A letter to President Rajapakse from Nelson Mandela

Mahinda Rajapaksa paying his last respects to the remains of the former South African President late Nelson Mandela. Photo via official Twitter feed

Dear Mahinda Rajapakse,

At the outset , I would like to tell you one thing. I regret very much that we have never met and not had the opportunity to share our experience.  Perhaps you could not visit me before I became bedridden because you were bogged down with a difficult war.

First of all I should thank all the people living in your beautiful country for the indomitable solidarity extended by them and their leaders when our country was under the curse of naked racism of apartheid system.  I expressed these sentiments to your former President Chandrika Kumaratunga every time I met her.

Both our countries have suffered from the course of war, although in different contexts. Some wars are fair. Some are not. But the issues left after all wars are more or less similar. For war means annihilation. Our South Africa won freedom and democracy with the legacy of long and oppressive racist rule and armed resistance in the background. We were engaged in a fatal war with the racist state. But once the inhumane apartheid / racist rule was over, our aim was transformed in to building peace and democracy. This is a task fundamentally different from waging war.

When we look at history of your own region, we meet the King Asoka, who was instrumental in such a change. He took off the armour and became Dharma-Asoka. It is essential that we leave the politics of war behind to work towards peace and human freedom.  This is one of the paramount lessons from South Africa.

And I need to tell you that international pressure was extremely helpful in achieving our independence. One of the most important experiences that I like to share with you is that the international pressure could work both ways; to make the situation better or worse in a country. It is impossible to neglect the international pressure.

Our struggle also proved to us that at the end, it is the internal forces that decide the future of a country. In the case of South Africa, international and national forces surged forward intertwined, like a rope.  If there was no powerful movement for freedom within the country there would not be an international campaign or any influence from such a campaign. Please consider how your country could make use of international concerns like ours did.

You may wonder why I am getting in to political discussion. That is precisely because of the news that your government is keen to learn form our Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process. This indeed makes me happy. It is all the more important that  you have expressed this desire to learn from our experiences to address the unresolved human rights issues related to the war, at the CHOGM, recently held in your country.

People like Bishop Desmond Tutu, one of the great men of our times, and who fought for the freedom of our country alongside me, has briefed me on several occasions regarding the deplorable situation your country is facing. In 2007 together with Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, I initiated the Elders as a forum to facilitate solving humane problems faced by the mankind, including peace building. World renowned human rights defenders like  Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson – to name a few- joined the group.  At the time of its formation I remember saying ‘this group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes. Together they will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair.’

It was Bishop Desmond Tutu who chaired the Elders, which the three of us created together, since its inspection. I still remember the first night I spent as a free man at Tutu’s home in 1990 after 27 years in prison.  He is a remarkable person who rendered a priceless service to stop our country degenerating in to an inhuman conflict again.

He was the chair of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He led the reconciliation process by setting examples, not by mere words. He was the first to coin the word Rainbow Nation for South Africa.

At an early state of our peace process white supremacists assonated Chris Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party and who many believed to be my successor, in the hope to derail the peace process. At this crucial junction, Bishop Tutu played a role of historical significance.   At his funeral Tutu managed to subdue the strong and agitated crowd of 120 000, by getting them to chant: “We will be free, all of us, black and white together!”

Bishop Tutu has set many examples that you may be interested in. He resigned form the of  the Elders in 2013. He said; ‘As Elders, we should always oppose Presidents for Life. After six wonderful years as Chairman, I am sad to say that it was time for me to step down’.’ As you may know, I, myself, resigned from the presidency of South Africa after one term.  This is another lesson you can learn from South Africa. I am disheartened to hear that you have changed the Constitution in a way that you can be the president for life.

Dear Mahinda, I thank you for your respectful words for me. To make those respectful words meaningful you need to follow the path cleared by us.  Please examine whether you are on the same path.

I am afraid that I will be made a symbol to decorate undemocratic regimes and my name and the image will be used to boast their rule.

