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Keynote Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the National Consultative Conference on the African Diaspora, Johannesburg, 17 April 2007

Honourable Chairperson
Distinguished Delegates

All protocols observed:

I would like to thank you all for coming to this important gathering. And we hope that everyone will go back to their constituencies to begin a much broader consultation. As some of you may already be aware, in January this year, the African Union took a decision to endorse South Africa as host of the Africa-African Diaspora Summit, which will take place in early 2008; and it is in this capacity that we are doing international and national consultations.

This National Conference is therefore part of a global consultative process taking place in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the UK, North America and Europe to engage civil society in the Diaspora, and also Governments, in the case of the Caribbean, in the lead to the Summit in 2008.

What brings us here today is a process of national consultations that should feed into the 2008 Summit as well as producing concrete plans at national level so that in practical and tangible ways this gathering of minds can help to strengthen the future of Africa as indeed it can help us to understand the past in order to effect change now and in the future.

It is also the unity and solidarity of the continent and the Diaspora that is at stake. At this point we know that there is a very important discussion that is taking place on the African continent; and this is about the political and economic unity of the African continent.
We are also meeting at this time while the African continent and Diaspora is celebrating a very special anniversary, the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence which I may come back to later.
Also on our continent and in South Africa in particular, there are a number of common anniversaries; two of which are very special to us in this country.

The first is that our late President of the ANC and also one of the first Nobel Peace Prize Winners on the African continent, Chief Albert Luthuli - it is the anniversary of his death in July which is 40 years later. We do not know exactly how he died, but we know that he was run over by a train.

The second anniversary is that of the 90th birthday of the late OR Tambo.
Now I am mentioning these two people because they had, throughout the history of their lives, contributed to the unity of Africa.
We hope that many of you, especially the intellectuals, will look at their lives, and show how it enriches the present. They had very rich lives - they were both teachers, comrades in arms and contributed to where we are today both as a country and a continent.
Programme Director,

The discussion today should also contribute to what we can do for the unity of the continent. This discussion should also contribute to what we can do to strengthen the unity of Africa.

In July there will be a grand debate to discuss how to strengthen our unity politically and economically. Whether we decide we will have a continental government or not, I hope this debate will contribute to the ongoing debate which does not start today, but must be put into its context and present relevance. Each debate must take us a step forward.

The proposed theme of the 2008 global summit is after all "Towards the realisation of a United and Integrated Africa and its Diaspora" with the emphasis on the crafting of a shared vision of sustainable development for both the continent and the Diaspora. This idea of African political and economic unity is one that has resurfaced recently, but we should see it in a more historical setting as well as its present day relevance - since it has captured the imagination of Africans since the early beginnings of the last century.

The African continent was known as an epicentre of learning in the ancient world, with flourishing ports, communities, universities, palaces and cities. Of course, from time to time, the centres of trade and craft would shift as indeed people shifted and migrated to other places.

But this history of the African people unfortunately was abruptly and radically changed with the entrenchment of an international slave system that condemned Africans to be treated as less than human, transported like mere commodities and used as slaves and indentured labour to build the economies of the Western countries and America.

We recognise and pay tribute to the millions of African people who were captured and enslaved and taken in horrific conditions to a lifetime of slavery in the Americas, never to return to their homelands and their loved ones.

But we are also inspired by the transnational movements for emancipation, through the life's work of individuals like Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and others who fought for an end to slavery in the 1800s.

We also take our inspiration from earlier struggles of slaves and especially the successful revolt of the slaves in Haiti in 1804, who after twelve years of fighting, established the first Black Republic of San Domingo under the astute leadership of Toussant L'Ouverture. In the words of C.L.R. James in his book The Black Jacobins,

"In him [Toussaint] born a slave and the leader of slaves, the concrete realisation of liberty, equality and fraternity was the womb of ideas and the springs of power which overflowed their narrow environment and embraced the whole of the world."

