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In another show of unity, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday chose Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley as the only other member of the national delegation to accompany her to view Nelson Mandela’s body. Mandela lay in state at the Union Buildings, Pretoria, South Africa—the official seat of the South African government, where he was sworn in as the country’s first black president in 1994.
Persad-Bissessar, Rowley and other members of the T&T and Caricom delegations also joined hundreds of South Africans in the streets of Pretoria celebrating Mandela’s life. Yesterday, many international leaders and hundreds of thousands of citizens had their final opportunity to say goodbye to Mandela, who died on December 5 at his Johannesburg home after ailing for several months. Mandela’s body will continue to lie in state today and tomorrow. His private funeral takes place on Sunday.
In a release issued yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said as thousands of mourners were lining up to view Mandela’s body, South African officials decided to limit the number of people accompanying world leaders to the viewing. Persad-Bissessar said she was allowed to take only one person and she chose Rowley. It was the second occasion in the past week that Persad-Bissessar had invited Rowley to participate in an event.
Last Friday, she invited him to be part of the T&T delegation to South Africa for the Mandela memorial service, which took place on Tuesday, and yesterday’s viewing of the body at the Union Buildings, which South Africa President Jacob Zuma has renamed the Mandela Amphitheatre. Persad-Bissessar expressed her gratitude to Rowley for accepting her invitation yesterday. She said the other members of the delegation were unable to view the body because of security concerns.
Questioned about Rowley’s acceptance of her invitation to be part of the delegation, Persad-Bissessar said it was “most appropriate for him to attend with us here,” and that she and Rowley “had very cordial discussions about other matters.” She did not elaborate. Persad-Bissessar said it was “a very moving experience to be on the African continent.” Pretoria was a very green city with good roads, she said, and she was really impressed. The T&T delegation returns home this evening.
Speaking with the T&T Guardian yesterday by phone, Persad-Bissessar said while the memorial was very celebratory, the viewing of the body “was more sombre, and it really struck home that we have really lost a great son of the world.” She said she felt “more sadness over the great loss of Mandela.” In response to a question on any further tributes by T&T in memory of Mandela, Persad-Bissessar said, “We’ll have to give more consideration to that.”
On Tuesday, she said the Caribbean Airlines aircraft which carried the T&T delegation and two other Caricom heads to South Africa will be named in honour of Mandela. Persad-Bissessar, who is also the chairman of Caricom, said that body will also have to consider a fitting tribute to Mandela in addition to the individual member states. “All in all we have a lot to learn from the life of Mr Mandela,” the PM said.
She noted that it was a significant occasion when so many leaders of the world journeyed to South Africa to pay tribute to a great man. Persad-Bissessar said Mandela will forever be revered worldwide for successfully shepherding the country towards a peaceful transition to multiracial democracy after three centuries of white domination. Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his attempts to dismantle the apartheid system which prevailed in his country.
He subsequently became president in 1994 and served for one term. Asked if the bi-partisan approach would continue in T&T during a joint press conference in Pretoria yesterday, Persad-Bissessar she felt all parties in South Africa, including herself and Rowley, would do all in their power to see a better T&T.
Marks for PM
Political analyst Winsford James said yesterday that Persad-Bissessar should be given marks for inviting Rowley to be part of the official delegation to the Mandela memorial and public viewing of the body in South Africa. He said Persad-Bissessar was “quite generous, noble and politically correct to choose Rowley as the next person to accompany her. Who else could she have chosen. It was a display of wisdom and she must get marks for that.”
James said inviting Rowley to visit South Africa was in keeping with what Mandela would have wanted of all leaders acrosss the world. He said Mandela had “the ability to bring people together” and it was important that the PM and Rowley went to pay homage to “the great Nelson Mandela.”
Another political analyst, Indira Rampersad, said Persad-Bissessar’s invitation to Rowley was “a magnanimous gesture,” especially under the existing adversarial system of governance. She said under this system, government and opposition do not share such experiences frequently.
Rampersad said while there was no guarantee that such gestures will continue when they return, she hopes there would be “more amicable relations in the interest of the country.” She said Mandela was an international icon and a hero, and consequently and such gestures were in keeping with the way he lived. She said it should not be seen as a political gesture because it was not. Former prime minister Basdeo Panday said the move by Persad-Bissessar had no significance.
“I don’t think it means anything. I don’t know of what significance it is for the country.”
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