The man who was at the forefront of negotiating an end to the nefarious apartheid regime in South Africa has expressed concern over the continued suffering of Cameroonians as they grapple with the armed conflict in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons.
H.E Roelf Meyer was speaking Wednesday, April 20, under the theme “Sharing experiences in negotiation, mediation, and peaceful resolution of conflicts.”
Addressing students of the Heritage Higher Institute of Peace and Development Studies in Yaounde, Mr. Meyer said “it’s unacceptable that the people of Cameroon should suffer this way.”
It was a direct reference to the mayhem that has been caused to the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons where a separatist war now in its 6th year has left more than 4,000 people dead, over a million forced to flee from their homes, over 400 village settlements reduced to ashes and social services left dysfunctional.
Mr. Meyer, a former lawyer, and one-time Deputy Defense Minister in the apartheid regime who also served in the portfolio of Constitutional Affairs in the Cabinet of President Nelson Mandela went into detail to explain what South Africa did to bring apartheid to an end, and which he believes can be brought to bear in the Cameroons case.
“People in Cameroon are suffering and paying a price when there is a solution,” the Former National Party cabinet minister said.
“We succeeded in making peace in South Africa about thirty years ago. From that experience and work I have been doing, I can say no problem cannot be resolved and I believe also with the case of Cameroon. I believe that our experience in South Africa can be extended and be valuable to the people of Cameroon,” he said.
“If we could resolve our problems in South Africa that lasted for centuries, if we succeeded in bringing that to an end, there is no reason why the same can’t happen in Cameroon. But you have to change your mind and take the responsibility to solve the crisis,” he explained.
As the National Party government’s chief negotiator during the transition from apartheid, Mr. Meyer worked closely with Cyrille Ramaphosa (now South Africa’s President) who at the time represented the African National Congress, the ANC.
The ANC that was formed in 1912 was out to fight against racial discrimination, which had always existed in South Africa since the Dutch first landed in the country, although it was institutionalized by the National Party in 1948.
“In 1994, we finally ended apartheid and replaced it with democracy with the election of Mandela as President,” Mr. Meyer recalled.
But it was not a victory won overnight. While the likes of Mandela had to spend 27 years in jail for standing up to the regime whose creed was racial discrimination, people like Mr. Meyer, despite serving in the apartheid regime knew its policies lacked any moral justification.
“At one point, I discovered that this was wrong. I had to work to bring apartheid to an end, and that triggered a paradigm shift in my mind,” he said.
He said several opportunities presented themselves and the process of negotiating a way out of the morass started.
First, there were crushing global sanctions against the apartheid regime. Secondly, was the ANC’s capacity to mobilize the international community against the regime. These, combined with years of violent internal protest, weakening white commitment, and the end of the Cold War all combined to bring down white minority rule in Pretoria.
But it took the negotiating skills of Mr. Meyer and Ramaphosa-both of them young people, to finally end the apartheid government.
Mr. Meyer said it was an “inclusive process” that took about six years.
“There was the will and the intent on both sides to overcome the problem and find the solution,” he said.
Mr. Meyer explained that he and Ramaphosa developed “a special relationship” during the negotiation process, noting that building trust is a critical ingredient in peace-building processes.
“You have to know each other, understand each other and then you can build trust…We succeeded in taking ownership of the peace process,” he revealed.
It was through that intent and willingness to find solutions that South Africa ended apartheid without needing outside mediators.
“I think if those basic principles are in place, the conflict in Cameroon can also be brought to an end successfully. We must inspire the people of Cameroon to find their solutions,” Mr. Meyer added.
The expert negotiator advised that in searching for solutions to conflicts, it’s critical to have a conversation about the future-to agree on what future is desirable for the parties to the conflict.
He underscored the need for Cameroon not to squander any opportunities for dialogue because in conflict situations, such openings rarely present themselves.
“The sheer number of people who have died, and the numbers displaced could offer a chance to begin the dialogue,” he offered.
The Director of the Heritage Higher Institute of Peace and Development Studies, Prof. Willibroad Dze-Ngwa paid glowing tribute to Mr. Meyer and lauded him for his commitment to peace not only in South Africa but also around the world.
He has been involved in peace processes in countries such as Rwanda, the Middle East, Kosovo, Bolivia, the Central African Republic, Northern Ireland, South Sudan, etc…