Advice to Colombia for the Peace Process

As described in this month’s CPNN bulletin, Colombia is preparing for peace as the peace talks advance between the Government and FARC. Local and regional peace initiatives, as well as a national move for peace education, are taking place in this context. It seems that Colombia will achieve peace accords that allow the election of a unity government that represents all of the people. But we should ask the question about what comes next. Can one trust that a unity government will continue the serve the people, or will it become corrupt?

I am reminded of the situation 25 years ago in South Africa when the peace talks between the apartheid government of South Africa and Nelson Mandela inspired the entire country to prepare for peace. At that time a network of local peace committees was established. At their peak in the early 1990’s, there were 11 regional committees and over one hundred local peace committees, with an annual budget of almost $12 million which enabled the hiring of full time staff for regional offices. These committees united representatives from political organizations, trade unions, business, churches, police and security forces to resolve disputes at local and regional levels. They engaged people directly in conflict management on a grass roots level throughout the country.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to spend a month in South Africa and to meet with social activists who had been active in the anti-apartheid movement. The told me that they regret now that they abandoned the network of local peace committees, because the national government has become so corrupt they can no longer work with it. The corruption is exemplified by the alleged involvement of Cyril Ramaphosa in the massacre of striking mine workers three years ago.

The massacre took place in 2012 at the Lonmin platinum mines near Marikana, South Africa where 41 striking mineworkers were killed and many more injured, mostly by the police, many of them shot in the back. The strike was carried out by workers opposed to the leadership of their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which they considered to have sold out the company interests. The NUM was founded by Cyril Ramaphosa, after which Ramaphosa became the leader of COSATU, the national organization of trade unions, and then leader of the ANC, and now Vice President of South Africa.

Most recently, according to an article in Jeune Afrique, the leader of EFF, the new political party opposed to the ANC, announced the filing of a legal complaint against Ramaphosa, for having had “a decisive effect on the final decision of deliberating the mass murder of the miners at Marikana”. At the time of the massacre, Ramaphosa, in addition to being Vice-President of the country and founder of the National Union of Mineworkers, was also a shareholder in Lonmin. Ramaphosa is accused by the leader of the radical left to have insisted that the police should break the strike. Although there was an official investigation after the massacre, its mandate did not allow it to investigate the role of government members in ordering the police action.

One year after the massacre, one commentator concluded: “Perhaps the most important lesson of Marikana is that the state can gun down dozens of black workers with little or no backlash from ‘civil society’, the judicial system or from within the institutions that supposedly form the bedrock of democracy. What we have instead is the farcical Farlam commission, an obvious attempt to clear the state’s role in the massacre and prevent any sort of real investigation into the actions of the police on that day. In other words, the state can get away with mass murder, with apparent impunity in terms of institutional conceptions of justice and political accountability.”

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa has become one of South Africa’s richest men, with Forbes Magazine estimating his wealth at $275 million. Many believe that he is in line to be elected the next President of South Africa.

Hopefully, the activists in South Africa can revive a network of local peace committees. And hence, my advice to the people of Colombia: develop a network of local peace committees and keep them strong and independent so that you do not have to depend solely on the national government to maintain the peace.

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