Reading the recent speech by a senior South African government minister, Ms M Nkoana-Mashabane, leaves you uncertain whether to laugh or cry! As you will see, she praises Sri Lanka for its human rights record, its commitment to democracy and also its treatment of IDPs. All without any apparent sense of irony!
Coming on the back of the ‘sterling’ work South Africa did to rally African governments to support Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council – https://www.hrw.org/news/2009/05/27/sri-lanka-un-rights-council-fails-victims – we should not be surprised.
It is said that the influence of China is behind this and other decisions to support dictators and totalitarian regimes. The South African Government’s refusal to allow the Dalai Lama to visit is another case in point. We cannot tell if this is the only factor but whatever the reason, it is a sad day for the people of South Africa that their government is doing so much to harm the reputation of that great country.
We know many supporters of the Sri Lanka Campaign, not least through their work against apartheid regime, have strong links with many South Africans who have a deep sense of integrity. So we hope you will raise this shameful endorsement by their Minister with your contacts.
Of course, this government position stands in direct contrast to what Desmond Tutu and the other Elders-a project originally started by Nelson Mandela, have said recently.
And it undermines what the South African Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is working to do. Pillay is South African’s leading figure in the UN and speaking of Sri Lanka she has said “internally displaced persons are effectively detained under conditions of internment. Humanitarian agencies access to these camps remains restricted and the mandates of relief agencies are increasingly coming under threat.” She also commented on the vicious treatment of the questioning voices: “We should all be dismayed by the recent sentence of twenty years’ imprisonment imposed on Sri Lankan journalist J.S Tissainayagam, who had been critical of the army’s treatment of Tamil civilians. His conviction raises serious concerns about respect for the right to freedom of expression.” The mind boggles how the Minister could have said what she said with a straight face. But what counts is that she is the Minister.
Until many more South Africans make the choice to care, it is what the South African Government says – and not what Mandela, Tutu, Pillay and others say – that counts the most. Your contacts may not be able to change their government line, but they could show their personal support for this campaign. And they could help ensure that the media and other opinion-shapers who can shame or otherwise persuade the South African government into reviewing its approach take notice. Surely a foreign policy which is friendly to many of the features of apartheid is too depressing to be allowed to stand unchallenged?