Newsletter 06/13

Conference on 7 June 2013 in Paris: Transition and reconciliation in South Africa

The CFAS conference on transition and reconciliation in South Africa was opened by Mrs. Manuelle Franck, Chair of INALCO and was held in the new premises of the renowned French school of Oriental languages and civilisation, founded by the National Convention in 1795.

The conference was held on the anniversary of Nelson Mandela's first visit to Paris on 7 June 1990. It was organised in partnership with French daily newspaper La Croix, which published a two-page "Forum and Debates" report on South Africa in that day's edition.
Mrs. Franck thanked the organisers for their initiative, which forms part of the Season of South Africa in France inaugurated on 28 May 2013 and marked by the illumination of the Eiffel Tower in the colours of the new South Africa.
Another event staged in the capital as part of the Season of South Africa was an exhibition at the Paris Town Hall of photographs retracing Nelson Mandela's career "from prisoner to president".

 Guest of honour: George Bizos,  lawyer for Nelson Mandela, South Africa

George Bizos, the conference guest of honour, was introduced by CFAS President Yves Laurin, who reminded the audience of the heroism shown by George Bizos in 1941 when, while still a teenager in Nazi-occupied Greece, he and his father saved the lives of a number of New Zealand soldiers.
Later, while a student on campus at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, George Bizos first encountered Nelson Mandela, somewhat his elder, as he took part in an anti-apartheid demonstration in the wake of the 1948 election won by the proponents of racial segregation.

George Bizos was a member of the team of lawyers led by Bram Fischer – and which included future Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson – that defended Nelson Mandela and his comrades during the Rivonia Trial (1963-1964), and succeeded in having the death penalty ruled out. He later went on to defend many victims of apartheid, among them the family of Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid activist who died under torture.
Following the release of Nelson Mandela at the beginning of 1990, George Bizos devoted his efforts to setting up the charter of rights and freedoms and of the new Constitution of South Africa.
George Bizos continues to be active as Senior Counsel at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC). He is currently engaged in defending the families of miners killed or injured during the Marikana tragedy of 2012.
On 11 June 2013, he was the guest of the Paris Bar at the Palais de Justice, where he was awarded the Bar medal for his services as former counsel to Nelson Mandela.

In his address, George Bizos was keen to stress that "while there might be certain common points between the combats of the past and those of the present, he categorically rejected any assertion that little had changed in South Africa since the enactment of the Constitution and the setting up of the Constitutional Court".
He went on to point out that there were still legitimate grievances in South Africa, arising from the lack of services available to tackle the shortage of housing and decent jobs; even so, special efforts were being made in the fields of health and education.
"While the struggle to achieve Mandela's aspirations must go on, we may have underestimated the events that have occurred over the past nineteen years of democracy. Great progress has been made, in particular where the administration of justice is concerned," he continued.  Under apartheid, George Bizos went on, "judges and magistrates were, with a few notable exceptions, fervent supporters of whites over blacks."
George Bizos praised the quality of the South African Constitution, pointing out that, "if responsibility for many of our failures is to be apportioned, it must be to those who were entrusted with implementing the principles contained in our Constitution, but certainly not to the Constitution itself."

Main witness 
Joëlle Bourgois - France's Ambassador to South Africa from 1990 to 1995

Mrs. Joëlle Bourgois, France's Ambassador to South Africa from 1990 to 1995, recalled her meetings with Nelson Mandela and the extraordinary personality of the man who succeeded in winning over, in South Africa, even those most reluctant to acknowledge the need for profound change, and who has won the esteem and respect of every French politician he has encountered, be it in Paris or in South Africa.

NGO's commitment
Janet Love - Director of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), South Africa

 The role of civil society as a spur to the implementation of the new Constitution was presented by Janet Love, Director of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), and William Kerfoot, a lawyer working for the NGO that was set up in 1979 to combat apartheid.
Janet Love described the work of the LRC, which "has won a number of legal proceedings for land restitution and in favour of housing, education, the environment, the rights of the disabled, of asylum-seekers and of AIDS sufferers, as well as for the redress of gender inequality, often in the teeth of opposition from the South African authorities."

