May 31, 2023

Could South Africa´s experience help

the Cyprus process?

The two negotiators in the peace process will head to South Africa next week to hear how seemingly insurmountable obstacles were overcome through difficult negotiations, which ended apartheid and introduced democracy to the country of 51 million people.

Özersay - Mavroyannis
Mavroyannis – Özersay

Andreas Mavroyiannis and Kudret Ozersay, along with members of their negotiating teams, will begin the roughly three-day visit at the end of next week. Mavroyiannis leaves for South Africa on April 24. Both negotiators will return to the island before the end of the month and ahead of their next official meeting on May 6.

While in South Africa, the two are expected to visit Johannesburg, Cape Town and possibly other locations, attending workshops and holding informal meetings with people very influential in ending apartheid and overseeing reconciliation.

According to sources, the two negotiators are expected to meet with Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last State President of apartheid-era South Africa, who played a crucial role, along with Nelson Mandela, in ending racial segregation and introducing multi-racial democracy.

They will also visit Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

Robben Island
Robben Island

The facilitator and source of inspiration for the trip is Roelof Petrus Meyer, who acted as the chief government negotiator in South Africa in the 1990s. He was later given a ministerial position by Mandela post-apartheid.

Meyer is currently chairman of the In Transformation Initiative, through which he has shared his diverse and extensive experience of conflict resolution with others involved in peace negotiations, including from Northern Ireland, Rwanda and Kosovo.

The visit is being organised by UNDP-ACT in Cyprus, and funded by USAID.

Meyer did some work with UNDP last September, where he opened a discussion at a conference in Malta on how a more “inclusive approach” can help the Cyprus peace process. The conference was attended by civic, business and political figures from across the spectrum in Cyprus. Participants were introduced to examples of other peace processes around the world, including South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Northern Ireland.

Following the Malta conference, the idea came up for the two negotiators- who did not attend the Malta meet- to share experiences, face-to-face, with people who were at the heart of the South African peace process, both before and after.

While South Africa is not without problems, battling the legacy of apartheid and colonialism, it is still widely considered an example of how successful negotiations can lead to a non-violent transition of power and transformation of the state.

South Africans have been sharing their experiences with negotiators from around the world over the years, including from Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and even Bahrain.

As one diplomatic source put it, they have “developed a niche in helping other people to understand how they negotiated the dismantling of apartheid, which was a very difficult process that took several years”.

The hope is that the Cypriot negotiators will have a chance to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge they will have access to while also reflecting on the future of their own process.

The source acknowledged that South Africa and Cyprus are completely different conflicts, making it very difficult to draw direct parallels. But one can take home lessons learnt from certain aspects of the negotiation process.

South Africa Flag
South Africa Flag

“The issue is the process of having to negotiate a longstanding historically embedded conflict. And if you look at that dynamic from a different view point, it can cast a positive experience that you can learn from,” he said.

A source close to the Greek Cypriot negotiating team agreed that South Africa and Cyprus were “fundamentally different situations” but that there were lessons to be learnt from South Africa on how things could be handled in a way which solves disputes, not just during negotiations but also after a solution.

The main aim is not to get something concrete out of the trip, despite press reports to the contrary, but to share experiences, which may prove useful, said the source.

As for Meyer, his opening talk in Malta may shed some light on what he will have to say to the negotiators.

He recalled that South African negotiations took place with an understanding that “what’s important is what we want from the future and not what we want to protect from the past”.

Regarding aspects of the South African experience which could possibly have relevance to Cyprus, he referred to: the need to develop a new mind set to ensure the obstacles of the past are overcome; the importance of developing a transparent, open negotiating process based on a solid communication strategy, ensuring the support of the wider public; and, building confidence across the divide and mobilising public opinion towards the need for change.

The diplomatic source told the Cyprus Mail that Meyer helped the Malta participants get a sense of the need for a broader based dialogue, which can hopefully create a societal platform (including political and non-political forces) for a successful negotiation process.

Looking at the South African negotiations, one can see the depth of the societal contribution, directly and indirectly, to the peace process.

Meyer’s argument is that implementing a solution is just the start of it. Mending the wounds of society at different levels also takes a long time, and requires a strategy that has real leadership.

“Everyone understand that negotiations in and of themselves need to have that societal support. They can’t be made up of just politicians. They need everyone, business leaders, union leaders, professional organisations, NGOs, local communities, religious leaders,” said the diplomatic source.

Source: Cyprus Mail

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