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'This was a place of tears, of suffering, of humiliation'

July 30, 2007
Text: T P Sreenivasan

The setting was perfect. It was the sanctum sanctorum of the constitutional court of South Africa, the special architecture of which captures the scenes and spirit of the long struggle and suffering of the black people of South Africa, not far from Cell-4 in which Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were incarcerated.

"This was a place of tears, of suffering, of humiliation. People were detained without trial here, people were tortured here, but they did not buckle," Archbishop Desmond Tutu said about the venue.

Around the main table sat the 'Elders,' Nobel Laureate Archbishop Tutu, the chairman, South Africa's first lady, Graca Mandela, former US president Jimmy Carter, former Ireland president Mary Robinson, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, former Chinese foreign minister Li Zhongxin and 2006 Nobel Laureate for Peace Mohammed Yunus.

In an outer ring were some of the wealthiest people of the world, the 'Founders,' who had pledged huge sums of money to keep the Elders in comfort as they toiled over the next three years to find solutions to the burning problems of the world. Among them were Sir Richard Branson, Peter Gabriel, Shashi Ruia, Ray Chambers, Michael Chambers and the representatives of founding institutions.

The third circle was for Advisers like me. Rajat Gupta of McKinsey was among the Advisers to help the Elders prepare a business plan.

A few guests, among them family members, watched the proceedings on a screen in an adjoining room. Rosalyn Carter and Nane Annan were seated at the main table itself.

Image: Nelson Mandela. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
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