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South African President Mandela addressed his words to the leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland, including David Trimble and Martin McGuinness, at De Hoop, a secured conference facility in Arniston, a small town in the Western Cape.

The conference was dubbed the De Hoop lndaba - lndaba is the Zulu word for a "meeting of the minds." The event, which was hosted by the South African government, brought together the chief negotiators from all parties .in Northern Ireland -the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI), the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Sinn Fein (SF), the Women's Coalition (WC), the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Labour Party (LP), for a three-day private meeting with the people from all parties in South Africa who had negotiated the historic settlement in November 1993 that ended white minority rule, installed a nonracial transitional government, opened the way to South Africa's first nonracial election in April 1994, and the subsequent Government of National Unity (GNU).

Today, President Nelson's words still resonate. Indeed, the constant refrain of the parties supporting the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in the run-up to the referendum that endorsed the agreement was of a similar nature: If not the agreement, what is the alternative? A question that helped to sober up the electorate provided them with food for thought after thirty years of conflict and was certainly a factor in its decision to vote for the historic compromise. Eighteen months later, winding up his review of the agreement necessitated by the impasse over the formation of a power-sharing Executive that would include Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, and the decommissioning of arms by the IRA, Senator George Mitchell addressed the assembled media and warned that "even the dogs in the street knew that without a power-sharing Executive in place, there would be no decommissioning." When David Trimble had to ask his 858 colleagues on the Ulster Unionist Council who constitute the ruling body of the UUP to endorse his willingness to give Mitchell's recommendations a chance, he, too, posed the question to them in the same vein. And when he had to face them again in February 2000, his colleagues had to address this one unchanging reality.



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