Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Talk with Sultan Ebrahim Rasool: ANC leader from South Africa

SULTAN EBRAHIM Rasool is a middle-aged, mild mannered person from South Africa. An influential leader of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party in South Africa, he is also an advisor to the president of the Republic of South Africa.

Ebrahim Rasool was in Kozhikode this week, as the chief guest at the public rally at the national political conference of the Popular Front of India on Sunday. On his return to the airport on Monday evening, he spent some time with us at Thejas, chatting with the senior editorial staff on various things related to South Africa and indeed the world.

Enjoying cashew nuts and fresh coconut water that we offered him, he breezily talked about the experiences of national reconciliation in South Africa, where they had a tough time burying the ghosts from the apartheid past. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did a very important work, giving amnesty to those who confessed their crimes, heinous crimes committed with impunity in the apartheid days.

He said it was a great healing experience, a process of seeking and giving pardon that helped the new nation to come to grips with other more pressing problems that it faced. And in a post-apartheid phase, they did have a tremendous lot of such work to do as it was a country totally and completely divided and segregated into separate and mutually exclusive and even antagonistic areas that were the prerogative of whites, blacks, coloured people, etc, living in water-tight compartments.

"It is not like the caste system in India, where in each village you have people belonging to different castes though there is segregation," he said pointing out that in South Africa things were quite different. In apartheid, each community had been living in separate areas which had no contact with other. They were different nations, which needed to be integrated into a common South African nation. It is a process which would take a long time and it is now slowly moving ahead, he said.

He said in apartheid, even the churches and places of worship were segregated. For blacks and whites belonging to the same faith, there were different churches, except in the case of Muslims. Muslim community defied this racist segregation and remained together opening its mosques to all people, whether they be white, black or people of any other race.

And it was not an easy task. He remembered his experiences in the seventies when he was very young: The Government decided to occupy the areas where they were living, mostly Muslim families. Most of his family shifted out as also others and the bulldozers came o raze down the structures. But then the community gave a call that if the government touched upon their mosques, which are wakf and hence sacred, then the members of the community would march in defend them and seek martyrdom allowing themselves to be buried alive along with their mosques.

“You know the government could not touch even one mosque and now you can see vast areas where houses are destroyed but the mosques still remain there,” he said.

He also said that is why in spite of their small numerical strength, as the Muslims are just three percent of the population, they are a highly respected community in south Africa.

He spoke about the problems his part of the world is facing, especially about the land question and the crisis in Zimbabwe. He said if Zimbabwe fails to reconcile its internal difficulties, it would pose serious difficulties to all its neighbours, especially South Africa. If a civil war erupts, then South African borders would be full of refugees and it would be a humanitarian crisis which would prove to be really Herculean. Already the Zimbabwean economy is in doldrums with its agriculture in a shambles, with nothing by way of industries to support people and inflation rates sky-rocketing.

Hence the South African efforts to bring a rapprochement between the two major power groups led by Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsavangiri in Zimbabwe and he said these efforts did pay off, and they are hopeful the peace would hold.

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