OUR CARIBBEAN: Ramphal a notable absentee for Mandela service
There was a notable absence of an internationally renowned citizen of this region for the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) quite encouraging “togetherness” at last Tuesday’s unique official “memorial service” in South Africa for the legendary Nelson Mandela.
Knowing him, as others better informed about him would be aware, ‘Sonny’ Ramphal may well be amused by my intervention to inquire how could the governments of CARIC0M, among them Trinidad and Tobago – which currently holds the chairmanship – and that of his native Guyana, fail to recognze the appropriateness, the validity of extending an invitation for him to be present for that historic memorial service in Johannesburg.
Those more familiar with the better known literature about Mandela and Ramphal, would be aware of how the late fighter for freedom and human dignity had publicly voiced personal admiration and respect for the internationally recognized Caribbean intellectual and diplomat.
As three-term Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Ramphal, had played significant enabling roles during the gigantic struggles to end apartheid rule in South Africa and, more specifically, the freedom from 26 years of imprisonment of Mandela, a titan among the greatest of the world’s great.
In his 2008-released Shridath Ramphal (The Commonwealth and the World) – essays by leading contributors in honour of the long-serving Guyanese-born advocate for wider and deeper Caribbean integration and unity – Richard Bourne quotes Mandela in his introduction as commending Ramphal, as “one of those men who have become famous because, in their fight for human justice, they have chosen the entire world as their theatre . . . ”.
Earlier, Mandela had recommended as “a timely work deserving our full attention” the 1997 published 410-page report, Our Global Neighbourhood from the Commission on Global Governance, of which he was co-chairman with Sweden’s Ingvar Carlson.
A dozen years earlier, in 1985, at the Commonwealth Summit in The Bahamas, Ramphal was to be fully engaged in helping to establish what came to be known as the “Eminent Persons Group” (EPG) on South Africa’s struggle to end the heinous apartheid governance system and the personal freedom of one of the world’s best known political prisoners – Mandela.
Among the seven chosen members of the EPG was a lone woman, the distinguished first female Governor General of Barbados, and internationally recognized otherwise, Dame Nita Barrow. The EPG representatives held two meetings with Mandela in prison and their report was to prove a most effective weapon in the rapid decline of apartheid and the freedom of Mandela to become the first democratically-elected president of South Africa.
However, it so happened, that for last Tuesday’s memorial service when the Caribbean region did well in showing an impressive presence, Ramphal was not among any of the delegations. Was it a terrible oversight, or just plain political ignorance of the sterling contributions of regional and international affairs of a most competent and committed son of the Caribbean?
In sharp contrast, that perhaps reveals a better concept of people-oriented governance, or better appreciation for its citizens who have made their international contributions for a better world, the government of New Zealand chose to have among its delegation for the Mandela memorial service its well known citizen and former Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Don McKinnon.
As Trinis are fond of remarking, “yuh think it easy”!