At times I wonder what do you have to learn form us when you have become a strong defender and a close friend of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who  has made himself president for life, in practice.  His path was completely different to ours and laden with violence. Another disappointing news is your close relationship with the king of the Swaziland, a most backward country in Africa. If you have chosen to follow the examples of Zimbabwe and Swaziland, there is nothing we can offer you.

If you really want to learn anything from South Africa or from my life as a politician, that is the difference between the politics of war and politics of peace. The basis for politics of peace is not the coercion or militarisation but rather a democratic practice based on justice and fairness.

I was made aware of the position taken by The Elders in relation to your country in recent times. I am still an honorary member of the group and my partner Garcia Michael continues to be an active member of the group.  In March 2013 The Elders said:

Unfortunately, too little has happened since the end of war in Sri Lanka. Lasting reconciliation; upholding the rule of law; protection of human rights: it is difficult to feel positive about any of these essential objectives today. The impeachment in January of the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake, was a particularly disturbing sign that the authorities do not plan to tolerate dissent or disagreement. …There has, furthermore, been almost no meaningful action to implement the LLRC’s recommendations ….There needs to be an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of human rights perpetrated by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and other rebel factions in the final months of the civil war …

I need to tell you that The Elders, has endorsed the both  resolutions passed by the UNHRC in 2012 and 2013 on Sri Lanka. In fact our group advocated for a stronger resolution to be passed. We endorsed those resolutions not because we are against Sri Lanka; because we are sincerely concerned about justice and human rights of all Sri Lankans.

These actions of the Elders were taken under the guidance of its Chair and former Chair of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bishop Tutu.  Truth and Reconciliation go in hand in hand.

Now I come to my final question: Will you brand the Elders, including me, as traitors to Sri Lanka because of the stance taken by us?  I am afraid that you do not have any other alternative given the politics you follow. I urge you again to examine your path.

Sincerely yours,

Nelson Mandela

This imaginary letter was first published in Sinhala in the Ravaya newspaper. The author translated it into English on our request.

  • Obamasal

    The letter said it that parting of ways of both Nelson Mandela and Mahinda Rajapakse started deviating in the former’s resignation after one term and latter’s enactment of 18th Amendment to continue until his don s ready to step in. This is made possible by the unchallenged propaganda of the state run media in favour of the president and his family. The military is well looked after at the expense of the civilians especially in minority dominated north and south.

  • puniselva

    As the Chair of the Commonwealth President Rajapakse has to heed the message in the letter.

  • Nobody

    Dont understand, at the bottom it says IMAGINARY LETTER…does it make sense?

    • somebody

      Imaginary (social imaginary)- “is the set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols common to a particular social group and the corresponding society.” wiki

  • Mahinda

    Dear Nelson Mandela,

    It was with great regret that I heard the news of you passing away. But your funeral was a blast. Thank you. However I am overjoyed to read this letter that you have written for me (I did not know black people could talk from the grave)

    Nelson, I do not understand if you tried to compare the aftermath of the war in our two countries, because its not very clear to me. As you know I’m not so much of a bright fellow, so I’m pretty ignorant about your country s’ history, however I did not know that you also had this bloody terrorist problem? Did you not have a sudda situation? Anyway, the terrorists are now gone, finished, kaput. We have started rebuilding our nation as one family. Sinhalese, Muslims, Tamils have lived harmoniously in our country for a long time, and now this terrorist nonsense is done, we are gradually getting back there. However you of all people should know that wounds dont heal that fast….it takes time. No one can expect for complete reconciliation after a mere 4 years. But Nelson, we are getting there. And Nelson, what is this talk of Ashoka? that dude killed a lot of people, and then became dharmashoka? You should know better Nelson, for it is us Kings who wright and make history.

    I think you were referring to western forces, not international forces that influenced your struggle. See Nelson, these western suddas are a funny bunch of people. They chose who their enemy are and they chose who their friends are. They often chose the “frenemy” that at the end of the day makes it all the worth while. Did that make sense? well maybe not.( ie: you, gandhi etc.) We too have our international forces with use like our Chinese pals, and Iranian pals. So don’t worry my black skinny friend, we will survive this.

    I have to wrap this up soon…need to get ready for some Road racing…its really fun I tell you!

