South Africa is quite fortunate to have Ambassador Jerry Matjila as the country’s UN permanent representative. A highly esteemed career diplomat who rose through the ranks of the African National Congress (ANC) during the struggle days, he has been to more than seventy countries first, campaigning to defeat apartheid and in democratic SA, selling our foreign policy.
Born and bred in Meadowlands, Soweto, Matjila went to exile after the June 1976 uprisings which, historians agree, expedited the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners from Robben Island and helped to usher in a new era of democracy.
A former Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Matjila, a fitness fanatic and ardent reader, presided over a global machinery of diplomats whose mandate was to do what Matjila does best: to serve one’s country with aplomb and distinction.
His presence in the corridors of the UN HQ in New York is a welcome addition to the necessary power of constructive engagement amid a growing trend of international unilateralism by countries such as the US.
The international community is indeed blessed to have Ambassador Matjila as SA’s face, brains and mouth-piece. In his early days he had trained in military warfare as a guerrilla of the ANC’s military-wing Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was part of the rising stars in the ANC when Nelson Mandela led the party during tricky early 1990’s negotiations which resulted in a negotiated settlement and first democratic elections in April 1994.
I raise this background about Ambassador Matjila because the power of negotiations is the rock upon which his philosophy to ironing out differences peacefully is based. At the UN Security Council meetings, Ambassador Matjila’s input on debates about the world’s hotspots such as Yemen, Syria, Haiti, Palestine, Libya, Afghanistan and lately Venezuela, maintains a common theme of dialogue as rule one.
It is heart-warming to watch our country represented at a very important forum by someone who is beyond reproach.
I have been truly delighted to watch him defend the sovereignty of Venezuela without being impolite to the alleged main aggressor, the US.
Venezuela’s upheavals were meant to overthrow the government of incumbent president Nicolas Maduro. It was out of the blue when opposition politician Juan Guaido declared himself as a new president of the country. Elsewhere in the world he would be languishing in jail or alive no more.
What worried many Latin American countries was the speed and enthusiasm of Washington to declare full support for Guaido and began to mobilize particularly the European Union members to follow suit.
Brazil and Colombia, who both share borders with Venezuela, also adopted a hostile posture toward Caracas. Washington unleashed a series of economic sanctions in an effort to bring down the socialist regime of Maduro which so long ago was the envy of many in the region.
It is thanks to diplomats such as Ambassador Matjila that despite the US turning screws on Venezuela through various dubious means, Guaido has not been able to ascend to the throne by unlawful means.
Addressing the UN Security Council on the tense situation in Venezuela, recently Ambassador Matjila urged the council to base its efforts on Chapter V1 of the Charter of the UN, where parties are encouraged to first seek a solution through a peaceful means of their choice. “Let the people of Venezuela decide their future,” Ambassador Matjila told the council.
He said Africa has a suffered a great deal as external forces used undemocratic tools of regime change to solve problems on the continent. SA’s transition from a pariah state to a democracy was not delivered on a silver platter. It took the wisdom of Mandela and his comrades, old and young, to have the foresight of avoiding bombing our beautiful land and instead learn to live together in peace and harmony.
It is a philosophy Ambassador Matjila is today exporting to the international community with clear determination and guts, letting the world know that if SA could do it, other troubled nations too, are capable of finding peaceful resolution to their problems.