16 January 2006
Visiting Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales asked a number of South Africa’s current and former leaders for advice last week on transforming his country’s bitter past into a peaceful and democratic future.
Morales, who assumes office on 22 January, met with South African President Thabo Mbeki at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday.
His visit to South Africa was part of a world tour aimed at clinching business and political relations with other countries.
“I believe Bolivia has encountered the same history as South Africa,” Morales said after the half-hour meeting with Mbeki. “In this process of change and democracy, we need to collaborate with governments which have defended the rights of their people so we can learn from them.”
The former union leader explained that he learnt how Mbeki and former president Nelson Mandela had gone about transforming the country, and would like to have them as close allies in the process of fostering peace in his own country.
“I asked President Mbeki to give advice on how to instill democracy in Bolivia,” Morales said. “I asked him that they should not abandon us in this process of transformation.”
Morales said he had also come to South Africa to seek advice from other former leaders who had helped chart the country’s transformation from “apartheid isolation to democratic prosperity.”
On Wednesday, he held brief meetings with former apartheid Cabinet minister Roelf Meyer and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa. The two were key figures in the negotiations to end apartheid and in drafting South Africa’s new Constitution.
On Thursday, he made a whirlwind visit to Cape Town, meeting apartheid-era president FW de Klerk at the city’s airport before visiting Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island.
After that he was driven to the parliamentary precinct to meet Deputy Foreign Minister Sue van der Merwe who, Morales said later, had drawn up a draft framework for future bilateral relations with the South American country on the instructions of Mbeki.
He then capped off his visit by meeting another of South Africa’s Nobel Peace laureates, former Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
Speaking to the media at Tutu’s offices after a brief meeting with the man who led South Africa’s pursuit of post-conflict probity and reconciliation, Morales said he was leaving South Africa “having a father”.
Archbishop Tutu said he was impressed with the warmth and humility of the former leader of Bolivia’s cocoa farmers, an indigenous South American who rose through the ranks of the country’s worker and peasant movements to win the presidential elections there in December, in a coming-of-age for a people who have suffered the humility of colonialism for almost half a millennium.
Morales congratulated the Archbishop on his struggles for South Africa’s black people, receiving the quick reply from the cleric that those struggles were “for everybody”.
The indigenous Aymara leader said he had asked publicly that all the personalities he met in South Africa would continue to “accompany” the impending changes in Bolivia.
His trip to South Africa had “strengthened us to learn to be responsible for the changes in our country”, he said.