    You quoted the “elders” who said,

    Unfortunately, too little has happened since the end of war in Sri Lanka.

    I wish you came down to Sri Lanka Nelson, it is a much better place now. We have so many roads and shit, that you can just drive and drive and drive .Seriously Nelson, I have tried to develop this country s infrastructure in so many ways, in ways that it has never been developed. Yes I have made some mistakes, but heck look at the shit load of mistakes that idiot Bush made, still he got the votes, so dont worry, I will rule forever in this miracle of asia.

    Oh and lastly Nelson, you told me not to brand people including you, but arent you the one who branded the zimbabwians and swazilandians? just because someone holds a different view than yours does not make them wrong or bad. You should know this Nelson.

    Anyways time for my drive now….hopefully see you in a couple of years in the VIP lounge in the sky….Ill bring some thanamalwila stuff! damn good stuff nelson…damn good!

    • holmung pee

      We are NOT rebuilding as ‘one nation’ – we are building, and that too very superficially as ‘some nation’ – don’t kid ya self buddy!

  • Aia

    Nicely put, hope your message doesn’t go in vain. Need many more Deshapriyas. When the menace was over and done with, I thought a better tomorrow to emerge-all we witnessed hetherto is disappointing. Truth and reconciliation in SL is a far cry, those who talk about are traitors or LTTE supporters.

  • Jayalath

    Is it really a hoax of Deshapriya ? What made him to compare mandela to prabakaran . . Or is he intentionally misleading the readers by comparing Sri Lankan ethnic war and South African apartheid war together. I suppose , the writer has made a poor effort to make it as a big context itself not realising the depth of two incidents . Therefore,
    I wouldn’t surprise one day , if Blair and Bush did not write a letter to Sri Lankan president in same manner . By the way ,
    It seems to be Sunandha has lack of idea at what degree the apartheid practised in South Africa. .Black Africans were confronted by the daily horrors of racism in White ruled South Africa , when mandela was at 16 that he passed to manhood through the rite of circumcision , followed by days celebrations where he was presented with two heifers and four sheep. It was one of the event that he forced to think about the true plight of black African . He regarded the white people as a benefactors , not an oppressors . Since then ,
    It didn’t take long time him to realise they are slaves in own country , doing the mindless chores for the white man. Do you believe that Sinhalese people subjugated the Tamils in a such level how the whites did in South Africa ? Instead the Tamil Tigers terrorised the whole country to partition it . and it was a battle to defend the integrity and autonomy , where can happen any level of things . Thus, It is a serious crime in journalism that distorting the truth of a conflict and disseminate misleading informations to gain personal benefits .

    Is it really a hoax of Deshapriya ? What made him to compare mandela to prabakaran . . Or is he intentionally misleading the readers by comparing Sri Lankan ethnic war and South African apartheid war together. I suppose , the writer has made a poor effort to make it as a big context itself not realising the depth of two incidents . Therefore,
    I wouldn’t surprise one day , if Blair and Bush did not write a letter to Sri Lankan president in same manner . By the way ,
    It seems to be Sunandha has lack of idea at what degree the apartheid practised in South Africa. .Black Africans were confronted by the daily horrors of racism in White ruled South Africa , when mandela was at 16 that he passed to manhood through the rite of circumcision , followed by days celebrations where he was presented with two heifers and four sheep. It was one of the event that he forced to think about the true plight of black African . He regarded the white people as a benefactors , not an oppressors . Since then ,
    It didn’t take long time him to realise they are slaves in own country , doing the mindless chores for the white man. Do you believe that Sinhalese people subjugated the Tamils in a such level how the whites did in South Africa ? Instead the Tamil Tigers terrorised the whole country to partition it . and it was a battle to defend the integrity and autonomy , where can happen any level of things . Thus, It is a serious crime in journalism that distorting the truth of a conflict and disseminate misleading informations to gain personal benefits .

  • Angulimala

    Chandana, your point about 88-89 is a bit silly given that the South African form of govt at the time was still apartheid, the NP was the ruling party and Mandela was still in prison!