Haysom brings local skills to bear

The quiet man of Africa in peace negotiations

Haysom brings local skills to bear

by Zubeida Jaffer

The man refuses to sit down. His time is up.  But still he continues to make his point.  He is a Burundian businessman involved in an international business and not concerned about keeping to the time allotted him.

South Africa’s Nicholas (Fink) Haysom is chairing the 19-party Burundian talks and is at the end of his tether.  Then he remembers a trick he witnessed during this country’s lengthy negotiations.  He sends his vice-chairperson out to make a call.  Next thing, a cell phone rings in the speaker’s pocket and he leaps to answer it immediately and dashes outside in the hope of concluding some business deal.  The meeting can now proceed.  “It  was a trick I had seen Roelf Meyer play out on Cyril Ramaphosa and vice versa, just as ajoke during one of the bosberaads,” said Haysom.

Haysom, the former chief legal adviser to Nelson Mandela, has since Mandela’s retirement been drawn into constitutional negotiations on the African continent and in the Far East.  He has just returned to South Africa after another set of talks in Burundi, where he is chairman of the committee negotiating constitutional issues.

He works closely with the deputy-president, Jacob Zuma, and Nelson Mandela, in trying to secure peace in the tension-fraught country.

At his Kenilworth home in Cape Town, he is guarded about detail, since the Burundian talks are continuing.  While he drafted the final protocol on matters relating to the transition last August, it remained precarious.  He was depending on Deputy President Zuma’s efforts to give effect to a ceasefire.  “Zuma is involved in developing a frame work for the involvement of two parties standing outside of the process,” he said.

Haysom worked alongside the late  President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania when they started the process in Burundi more than two years ago, and now it is an all-South African affair with himself, Madiba and Zuma.  He is also Madiba’s representative on the implementation committee.

“At almost every turn, commentators and international observers have predicted that the talks cannot succeed,” said Haysom.  “They have in fact inched forward consistently over the past two-and-a-half years.”  Perhaps the experience of a four-year negotiation period in South Africa tempers those who guide these negotiations.

“The steps are never dramatic but provided the parties keep moving towards one another, it is possible to sustain the belief in the possibility of a peaceful outcome,” said Haysom.  He admits that it has not been easy.  “It is an extremely difficult conflict,” he said.

And there are those who argue that the Burundian conflict can only be resolved, since the issues are all intimately linked.

But Nyerere and Mandela approached Burundi from another perspective.

“If we put in place a workable plan adopted by the parties and implemented, we create a better environment for other negotiations but we also provide a symbol, an example of what is possible,” he said.

While Haysom draws on his South African experience, he is careful not to prescribe South African solutions for other countries.  In the passt year, he has worked not only in Burundi and Nigeria but also been called to assist with developing frameworks for negotiations  and constitution-building for Burma, East Timor, Indonesia, Sudan and Lebanon.

Haysom has developed a paper called  The 35 Lessons of South Africa, which helped the Burmese pro-democracy movement to consider how to break the ongoing deadlocks in their country.  He comes with a wealth of experience not only from the apartheid days when he was a registered mediator in labour and community conflicts.  “South Africans have explored conflict resolution technologies in trying to meet one another,” he said.

But more than just bringing to the table the South African experience, he has found the interaction with the problems of other countries gives him new insights which further strengthen his negotiating skills.

“It is an incredible priviledge to be part of processes in which people shape their history,”  he said.  “They bring to bear the best part of themselves and their nationality.  Sometimes one feels almost like a parasite, feeding off other people’s idealism to renew your own.”

In Nigeria, he has been particularly struck by the rich intellectual tradition engaged in the process of conceptualising a democratic path.  But as he works with societies torn apart by fault lines, he has come more and more to realise how important inclusivity and nation-building are.

“Africa is exploring devices which will allow for co-ownership of the state for institutional and constitutional mechanisms to bring people together,” he said.

South Africa’s experience of dealing with diversity and the concept of a government of national unity are often drawn upon.

Last year, Haysom travelled out of the country more than 20 times and when he comes home he is often surprised at how self critical South Africans are of what they have  achieved.  “When you look at the inability of other countries to meet some of the problems we have been presented with, sometimes you wonder why South Africans are incapable of developing some kind of pride in their achievements,” he said.

He warns against rolling back hard won rights.  “We have got quite a few things right but I sense a mood of despondency and a desire to roll back some of the beacons we have established,” he said.

“This is understable in certain cases, but when you see how hard other countries are trying to build those very same beacons, I would caution against rolling back the bill of rights  and our regional dispensation.”



FEBRUARY 5, 2001


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