Dr Rudi Buys writes how President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to nominate the Cuban Medical Brigade for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has caused tension. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
Dr Rudi Buys writes how President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to nominate the Cuban Medical Brigade for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has caused tension. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

The Nobel Peace Prize award is a question of essences and ethics

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 8, 2021

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by Dr Rudi Buys

Jean Paul Sartre, the French playwright, is thus far the only Nobel Prize recipient to decline the award out of his own will. He reportedly did so as a matter of principle.

Sartre argued that such awards caused writers, when taking a political or literary position, to become untrue to the written word, which should be the only means to offer their work to the world, and to accept such an award would institutionalise his method and thereby also the author, who should always be an independent critic of society.

The argument seems similar to the response of the disaster relief organisation, Gift of the Givers, to critics of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that South Africa will nominate the Cuban Medical Brigade, who joined national efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic, for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Critics of the nomination argue that local front line health workers and relief organisations are more deserving of the nomination for their sacrifices in fighting the pandemic.

Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, in response to the critics, explained that their purpose, and by extension also of all healthcare workers, was service to the people. They do not look for awards for their community service. Their work, in itself, is reward enough – an argument for the essence of service ace of selflessness, which should be the only means with which care workers offer their services to the world.

However, the arguments for the just demand of local, rather than international recognition, and the essential meaning of human endeavours, are not the only perspectives at play when reflecting on the nomination of the Cuban Brigade. The reality of internationalisation and South Africa’s place in the international community provide further background to the nomination.

As a dedicated national project in internationalisation, more than

3 700 Cuban doctors, nurses and technicians over the past year travelled to 39 countries to support local health-care workers fight the pandemic, including several African, Latin-American and European countries. However, since its establishment in 2005, the brigade has offered disaster-relief support to countries all over the world, such as to combat Ebola. Thus, the nomination of the brigade, while based on its immediate support efforts against the pandemic, also stands in recognition of its service to the international community for more than a decade.

A campaign for the nomination was launched almost a year ago by international supporters with nominations from several African, European, North and Latin American countries. South Africa then, with the nomination, joins a well-established international movement in recognition of the brigade and solidifies its voice in the international community during a time of global action against the pandemic – a time when the need for international stature, arguably, has a direct impact on access to support.

Therefore, one way to make sense of the nomination is the hidden tension of the equally demanding need for internationalisation and localisation in a world of ever increasing globalisation – a tension that represents the contradicting imperatives to build a nation’s voice in the international community, and to bolster the voice of its people as citizens.

Decisions to engage with this tension, however, are a matter of the essences of international work – the ethics of international engagement. Similarly, decisions on the nomination and acceptance of a Nobel Peace Prize also must be one of essences and ethics, as must be the decision of the Cuban Henry Reeve Medical Brigade to accept or decline its nomination.

* The Rev Dr BR Rudi Buys is Executive Dean and Dean of Humanities of the non-profit higher education institution, Cornerstone Institute, and editor: African Journal of Non-Profit Higher Education, ISSN 2706-669X.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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