrible oppression, ashes of Apartheid and ashes of exploitation.
We think we can share those experiences, and of course in the end it is up to the people of Sri Lanka to find their own peace. As South Africans we do not impose any solution on anyone around the world. All we ever do is to share our own experience and tell them how through negotiation, how through compromise, how through giving and taking we were able to defeat the monster of Apartheid.
So that is what we are going to be able to do and would like to thank the people of Sri Lanka for honouring us as South Africa, for honouring all of you, for giving us the opportunity to share our experience with them.
It does not often happen in the lives of a nation that a country, a people, who have found peace, are then asked to collectively make a contribution to finding peace in another country. We are truly honoured to be chosen amongst many countries to go and make this type of contribution to the people of Sri Lanka.
There must be something good that they see in us as South Africans, there must be something honourable they see in us as the people of the Republic of South Africa. And as we are now moving forward ourselves to consolidate our own democracy on the 7th of May, it is that, that is good in us – that for 20 years we embraced and held onto democracy.
We found our freedom. We won our freedom, and on the 7th of May we are going to – if you like – we are going to renew our vows. We are going to consolidate our own freedom and our own progress.
It is this that must make each one of us to go and vote on the 7th. Let us go and vote on the 7th knowing very well that what we are voting for is to vote for this country to go forward. It is to vote so that South Africa can get stronger and stronger – on the basis of a 20 year history that we have just had, 20 years of progress, 20 years of great movement forward, 20 years that is our firm foundation as a people. [A] foundation that rests on the pillar of democracy, on the pillar of freedom, on the pillar of social progress of our people, economic development – those are the strong pillars on which this foundation [is built]. We are steadying on for 20 years of progress [and] we are now continuing to build this South Africa as we move forward.
So I request you, one and all, collectively, that on the 7th of May, let us go and vote. Let us go and show the world that we are a people who are determined to move this country forward. That what we have gained in the last twenty years, we want to consolidate and redouble. We have moved our country forward and South Africa is indeed a better place to live in than it was twenty years ago.
We collectively have a really good story to tell. We have a wonderful story to tell, and ladies and gentlemen, it is this wonderful story that the Sri Lankans see.
It is this wonderful story that we have put together that they see and they want us to go and share with them. And it is for this reason that we as South Africans can hold our heads high. All of us collectively, we can hold our heads high and say we live in a country that is free, where there is democracy, where there is progress, and we can show the last twenty years indeed as evidence that there has been progress.
And lastly, this is the progress that has been led by the African National Congress. It has been led by our national icon Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma. And Jacob Zuma our president continues to take this baton forward, to lead this country.
And I am saying here to you, let us go and support this progress, this process of moving our country forward. Let us go and support the one party that is fully prepared and determined and has the experience to move our country forward. It is this country that Sri Lanka has invited, under the leadership of Jacob Zuma, to go and help them consolidate their peace. That is indeed a wonderful story to tell.
Both nationally, as well as internationally, we are making a great deal of progress, and we have wonderful, wonderful deeds to demonstrate. So I ask you then, don’t forget the 7th of May, go and vote, and go and vote for the party that can take this country forward.
Thank you very much and I wish you the very best for today as you celebrate your pilgrimage.
Thank you very much.