KAMLA, KEITH VIEW MANDELA’S BODY
By Clint Chan Tack Thursday, December 12 2013
PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday practiced the principles of political unity espoused by former South African president Nelson Mandela.
Setting their political differences aside, Persad-Bissessar and Rowley joined the thousands of persons who filed past Mandela’s casket as his body lay in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Mandela, 95, died on December 5 at his Johannesburg home. Mandela’s body will lie in state in Pretoria until Sunday, when he will be buried in his home village of Qunu, in Eastern Cape Province.
In light of growing security concerns by South African officials about the number of persons wishing to view Mandela’s body, limits were put in place to restrict the persons who accompanied world leaders. Persad-Bissessar chose Rowley, the People’s National Movement (PNM) and Opposition leader, to accompany her to view Mandela’s body.
She had invited Rowley to go to South Africa with a delegation from TT and he agreed, and was accompanied by PNM public relations officer, Senator Faris al Wari.
In a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, Persad-Bissessar said, “With thousands lining up to view the body of the late Nelson Mandela, the first black President of South Africa, officials decided to limit the number of persons accompanying world leaders to the event.”
“In my case, I was allowed one person and I chose the Honourable Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley to accompany me to the public viewing of the body,” she said. Saying Rowley accepted her invitation, Persad-Bissessar said, “I want to express my thanks to Dr Rowley for agreeing to go with me, and also to the rest of the Trinidad and Tobago delegation for their understanding in not being able to view Mr Mandela’s body because of the security concerns.”
Speaking later with Newsday, Persad-Bissessar said the other members of the delegation would have had the opportunity to view Mandela’s body subsequently, but she did not know if they had done so.
Persad-Bissessar described the level of camaraderie she has shared with Rowley during their time together in South Africa as good.
“We talked a lot about the history of South Africa on our journey,” she said. Persad-Bissessar said she did not know that Rowley had such an extensive knowledge about the trees which are indigenous to South Africa and he educated her a lot on this subject. She said they also discussed some parliamentary matters, including some pertaining to the Salaries Review Commission.
Reflecting on the last two days, Persad-Bissessar said the atmosphere at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday for Mandela’s memorial service was “more of a celebration” as world leaders and ordinary citizens alike hailed Mandela’s life. However she said the atmosphere in Pretoria yesterday was vastly different as persons came to view Mandela’s body.
“Today, we are seeing the mood is sombre and one of sadness as the reality is striking home,” Persad-Bissessar told Newsday.
The Prime Minister said she saw throngs of South Africans in the streets outside of the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria. Many of these people were singing praises of Mandela and pumping their fists in the air in the symbolic gesture of the African National Congress (ANC) which he led as its president.
Persad-Bissessar, Rowley and other members of TT delegation were so moved by what was happening , they also raised their fists in the air in praise of Mandela.
Persad-Bissessar said while some people were celebrating, many others were deeply saddened as they come to terms with Mandela’s death. “Both of the experiences were different. I felt the different emotions,” she said.
Speaking with reporters outside of the hotel, Persad-Bissessar said, “We have seen him as a man who brought a divided South Africa into a united, harmonised South Africa. Bringing all people together.” Turning to Rowley, who was standing next to her, the Prime Minister said, “I think (in) Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Rowley will admit, we are also one of diversity. His (Mandela) life and lessons we can learn so much from it.” Agreeing with Persad-Bissessar, Rowley said, “One could not help say to one’s self that it’s all true. What’s being said about Nelson Mandela. It’s just not made up.”
Here in TT, students at schools yesterday said a prayer for Mandela responding to a request from Government.
Notwithstanding the deep sorrow that South Africans are feeling over the passing of Mandela, Persad-Bissessar said she was touched by the warmth of their hospitality to her and her delegation. “They were very friendly, always smiling. They could have been Trinis,” she remarked.
Apart from naming the Caribbean Airlines plane which was chartered to fly her delegation to South Africa after Mandela, Persad-Bissessar said other possibilities for deepening TT-South Africa ties will be explored. Recalling the decision to charter the flight was because the regular route from TT to London to South Africa would have resulted in her delegation arriving late for the memorial services, Persad-Bissessar said direct flights from TT to South Africa will also be considered.
She added other considerations to honour Mandela could arise from the special “Mandela Day” to be held next year. Persad-Bissessar said Caricom, of which she is chairman, will consider ways in which the region can pay tribute to Mandela including the award of the region’s highest honour, the Order of Caricom, posthumously.
The Prime Minister was due to attend a reception at TT’s High Commission in Pretoria last night. Persad-Bissessar, Rowley and the delegation, which includes Tobago East MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin and chairman of the Emancipation Support Committee Khafra Kambon, returns today at 6 pm.