The passing away of South Africa’s visionary leader on December 5, 2013 has been a subject of discussion everywhere in the world because his life has given a message that compassion and forgiveness can become the hallmark of good governance. Undoubtedly, the death of Nelson Mandel (1918-2013) at the age of 95, who spent 27 years of imprisonment for his convictions about human freedom, has more reverberations in Nepal, which is still struggling to move beyond painful transition to durable peace.
Unlike the despised colonization of South Africa by the Europeans, Nepal has some parallels with the rainbow state in terms of political upheavals which have left many self-inflicted wounds on us in the aftermath of 2006 People’s Movement, the climax event of decade-old insurgency. Surprisingly, then in 2006 when Nepal succeeded without inviting foreign interlocutors in persuading the Maoist rebels to join political mainstream, we were euphoric believing that peaceful landing of home grown rebellious movement had been achieved. That celebration was reinforced by the conduct of first ever Constituent Assembly election in 2008.
Due to lack of vision on the part of our political leaders and their greed for power installing as many as four prime ministers in four years time, our valuable endeavors in utilizing peace dividend were wasted seen in our failure to frame a democratic and participatory constitution. Originally, the Constituent Assembly was expected to write such constitution in two years but it couldn’t deliver one even after four years leading to its demise and holding a second election to the Constituent Assembly last November.
The Nepalese people have presented an example about how courageous they can become in exercising their suffrage amidst violence on the eve of election. The countrymen have fulfilled their democratic obligations of choosing the representatives of their choice and entrusted them the responsibilities of drafting a constitution that ensures the protection to people of all castes and creed. Now it is up to the newly-elected members of the Constituent Assembly to live up to their promises and commitments and they would be closely watched in terms of their performance. The results of election have established the fact that no political party or leader can turn a deaf ear to their duties. Otherwise, they will likely be punished in next election as we have watched a growing number of political leaders, mostly from Tarai, who have lost their seats which they had been occupying as legislators for decades.
Of the two major preoccupations of the people of Nepal in the wake of successful second People’s Movement, the promulgation of a new constitution and the completion of peace process, none of them has so far been completed. The integration of some Maoist rebels into Nepal Army as per political understanding nevertheless, there is lot to be done in healing the wounds of People’s War. Unless such old grudges are addressed properly, the society continues to remain vulnerable to future conflicts. South Africa can definitely provide us useful lessons in handling this problem, which is common to many post-conflict countries in the world.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an unique model pursued in post-apartheid South Africa to create conducive environment for all past enemies to reconcile and live together, whose credit goes to late Nelson Mandela, has been a topic of wrangling among the political parties in Nepal. Several attempts in the past to set up such commission have not borne fruit because of divisiveness among the leaders, who need to learn from the South African icon, whose policy of forgiveness has produced miracles in a society which was torn between black majority and white minority due to latter’s racist policy, know as apartheid.
Against the background of Nepal languishing in perpetual transition to enduring peace, where some parents have been forced to sit in for fast unto death for months seeking justice to their children who were victims of conflict, the legacy of Nelson Mandela would always be relevant.
In this regard a quote from late Mandela as reproduced in the New York Times seems appropriate in our context, where the government is supposedly afraid to reveal the truth regarding the atrocities committed in the past conflict. Mandela has said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
A former president of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, in her Project-Syndicate feature “A Prisoner’s Reflections on Nelson Mandela” has said that late Mandela found the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the only viable bridge between his country’s racist legacy and its multiracial present and future. She also explains how Mandela emphasized eschewing of hatred towards enemies and quotes him. Mandela said when he was released from prison on February 11, 1990 “As I walked out of the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I would still be in prison.”
With the possible formation of a consensus government following the fresh mandate of the Nepali people, it is hoped that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission modeled on international practice would be formed without unnecessary delay. Such commission should deal with several cases related to past conflict with no bias for and against anybody. Once such body is allowed to look into the realities and produce the truth before the public, a due process of peace and reconciliation would evolve facilitating the institutionalization of peace.
At a time when the whole world is engaged in offering homage to an iconic leader like Nelson Mandela for his imitable vision of forgiveness, Nepal government may get due inspiration and take measures that will be remembered in history as milestone in securing our fragile peace. Revealing the truth about past conflict would be a right step in this direction.