Cyprus Mail

Negotiating the miracle

De Klerk’s chief negotiator, Roelf Meyer

By Johan Adler

Can foreigners solve the Cyprus problem? The answer is, of course, an emphatic ‘No’. Why, then, were the two chief negotiators on the Cyprob, Andreas Mavroyiannis on the Greek Cypriot side and Kudret Ozersay on the Turkish Cypriot, recently invited to South Africa to meet some of the major players in the peace negotiations conducted there exactly 20 years ago? What role, if any, can foreigners play in assisting to solve the 40-year-old Cyprus problem?

On their recent visit to South Africa, the two Cypriot negotiators met with former president FW de Klerk who, with the late Nelson Mandela, initiated the South African peace negotiations (for which they were subsequently jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize) and De Klerk’s chief negotiator, Roelf Meyer. They also met, amongst others, Mo Shaik, the present head of intelligence of the South African government, and Dr Charles Villa-Vicento, an academic/theologian and member of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The London-based Engi Conflict Management group has facilitated such visits in the past. During July last year they facilitated a visit by Meyer to Cyprus to meet senior politicians and civic leaders, describing the South African negotiations which ended years of bitter conflict as “the most successful peace process of recent times”.

It is self-evident that these efforts can only prove useful if they remain behind the scenes. For this reason the main players, such as Meyer, are careful not to draw attention to their efforts. By nature a modest and self-effacing man, Meyer insists that the problem must be solved by Cypriots, without ruling out the benefit to be obtained from the experience of others. When previously approached to explain his involvement in Cyprus, he stated that “whilst you cannot profile conflict or offer template solutions, I’m hoping that the people of the island can benefit from a comparative learning approach”. Meyer is also the author of Paradigm Shift – The Essence of Successful Change and has a reputation as a skilled negotiator.

After the conclusion of the South African negotiations, a South African analyst, Fink Haysom, compiled a document he called ‘Forty-one Lessons from the South African Negotiations’, in which he listed the most important lessons learnt during the process. Not all of these are applicable to the Cyprus situation, but some of them are very relevant indeed.

One of Haysom’s lessons is that using third parties or experts to mediate and to make independent proposals could be useful. According to Haysom, “the most important task for experts or third parties is generating proposals and propositions in circumstances where the parties themselves could never accept, or be seen to be accepting, proposals emanating from the enemy or even compromising on their own propositions”.

As in Cyprus, a climate of extreme suspicion, verging on hatred, existed in South Africa between the respective negotiating parties’ supporters before the process began. The preceding decades saw a vilification of the opposing side, which first had to be neutralised before negotiations had any hope of support from the population. A major, countrywide effort was launched, in which the private sector, the media and civic society participated, to prepare the ground for the negotiations by creating shared goals and a climate of trust.

The promotion of joint ownership of the outcome of the negotiations goes hand in hand with the building of trust between the negotiators and their supporters, and is one of the most important requisites for success. In the case of South Africa, this involved exceptional leadership from both main parties involved in the negotiations: the ANC and the White minority government at the time. The leader of the government of South Africa, FW de Klerk, and his chief negotiator, Roelf Meyer, had to sacrifice some important issues regarded as holy cows by their supporters. The same was true for the chief negotiators of the main opposing block, Nelson Mandela, later President Mandela, and his chief negotiator, Cyril Ramaphosa. All of them were willing to take extremely unpopular decisions and then to go and persuade their constituencies that this was essential to achieve the desired result.

For without give and take, negotiations do not work. One side cannot arrive with a set of demands and expect the other side to fall in with them.

The whole give-and-take was helped greatly by the relationship of trust that was carefully nurtured between Ramaphosa and Meyer. It lasted throughout the negotiations and beyond (they subsequently became business partners).

Just like Cyprus, South Africa went through a bloody and violent phase of conflict before the negotiations got underway. It was soon realised that the most emotional issue that divided the sides was that of the unresolved fate of the victims of this preceding violence: what happened to them, who perpetrated the heinous deeds, and whether justice would be done?

After much discussion and evaluation, the decision was taken to establish the so-called Truth and Reconciliation Commission under Archbishop Tutu (another Nobel Peace Prize recipient), which would investigate killings that took place on both sides, in order to bring closure to the families of these victims. The goals of the commission were largely achieved by offering amnesty to those guilty of perpetrating the violence, on condition that they appear before the commission, reveal the full truth about their actions and ask the families of the victims for forgiveness.

This was a painful process and did not satisfy everybody, but it did achieve closure. South Africa could move on beyond the pain and agony of the strife. Whether such a solution would work for Cyprus, is for the Cypriots alone to decide.

Haysom draws another lesson from the South African experience, namely that the risks of delaying, stalling or suspending negotiations are real, and as great as posing preconditions or marshalling ‘opening’ and ‘fall-back’ positions. The South African experience taught that time frames are essential to avoid an endless, inconclusive negotiating process. It seems that this wisdom is currently anathema in Cyprus. The term ‘asphyxiating time frames’ often referred to in public life in Cyprus seems out of place when negotiations have been proceeding on and off for forty years.

Last week, the new South Africa which emerged as the result of the negotiating process held its fifth free elections, in which a united country elected its leaders. This could not have happened without the leadership of people like Mandela, De Klerk, Ramaphosa and Meyer. They were accused of ‘selling out’ their constituents for the concessions they had to make during negotiations. But the alternative to reaching agreement could have been another Syria. In this belief, they found solutions to what many regarded as an entirely intractable problem.

The question that I posed on these pages some four years ago, namely ‘Where is Cyprus’ Mandela?’ remains relevant today. Does the political leadership on both sides in Cyprus have the courage, integrity and will to take such hard decisions, and the ability to persuade their constituents to accept them?

The lesson to be learnt from the South African experience is that miracle solutions do not drop out of the skies, but that a miracle CAN be carefully, respectfully and honestly negotiated.


Johan Adler is a South African columnist, a former diplomat and businessman

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