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Building Ties Through Diplomacy

President Paul Biya wasted no time in creating diplomatic links with South Africa after Mandela’s release.

As the world continues to mourn former South African President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who died on 5 December and will be buried on 15 December in his home town of Qunu, his life and deeds also meant much to Cameroon as diplomatic ties between his country and Cameroon began when Mandela became President of South Africa.

A series of commemorations that opened yesterday, 10 December in Johannesburg, harped on the impact that Madiba had on humanity. Cameroon was one of the first African countries to create diplomatic ties with Nelson Mandela’s country as early as 29 April 1994 just when Mandela became President of South Africa.

Besides Mandela’s role in fighting the arduous Apartheid system that dehumanised blacks in South Africa, a struggle which Cameroon supported throughout his prison years by condemning the system in all diplomatic gatherings, Mandela demonstrated an extraordinary human compassion when he came out of prison.

He willingly went out to build bridges of peace, harmony, tolerance, racial reconciliation and mutual acceptance as pillars of development through every available political, social, economic and diplomatic forum where he could while leading South Africa. He knew that South Africa and indeed the whole world needed these values so much that he did all he could to make them real.

President Paul Biya demonstrated his admiration for what Madiba did for South Africa even before the 1994 election that saw Mandela became the first black South African President. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon were the first foreign national football team that arrived in South Africa after apartheid. Following Mandela’s release on 11 February 1990, the Indomitable Lions travelled to South Africa in July 1992 where they played friendly matches in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

The results of the encounters were not as important as the matches that were out to seal the joy of Cameroonians who had for so long hoped to see South Africa and Nelson Mandela freed from bondage.
Once diplomatic links were created between Cameroon and South Africa under Mandela’s tenure as Head of State, President Biya encouraged business exchanges between both countries and by June 1996, President Mandela made an historic visit to Yaounde during the 35th Summit of the Organisation of African Unity, OAU hosted by Cameroon.

As both countries share a common belonging to the Commonwealth, Cameroonians and South African leaders have had several occasions to share the same diplomatic concerns. During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Auckland, New Zealand from 10-13 November 1995, President Paul Biya met Nelson Mandela even before the OAU Summit in Yaounde the next year.

Joining the Commonwealth that year, President Biya must have had the occasion not only to personally congratulate Madiba, but also, like all Commonwealth countries state Cameroon’s abhorrence for Apartheid. Today, Zanele Markina is South Africa’s High Commissioner to Cameroon while Adrian Kouambo Jomague is Cameroon’s High Commissioner to South Africa.

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