15 March 2006

In Address to South African Parliament, Secretary-General Says Country "A Beacon of Tolerance, Peaceful Coexistence and Mutual Respect"

NEW YORK, 16 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to a joint sitting of the South African Parliament in Cape Town, today:

My wife Nane and I are delighted to be back in South Africa, which was the first Member State of the United Nations that I visited on becoming Secretary-General in 1997.

By inviting me to address this joint session of the South African Parliament you have paid a second great honour not only to me personally but also to the United Nations.  Two years ago you awarded me the Order of the Companions of Oliver Tambo.  I thank you again for that.  It is indeed an honour to be called a companion of such a truly great man, one who worked tirelessly for freedom and justice, and played a decisive role in the struggle against apartheid.

In one week's time you will celebrate Human Rights Day, which commemorates those who sacrificed themselves in that struggle -- particularly the 69 killed and 180 wounded in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960.

South Africa, and indeed all of Africa, has come a long way since then.

The African peoples have successfully asserted their right to independence, and become the largest group of Member States in the United Nations.

Your own struggle against apartheid was the longest and the bitterest.  All Africa, and the United Nations itself, was with you in that ordeal.  The whole world rejoiced in 1994, when at last you emerged as a truly multiracial independent State.

Yet even as our countries emerged, one by one, from the struggle for independence and against apartheid, they had to embark on another, no less arduous, struggle for unity, peace and development.

In that struggle, too, there have been victories, but there have also been many setbacks and disappointments.  Whatever our pride in some of the specific achievements, much remains to be done.

Indeed, last September the leaders of the whole world acknowledged this.  They said, in the Outcome Document of the United Nations World Summit, that Africa is "the only continent not on track to meet any of the goals of the Millennium Declaration that was set by 2015" -- and President Mbeki drew attention to that statement in his speech to the Summit.  Africa continues, as we say in the United Nations, to face a major challenge.

We all know the mountains of human misery behind those polite words:  the grinding poverty and back-breaking toil; the hunger and thirst that force proud parents to give their children polluted water to drink; the millions who die of TB, malaria, AIDS and other preventable diseases; the violence and humiliation inflicted on women by men, and on citizens by gangsters, warlords and corrupt officials; the misappropriation of natural resources; the ravages of ethnic and social conflict.

It is easy to blame these ills on the past and on outsiders -- the depredations of imperialism and the slave trade, the imbalance of power and wealth in a flagrantly unjust world.  But that cannot absolve us, the Africans of today, from our own responsibility, responsibility to ourselves and to our children.

The truth is that development in Africa requires a new approach; and the good news is that South Africa is pointing the way.

First, you are pointing the way by what you are doing at home.

South Africa today reminds us all of the remarkable African capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation, despite the pain of racial discrimination and oppression.

Your robust economy, stable democracy, support for the rule of law and -- perhaps most important -- your fully inclusive Constitution have made South Africa a beacon of tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and mutual respect between people of different races, languages and traditions.

Your "rainbow nation" shines out in the very shape and composition of this assembly.  As I look around this chamber I am impressed not only by the variety of races and colours that are represented, but also by the number of women.  You put the General Assembly of the United Nations to shame!  But this should not surprise me, since I understand, Madam Speaker, that all your predecessors have been from the same gender as you, and that this was the first parliament in the world to adopt a specific budget process for empowering women and dealing with gender issues.

Secondly, you are pointing the way by what you are doing in your subregional neighbourhood -- both through the Southern African Development Community and by your vitally important peacemaking and peacekeeping contributions in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This is very important, because no country today can be unaffected by events in its neighbourhood, and it is the responsibility of the stronger countries in each neighbourhood to lend a hand to the weaker, without seeking to impose their domination.

When any country gets caught in a downward spiral of poverty, misgovernment and conflict, this is bound to be a problem for its neighbours.  And the best neighbours are those who play a constructive part in helping to halt and reverse the spiral before it leads to a complete meltdown.

Thirdly, you are pointing the way through your leading role in Africa as a whole.

Economically, South Africa is now the biggest foreign investor in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.  It has also played a leading role in forming the New Partnership for African Development -- a new paradigm based on African ownership of development strategy, and a partnership with the international community based on equality and mutual respect.

Politically, this country has taken the lead in transforming the Organization of African Unity into the African Union.  It has helped establish the Union's peer review mechanism, which over time should ensure a steady improvement in African standards of government; and it has taken a leading role in the work of the Union's Peace and Security Council, which is enabling Africans to help resolve each others' conflicts.

Thus the African Union has become an essential partner of the United Nations in its work for peace and development.  Particularly important is the broad cooperation and partnership between the African Union and the UN.  Examples of this just now are President Mbeki's key peacemaking role in Côte d'Ivoire, in close cooperation with the UN peacekeeping mission, with myself and our joint efforts to make peace and protect the population in Darfur and on the border between Sudan and Chad.

