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The participants in the Conference with Ambassador Dawie Jacobs, Charge D’Affairs (front left) and the Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Luis Almagro (front fourth from left) with Sello Hatang and Verne Harris on his left.

The Forum Maldonado, a Human Rights Forum in the Province of Maldonado hosted a successful two-day International Conference “Accepting the Past in Shaping the Present – Learning from Experiences in other Countries” on 27 and 28 September in Punta Del Este, Uruguay. Seven countries participated, including South Africa. Except Germany, all the countries were from the South, including Brazil, Chile, Argentina and El Salvador, and it was thus also seen as a further manifestation of South South Cooperation. Uruguay was represented by an Uruguayan serving on the World Council of Churches.
The Conference was opened by the Uruguayan Minister of Education, Dr Ricardo Ehrlich,  and closed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Luis Almagro. The host was the Governor of Maldonado, Oscar de los Santos and the Conference was supported by the Ministry of Education and the Development Programme of the UN in Uruguay.
In his opening address the Minister of Education made special reference to the South African example and most subsequent speakers followed suit.
South Africa was represented by Verne Harris and Sello Hatang of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. They provided a very realistic and sober analysis of the South African transition, listing the successes, but also spelling out the remaining challenges. The bottom-line being that the transition is a long process and that there is still a road to travel. The fact that the transition to democracy has not  been an unqualified success in all respects and that we are still facing serious challenges at this stage of the process, in contrast to what is often perceived abroad, clearly added a new and perhaps necessary dimension to the understanding of the South African reality by the participants and in the public opinion here.
The event enjoyed prominent media coverage, both printed and electronic. A wide ranging and balanced interview with both Verne Harris and Sello Hatang was prominently carried in a leading weekly paper, Busqueda. They were among others also asked for their assessment of the very popular film “Invictus” that is still regularly shown on local TV. They were also asked how they assess the comparison made between Nelson Mandela and the Uruguayan President Jose Mujica who also had been in prison for 12 years as a political prisoner.  They responded that although they cannot speak for Mandela, they believe Mandela is comfortable with the comparison, since there are similarities in their histories and the way they led their countries afterwards, not following the road of revenge.
This Conference was of special importance to Uruguay given their Presidency of the UN Human Rights Council and the fact that they are also still in the process of coming to terms with their 12-year period of military dictatorship in Uruguay from 1972 to 1984. The invitation for SA participation and the huge expectation created by that, serves to confirm the impact that South Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy still has today. The sober assessment surely served as reality check here on the serious challenges still faced by South Africa in this process of coming to terms with the past and in shaping the present. What came through was that the promising start of this process during the Madiba era, has since lost much of its impact and momentum for a variety of reasons, including the need for good leadership on all levels and disillusionment of South Africans that they are not benefitting from the transition to democracy.



March 2018






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