Sri Lanka Brief
FeaturesNewsCyril Ramaphosa : What’s he doing out here, in Sri Lanka?

Cyril Ramaphosa : What’s he doing out here, in Sri Lanka?

TRC South Africa based on truth
Ranga Jayasuriya
 Not usually, does the second in command of a regional power, flanked by a presidential delegation, fly thousands miles to some embattled small State, disguised as ‘tourists’ to talk to the adversaries of a protracted domestic problem. However, Cyril Ramaphosa, the Deputy President of South Africa and the ruling African National Congress, pretty much did that– at least if you are to believe the Sri Lankan government’s initial remarks on the visit by the South African delegation.

That is notwithstanding, that President Mahinda Rajapaksa, faced with increasing international criticism, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) sought the good offices of his South African counterpart Jecob Zuma, the polygamist South African president, who, then appointed Ramaphosa as his special envoy to Sri Lanka.

Ramaphosa, a respected and formidable negotiator was the chief negotiator of the ANC in the talks with the White Apartheid government. However, on his arrival in Colombo, he himself was baffled by the cynical government response. Cabinet Spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, earlier suggested that the South African delegation were tourists and another government interlocutor remarked that South Africans are here to see Proteas playing Sri Lanka on their Sri Lankan cricket tour. Worse still, Wimal Weerawansa and his ilk of the ultra-nationalist camp within the government unleashed a scathing attack on South Africa, accusing it of maintaining contacts with the LTTE.

Ramaphosa’s first task in Sri Lanka was to know the intention of his Sri Lankan hosts. As he sat down with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ramaphosa reminded his Sri Lankan host that the South Africans are extending their good offices on his invitation and if they are not needed, they are willing to pull out. In other words, he made it clear that they do not want to be a football to be kicked around for internal political considerations.
Differing strategies
The strategy of South African facilitation is different from Sri Lanka’s former facilitator, Norway, who engaged in a high profile campaign and stomached a greater deal of often unfair criticism. However, dynamics have changed since then and Sri Lanka has fewer friends among the powerful States than it had ten years back. While the South African political system has been rotten since the hey day of the charismatic Mandela Presidency, South Africa still retains a greater deal of international recognition (Incumbent President Zuma has been investigated for millions of Dollars illegally spent for renovating his private residency, while a large swathe of Black South Africans live in extreme poverty under sub human conditions. In the meantime, 18 years since the end of Apartheid, an average White takes home six times of pay of a Black).

Zuma’s offer of good offices to his Sri Lankan counterpart vindicates that Pretoria, specially Zuma himself, view the world through lenses different from many other of their counterparts in the liberal democratic world. However, Ramaphosa, who Mandela wanted to be his Deputy President 18 years back, and is now set to succeed Zuma at the end of his second term, is a different kettle of fish. He is respected both at home and internationally and admired by business circles and trade unions. He has stuck to his guns against the ruinous rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, while the ANC is somewhat amenable to the aging autocrat.
Ramaphosa, who eyes ANC presidency has an influential Indian community that is keen about Pretoria’s role in Colombo.

This is what Ramaphosa told the Indian crowds at an event held at Shri Mariamman Temple in Mount Edgecombe, KwaZulu-Nata , several months back about his new role as the Special Envoy in Sri Lanka.
“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… A number of our own compatriots have been busy with the peace making process in Sri Lanka for over 10 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. “
This particular constituency is watching and one of the influential members of that community who also happened to be the first coloured High Court Judge of post Apartheid South Africa, Navi Pillay, who is now the UN Human Rights Chief has launched an investigation into the conduct of the very government, Ramaphosa is helping to find peace.

Ramaphosa, who is equally concerned about a conflict interests emanating from the South African role in Sri Lanka and the UN war crime investigation, has decided to steer clear of those implications.
In Jaffna, he assured the Tamil National Alliance that his role was complimentary to the UN probe and the Indian efforts for a greater devolution under the 13 Amendment and 13 Plus.

During his two day visit, Ramaphosa met with the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a delegation of Cabinet of Ministers led by G.L.Peiris, the Tamil National Alliance and the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
During the deliberations, what was palpable was that the lack of clarity in the Sri Lankan intentions with regard to the South African role.

The President wanted the South Africans to help to get the TNA to participate in the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). He also wanted the South Africans to share their experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process in order to explore the possibility of Sri Lanka adopting a similar mechanism.

However, again, there was no clarity in the government as to how such expertise would be used and the South Africans have stressed that TRC can not be implemented in isolation from other political reforms that address the minority grievances.

The general and largely flawed view of South Africa’s TRC in the political circles in Colombo is that it was mechanism, to grant amnesty to perpetrators of crime. However, in fact, South African TRC, while granted amnesty to some, depending on the crime and the full confession to those atrocities, refused a total of 5,392 amnesty applications, granting only 849 out of the 7,112 applications. It held televised hearings of the commission, where both victims and perpetrators made statements and helped the country come to terms with the full extent of the horror of Apartheid. Whether, the Sri Lankan Government would want allegations blamed on its security apparatus be televised live is open to question.

The secrecy that has enveloped the South African role highlights the lack of clarity in the entire initiative.
Earlier, a Ministerial delegation led by the Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva visited Pretoria. The visit caused much curiosity after Ramaphosa’s office said, back then, that the visit by the Sri Lankans was taken on their own initiative – and not on the invitation of South Africa. The government’s intension is that South African initiative would help it procrastinate the process for a political solution, which is not a priority for the incumbent administration. It also expects Ramaphosa to serve as a bulwark against more intrusive Indian and potential UN initiatives.

However, Ramaphosa has stressed that the South African role is not in conflict with the on- going Indian initiatives. ( In the point of view of newly assertive Indian foreign policy, New Delhi is unlikely to tolerate a contradictory approach in its backyard by a foreign power).

Ramaphosa’s visit did not have a breakthrough in terms of TNA’s participation in the Parliamentary Select Committee. However, should the TNA be coaxed to attend the PSC, it would not end the stalemate. The main Opposition, UNP and JVP, are boycotting the PSC and the Muslim Congress has been excluded from the PSC. The government has offered Sinhala nationalist members an enhanced representation in the list, while also excluding the former APRC Chairman, Tissa Vitharana .

The government, thanks to its pandering to the hard-line is making things hard for Ramaphosa. It may not be long before, even Ramaphosa is humbled by the magnitude of political trickery in this country.
Ceylon Today

Back to Top