Finally, Madam Speaker, South Africa is pointing the way by what it is doing in the wider world.

In his speech to the World Summit last September, President Mbeki referred to "the widely disparate conditions of existence and interests ... as well as the gross imbalance of power", which define the relationship among the Member States of the United Nations.  He identified these as the main reason why we have not yet achieved the security consensus that we must reach, if we are to maintain peace in the world on a basis of agreement and collective action rather than the unilateral application of power.

I agree.  I agree the imbalance must be redressed.  But the imbalance itself means that those seeking to redress it do not have the leverage to impose their will on the rest of the world.  Only with a good strategy and wise leadership can they make progress towards their goal.

Economically, it is important that the developing countries help themselves and each other, and that as far as possible they present a united front in negotiations with the industrialized world.

Here South Africa is showing the way, in alliance with the new economic giants in other parts of the developing world -- China, India, Brazil -- by forging a new global geography of trade and investment.

While these countries attract massive investment from the global North, they in turn have become major investors in their own regions as I indicated earlier about South Africa's economic role on the African continent.  And they are leading the battle within the World Trade Organization on behalf of all developing countries -- the battle for free access to Northern markets, and for a global market where developing countries can compete on equal terms, instead of having to face subsidized products from the North.

South Africa has also hosted many important global conferences, including the Twelfth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1998, the World Conference against Racism in 2001 and the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 -- all of which it was my privilege to attend.  South Africa is thus, especially in this crucial year in the life of the United Nations, in every way a suitable country to be chairing the Group of 77, the group that brings together all those countries -- more than two thirds of the UN's membership -- which, despite the great variations among them, share an interest in seeking to redress the imbalance of power in the world redressed.

While the Group of 77 deals primarily with economic and social issues, it is also, in alliance with the Non-Aligned Movement, playing an increasingly significant political role.  And here too South Africa's leadership and example can be very important.

Even before the end of apartheid had been secured, the struggle against it helped to shape the debate at the United Nations, and in the wider world.  It taught us never to underestimate the importance of human rights, since apartheid was so clearly the very antithesis of the values set out in the Universal Declaration.

Today, the kind of things South Africa is doing at home, and promoting on the wider African scene, may show us the best way for developing countries in general to respond to today's world.

In his valedictory address to a joint session of this Parliament, nearly two years ago, Nelson Mandela said:  "The memory of a history of division and hate, injustice and suffering, inhumanity of person against person should inspire us to celebrate our own demonstration of the capacity of human beings to progress, to go forward, to improve, to do better."

Indeed, my dear friends, I believe it has inspired you, and you in turn have inspired Africa and the world.

Your Truth and Reconciliation Commission has given the world an idea, and a mechanism, which many other countries have used, or are now using, to confront an ugly national past.

You have shown that a nation need not be imprisoned by its history; that even people whose communities have been in bitter conflict, and have endured or committed the worst injustice, can work together to build a common future.

I believe this example can serve not only other individual countries, but also the world as a whole, which today is seething, seething with resentment based on past and present injustice, and with misunderstandings based on differences of culture and belief.

Perhaps the most important task of the United Nations today is to help its Member States overcome those resentments and misunderstandings, both between communities within (their) borders and between different regions of the world.  In that task, we have much to learn from South Africa.

As F.W. de Klerk said, in his 1993 Nobel Lecture, peace "is a frame of mind in which countries, communities, parties and individuals seek to resolve their differences through agreements, through negotiation and compromise, instead of threats, compulsion and violence".

South Africa's particular wisdom, derived from its own history of overcoming resentment and mistrust, can be used to convince other countries that injustices and misunderstandings are not cured by confrontation or threats, since these only strengthen the determination of the powerful to keep power in their own hands.

South Africa can teach all of us that, on the contrary, the way to (a) better balance lies through dialogue, and the establishment of mutual trust.  Only in such an atmosphere can the weak win attention and respect from the strong.

South Africa can teach its fellow developing countries to make good use of the United Nations, which is the natural forum for a global dialogue leading to better trust and understanding between rich and poor, between weak and strong, and so to a more balanced and inclusive way of taking decisions that affect the fate of all humanity.

South Africa, as a guide and spokesman for the developing world, is already playing a decisive role in the tough negotiations to implement the commitments made at last year's World Summit -- commitments from both developing and developed countries to advance the Millennium Development goals; commitments to forge new institutions for peacebuilding and the promotion of human rights, and a new global strategy against terrorism; commitments to strengthen the United Nations itself -- including by continued efforts to achieve a decision on Security Council reform -- so that our Organization can be more efficient and effective in bringing help to those who need it:  the hungry, the sick, and the victims of disasters both natural and man-made.

That is why I look forward to continuing to work closely with you, President Mbeki and South Africa in my remaining time as Secretary-General; and why I know my successors in that post will continue to look to South Africa for advice, for support, and for leadership among the nations of the world.

Nkosi sikelel'i Afrika!

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