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Book Launch and Discussion of <i>Partner to History: The U.S. Role in South Africa's Transition to Democracy</i>

Ambassador Princeton Lyman, Aspen Institute; Deputy Chief of mission at the South African embassy in DC Thandabutu Nhlapo; Susan Collin Marks, Executive Vice President of Search for Common Ground

Date & Time

Oct. 23, 2002
12:00am – 12:00am

Book Launch and Discussion of <i>Partner to History: The U.S. Role in South Africa's Transition to Democracy</i>

Summary of the Conflict Prevention Project and United States Institute of Peace (USIP) discussion with Partner to History: The Role of South Africa's Transition to Democracy author Ambassador Princeton Lyman; executive vice president of Search for Common Ground Susan Collin Marks; and Deputy Chief of mission at the South African embassy in DC Thandabutu Nhlapo. USIP's president, Richard Soloman opened the meeting and Timothy Docking, African specialist, moderated the discussion.

South African policy has been the most contentious foreign policy issue facing the United States since the Vietnam War, Ambassador Lyman said in his introductory remarks at the recent Woodrow Wilson Center event. To Ambassador Lyman, Congress's ability to override Nixon's 1986 veto of their sanctions policy demonstrated the intensity of feelings surrounding South African policy. Calling the way that the international community and the United States dealt with the issue, "tribute to diplomacy and diplomats," Ambassador Lyman signaled his approval of the role the international community played in South Africa's transition. In his book Partner to History: The Role of South Africa's Transition to Democracy, Ambassador Lyman gives credit to the facilitative nature of the role that the United States and the international community played in South Africa. The United States surrounded the process with all possible support to enable negotiation between the parties involved. This provided ownership in the process that allowed the transition to be seen as South African. This ownership of the process contributed heavily to its success.

It is Ambassador Lyman's belief that we established our credibility through the articulation of our commitment to majority rule and the maintenance of transparent interactions with both sides. In this manner our credibility did not rest on neutrality and our policy was advanced. The United States used its credibility to act as a messenger between both sides, to surround the situation with experts, to reach out the community and to reach out to other parties, something Ambassador Lyman called "looking to the left and right." Ambassador Lyman shared several lessons from his involvement in South Africa that can be applied to other diplomatic processes. First, if at all possible, negotiations should be in the hands of the parties involved and these parties should be encouraged to utilize a long time perspective of the situation. Second, there needs to be an appreciation for what Ambassador Lyman called "the sound of two hands clapping:" the ability to balance sanctions on one hand and encouragement on the other. Finally, Ambassador Lyman stressed the importance of diplomatic resources and public diplomacy and concluded that living the American dream is the best policy, at home and abroad.

Thandabutu Nhlapo praised Partner to History: The Role of South Africa's Transition to Democracy for Ambassador Lyman's insight about South Africans. He also added that on top of its insights the book is also well written. Nhlapo credited a strong relationship based on shared values that enabled the United States, starting in the early seventies, to empower and equip South Africa for a transition. Nhlapo emphasized how important it was to achieving the transition's success that the US respected Mandela's decision not to have the US as a mediator. Using Ambassador Lyman's wording, Nhlapo stated that the most powerful lesson from Partner to History is that "credibility is not neutrality." Sharing his view that at the heart of South African foreign policy is a policy of letting those involved in conflict become part of the solution, Nhlapo transitioned into his closing comments about where the heart of South African foreign policy is and how US and international support got it there. The relationship of shared values, Nhlapo believes, helped the transition to democracy and allowed South Africa to be in a leadership position where they can attempt to raise the standards for the rest of the continent.

Susan Collin Marks found that Ambassador Lyman's character facilitated his ability to describe the lessons learned in South Africa from many different levels. Partner to History cemented several of these lesson for Susan Collins Marks: individuals matter (Marks called Ambassador Lyman a person who "unstuck the process through his courage, willingness and the truth"), being true to oneself provides credibility, the need for ownership in the process and the importance of a policy that can cut through and end a cycle of violence. Concluding before she could share all the lessons she had learned from Partner to History, Marks thanked Ambassador Lyman for coming to be present with South Africans during their transition. Not only was he a partner in history, said Marks, he was also a partner in peace.

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Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.–Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, including our blog Africa Up Close, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations.    Read more


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