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Volume 90, Issue 95

Tuesday, March 25, 1997



Remembering South Africa's history

©Geoff Robins/Gazette

By Gary Bennett
Gazette Writer

His Excellency, Billy Modise, the High Commissioner from South Africa to Canada, spoke to a crowd including Western's president Paul Davenport and London's mayor Dianne Haskett Friday as part of Western's celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Modise recounted his experiences living in South Africa before the Nationalist Party came into power and afterwards in exile. He said the turning point in the African National Congress struggle occurred after the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960. "People felt [apartheid] had gone too far now. It took 69 lives in South Africa to make the world recognize what was going on was wrong."

Although so many innocent, defenceless, non–violent protesters were killed, Modise said he was happy Sharpeville occurred because South Africa became recognized by the United Nations, apartheid became recognized as an international problem and the event marked the beginning of international change.

In 1960, Modise said he and other activists left South Africa in search of allies who would help South Africans with their fight. "I went to London, England, Geneva, Czechoslovakia and several other European countries but the reception was only lukewarm." Finally, Modise said they were able to find support in Algeria where they were trained to use weapons and to organize their revolution.

"It is because of this affiliation that the ANC became known as a communist organization and supporter, but the reality was that our only support came from these political factions," he said. "The world left South Africa to die and then turned around to call us communists and violent.

"When we needed the help, the world was silent."

Modise then turned to more recent events saying Canada will be remembered for divesting from South Africa. "The [trade] sanctions helped us when they got to the stage whereby white people were hit hard economically. Then [whites] had to say to their leaders, what are you going to do about this situation?" he explained. "The problem facing the new South Africa today is how to get the problems of yesterday out of its system.

"We don't know. We decided not to try and remind ourselves everyday about the perpetrators of hate, but to let it go and lead the pain into constructive channels," he said, adding this has been accomplished through the Truth and Reconciliation path in order to avoid an explosion of tensions.

The Truth and Reconciliation program allows members of the secret police and De Klerk government who were involved in the torture and killing of many of South Africa's activists, who remain missing, to confess to these atrocities in return for complete amnesty. "Complete amnesty is given because even if we have them killed, we won't bring back the dead activists," he said. The commission is headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who works with approximately five permanent members and several data-collecting committees.

"We'd like to see ourselves as a humble member of the international community," Modise said. "We are playing our role and paying our dues, not because we have the money, but we believe this will be the way to save mankind."

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Copyright © The Gazette 1997