The Pattaya City Expats had the distinct honor of having His Excellency Geoff Doidge, the South African Ambassador to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar speak as guest speaker at their January 21 meeting. He spoke to the club about one of the most important people in South African history, and who he worked closely with in his capacity as Deputy Chief Whip of the ANC, Nelson Mandela. Since most politicians who speak, like to talk about their own accomplishments and goals, the topic revealed not only the humble character of our presenter but his profound admiration for the person who was the focus of his talk.
After opening remarks, MC Roy Albiston handed the mike over to South Africa Thai Chamber of Commerce member Linda Reay to introduce the speaker. Her gracious comments about the ambassador included his lifelong commitment to a democratic and free South Africa as testified to by the many important government posts to which he was either appointed or elected. These included being a member of the Constituent Assembly, a member at the time of the Portfolio Committee which passed the legislation for the vital TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), an avid supporter of the ANC (African National Congress), a cabinet minister and now ambassador.
She ended her introduction with these thoughts: there could be no more deserving or humble messenger to bring this message today. Though the ambassador gave his remarks from his prepared text, they bore the authenticity and conviction of a man who believed deeply about whom and in what he was reading.
Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and political leader who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Ideologically an African nationalist, he served as President of the ANC party from 1991 to 1997.
In 1993, both he and former President de Klerk were recipients of the Noble Peace Prize for their joint effort to bring about a valid representative democracy and bring an end to the racially bigoted practice of legalized discrimination called Apartheid.
Mandela served 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, initially on Robben Island. It was from there that he continued the struggle that landed him there in the first place. Amid growing domestic and international pressure, and with fears of a racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk negotiated an end to apartheid and organized the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became President. Leading a broad coalition government which promulgated a new constitution, Mandela emphasized reconciliation between the country’s racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. This commission was headed by Arch Bishop Tutu and was vitally instrumental in threading a path between revealing the truth of past abuses and fostering a spirit of forgiveness to guide the country on a path of true reconciliation. There was a real fear of a call for a Nuremberg type of reckoning.
After 27 years of imprisonment and abuse, Nelson set aside what could have been bitterness and prejudice for an attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation which formed an historic bridge between a past needing healing and a future of promise. Nelson had a dream; true freedom and a real democracy for all South Africans. Without his strong moral courage and persuasive leadership, the outcome in South Africa could have been significantly and almost certainly more troubled.
During the question and answer period, Ambassador Geoff gave some close personal insights into Nelson Modella’s person and impact on South Africa. One question the PCEC members asked was if he thought personally that the race issue was really on the mend. His answer to this included a report of the incredulity of his son when his dad, the ambassador, was relating how things were for the black majority just a few years before. He asked his dad if he’d been drinking: things were never like that. How much had changed in just one generation. Improvement is always needed but we have come so far.
Another question gave Ambassador Geoff the opportunity to relate a typical healing response from Mandela. Having the job of liaison between the caucus and the then President Mandela, Geoff was obligated one day to bring a proposal to eliminate the springbok as the long time national sports symbol because it was thought to be a strong reminder of the Apartheid past.
After asking Geoff his opinion, Mandela thought it would be more conciliatory to keep the symbol and integrate the team. So that is what happened. Geoff did ask Nelson to present this sentiment himself because he didn’t think the caucus would believe him.
After the presentation, MC Roy Albiston brought everyone up to date on upcoming events. This was followed by the “Open Forum” portion of the meeting, where questions are asked and answered and comments made about expat living in Thailand.
PCEC Member Ren Lexander interviewed Ambassador Geoff Doidge after his presentation. The video of the interview can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oAXZjryLZY
For more information on the Club and their activities, visit www.pcec.club.