Lessons in tolerance and democracy

The signing of a reunification agreement between factions of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Arusha, Tanzania last week restores hope for peace in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation. It also contains valuable lessons for African liberation movements as they strive for national progress and continental renewal.

The conflict in South Sudan, which started in December 2013, has led to enormous loss of life, displaced millions of citizens and threatened the country’s very existence. It has its roots in disputes within the ruling SPLM, which led the struggle for independence from Sudan.

Understanding that reconciliation within the SPLM is central to the resolution of the crisis. Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) of Tanzania and the ANC were requested to facilitate dialogue between the different SPLM factions.

The reunification of the different factions of the SPLM is a significant development. The participation of the ANC and CCM in this process reinforces the long-standing bonds of solidarity between Africa’s liberation movements. It demonstrates the value that each of these organisations attaches to peace and development on the continent, and the notion that an injury to one is an injury to all.

It shows what is possible when organisations with different experiences, histories and circumstances, but who share common values, work together to address difficult political challenges. It underlines the need for Africa’s liberation movements to continue to strengthen relations among themselves so that they may learn from each other and better support each other in moments of crisis.

Under the signed agreement, SPLM leaders are required to clarify the SPLM’s ideological character and formulate policies that allow a culture of tolerance and the practice of internal democracy. They should also formulate and implement policies that will abolish tribalism, sectarianism and militarism in politics, and promote political pluralism. The three factional SPLM groups are required to embrace reunification and reconciliation of the party leadership and membership.

These principles have been central to the existence of the ANC for more than a century. The ANC’s founders saw to it that the organisation became a vehicle for national unity. The document ‘Native Union’, drafted by Pixley ka Isaka Seme, noted that: “The demon of racialism, the aberrations of the Xhosa-Fingo feud, the animosity that exist between the Zulus and the Tongas, between the Basothos and any other native must be buried and forgotten. It has shed amongst us sufficient blood. We are one people; these divisions, these jealousies are the cause of all our woes, backwardness and ignorance today.”

It remains our duty as the ANC to continue the historic fight against any manifestation of tribalism, racism or xenophobia that seeks to rear its ugly head and undermine the gains of our freedom.  As the experience of the SPLM demonstrates, we need to continue being vigilant to prevent the development of any such tendencies.

The conflict in South Sudan reminds us of the first clause of the Freedom Charter, which says that the people shall govern. This principle is fundamental to our vision and has been at the centre of our struggle for freedom.

We dare not forget, as has happened so tragically in South Sudan, that it is the people that must decide their own future. We dare not become arrogant in power, believing that the people exist to advance our interests, not the other way around. Differences that we may have among ourselves in the movement cannot be allowed to detract from our effort to improve the lives of the poorest. We must put people first.

The divisions within the SPLM underline the importance of robust internal debate and democratic decision making. Ordinary ANC members, through their branches, must continue to direct the policy positions of the movement. They must elect their leaders and determine the programme of action.

We must pay attention to the criticism that slate politics undermines internal democracy, for what has happened in the SPLM is the most extreme form of slate politics. Individuals must be elected as leaders because of the value of their contribution to the movement, not because of the grouping they align themselves with. The ANC is built around a collective, not around personalities or factions of any shape or form.

Peace in South Sudan cannot be achieved without understanding the nature and character of the national task at hand. It cannot be kept by force or legislation. There is a need for understanding and accommodation on all sides and the opening of space for intra-party dialogue within the SPLM.

All the liberation movements working with the SPLM agree that there can be no more effective end to conflict than through reconciliation. While our histories are unique, we are still able to show that dialogue is the only way to peace, social cohesion and prosperity.

We expect that the reunification agreement signed in Arusha will silence the guns of war and conflict in South Sudan. We sincerely hope that it will end the death, destruction and displacement of South Sudan’s people. We hope that it enables the leaders and people of South Sudan to focus on the critical tasks of transformation and development.

As the ANC, we will continue to work with CCM and all other progressive movements to ensure unity, lasting peace and development in South Sudan. And we will continue to draw our own lessons from the tragic conflict that has engulfed the people of a new and promising nation.

>> Cyril Ramaphosa is the Deputy President of the African National Congress

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