Justice and developpement
William Kerfoot - Legal Resources Centre, Cape-Town, South Africa

William Kerfoot, a lawyer working for the LRC, also reminded the conference of how Nelson Mandela, during his term of office as President of South Africa, accepted the power of the Constitutional Court to overturn decisions he had made.
President Mandela had declared at the time, "We all act under the aegis of the Constitution and I, as President, must be the first to show my respect for the Constitution as interpreted by the Constitutional Court."

The post-apartheid generation
Ncumisa Mayosi - lawyer, LRC, South Africa

The post-apartheid generation was represented by Ncumisa Mayosi, a young lawyer practising at the Cape Bar, who stressed in her address the concept of "transformation" governing every area of activity in the new South Africa.

As far as the legal professions are concerned, she expressed the view that "it would take more than one generation for the transformation to be completed" and that there was still a need to "build bridges between the different races in South Africa through debate, especially about our history". Such debates would "make it possible to overcome the suspicion and the fear still present, to breathe new life into South African society."du Sud. 

A new deal for women
Elisa Sidgwick - Vice-Présidente of the French Comitee for South Africa

Elisa Sidgwick, Vice President of the French Committee for South Africa and author of a major study on the situation of women in South Africa, spoke of a "new paradigm" set out in the rights enshrined in the Constitution. Women now make up one third of the Members of Parliament.
The new institutions have introduced the National Gender Machinery (NGM), comprising a Commission on Gender Equality set up by parliament, an Office on the Status of Women reporting to the Presidency of the Republic, and a Joint Monitoring Committee.

In her conclusion, Elisa Sidgwick quoted the words of South African academic researcher Sheil Meintjes: "In the fight for women's rights, men are an essential ally. We have realised that, without them, we will not win the battle." 

Democratisation of the cultural sector - South African cinema
Joachim Landau - Doctor of Political Science and author- Producer at Orange

Joachim Landau, a Doctor of Political Science and author of a documentary on the new South African cinema, of which he is a leading connoisseur, retraced progress on the road to renewal made since the ending of apartheid: the emergence of talented new film-makers and State aid for the industry in forms comparable to those deployed in France.

He screened the trailers from recent films illustrating the vitality of South African film.

Truth and Reconciation, the European experience
Sébastien Maillard - journalist, La Croix

Sébastien Maillard, a journalist writing for La Croix and a former lecturer at the University of Cape Town, echoed the hopes for the new South Africa called to mind by George Bizos, despite the difficulties and the recent tragedy at Marikana in which 44 miners died.

Referring to the fact that the Cape of Good Hope was initially known as the Cape of Storms, Sébastien Maillard assured his audience that the "good hope" now rested with the South African Constitution, a political testament that should inspire the country to overcome further obstacles." 

French suburbs, testimony
Mafoua Badinga - lawyer, Secretary General of hte French Commitee for the South Africa

Alain Mafoua, Secretary General of the French Committee for South Africa and lawyer at the Bobigny Bar, gave a striking presentation drawing comparisons between the situation in certain French suburbs and that of the townships of South Africa. The outskirts of Paris are home to dozens of different nationalities speaking a multitude of languages. Poor housing, failing schools, the difficulty of finding employment, the presence of gangs and the existence of latent violence that could lead to a repeat of the riots of 2005 are all indicators that call for far-reaching economic and social initiatives, inseparable from the current projects in hand to create a "Greater Paris."

Conclusion and summery
Christian Vigouroux - Councillor of State and President of the section of the Council of State

Christian Vigouroux, Councillor of State and President of the section of the Council of State with special responsibility for international relations, gave the closing address of the conference. Referring to the major transformations that have taken place in South Africa, he recalled how, in France, he has twice served as Head of the Private Office at the Ministry of Justice under two women Ministers of Justice, one white and one black. 

He quoted the words of the philosopher Emile Chartier, commonly known as Alain (1868-1951), reminding us of the vigilance that each of us must maintain against any expression of racism.
Looking back over the history of France, he also recalled key episodes - from the Edict of Nantes that put an end to the Wars of Religion in the closing years of the 16th century to the agreements signed in New Caledonia between the representatives of the population of European descent and those of the Kanak people – that instituted reconciliation mechanisms enshrining recognition for the rights of all parties.
Further work of the kind demonstrated at this conference deserves to be encouraged and expanded upon by greater dialogue between civil society and government institutions.