It is this same desire for liberty, equality, fraternity that Africans began to embrace everywhere they found themselves. Thus the shaping of an African identity could not be defined simply by referring to a common geography, nor a point of departure way in the distant past.

  • But it became a political identity, a consciousness of the struggles of the enslaved to free themselves as well as the subsequent battles of Africans to liberate themselves from colonialism.
  • The Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 also became a source of pride for Africans as a whole as demonstrating the possibilities of an African defeat over the British Empire.
  • Another important feat of courage was the success of the Ethiopians against the Italians at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. In this way, Ethiopianism would gain support in Pan African thinking and practices and later partly also take root in Rastafarianism.
  • All these various histories and over different times have allowed us to forge a common unity together.

In the words of the African-American author, Ralph Ellison,
"It is not culture which binds the people who are of partially African origin now scattered throughout the world but an identity of passions."
We pay tribute to all those Africans who, with great courage and passion, fought for our freedom from the beginning of the last century. We recall watershed moments in African thinking that shaped the direction of future struggles:

  • We salute the efforts of W.E.B. du Bois and Sylvester Williams in organising the first Pan-African Conference in 1900 in London and who are among those regarded as the founders of Pan-Africanism. We recall some of the objectives of this first Pan African Congress, which served:

     
    • To secure to Africans throughout the world true civil and political rights;
    • To ameliorate the conditions of our brothers on the continent of Africa, America and other parts of the world; [I am quite sure that today we would add 'brothers and sisters']
    • To promote efforts to secure effective legislation and encourage our people in educational, industrial and commercial enterprise.

       
  • Let us note that women were also active participants at this and subsequent events, with Anna Jones and Anna Julia Cooper both addressing the conference and serving on the Executive.

     
  • South African intellectuals such as Pixley Ka Seme, later to be a founding member of the South African National Native Congress (later the ANC) were also inspired by this movement. Pixley ka Seme's essay "The regeneration of Africa" gave a vision of Africa's renewal in line with Pan African thinking.

     
  • The ideas and work of Marcus Garvey especially in the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and his rallying call of "Africa for the Africans" took root in the thinking of Africans all over the world. Garveyism, as it came to be known, became a source of African pride and boosted self-knowledge and esteem.

     
  • Later, the formation of the Industrial and Commercial Worker's Union and the work of trade unionists such as Clements Kadalie and others also gave momentum to the ideas that workers of the African continent could unite under one banner.

     
  • The post world war movements for African independence would play a crucial role in further forging African unity. Under inspired leadership countries began to win their freedom. The words of Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of a free Ghana at the celebrations of this country's independence still resonate today - fifty years after this country won its independence; and I quote:

"the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up to the total liberation of Africa."

  • The formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 was an important forward step towards African unity and towards realising what Nkrumah had said. At the founding of this organisation were the leaders of the time. I will quote only a few, since time does not allow me to mention all - , Julius Nyerere, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sekou Toure, Modibo Keita, Haile Selassie, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Leopold Senghor and others who envisaged the existence of a free and united Africa in which the common good would prevail and the African personality would occupy pride of place.

     
  • It was in the spirit of internationalism and with the desire for a free Africa that the OAU supported South Africa's national liberation movements for many decades until they, too, could claim our victory of a free and democratic South Africa.

     
  • The liberation of South Africa also received strong support from the countries of the Caribbean and from Africans all over the world in the global anti-apartheid movement who fought against apartheid and for equality, justice and freedom for the South African people.

     
  • With the liberation of South Africa in 1994 as part of the second wave of democratisation to sweep the African continent came the realisation that the liquidation of apartheid had been achieved but that the struggle for economic, social and cultural development remains. Then President Nelson Mandela, speaking at the OAU summit in Tunis in June 1994, announced the turning point in African history when he said that:

"Finally, at this summit meeting in Tunis, we shall remove from our agenda the consideration of the question of apartheid South Africa… Where South Africa appears on the agenda again, let is be because we want to discuss what its contribution shall be to the making of the new African renaissance."

  • Later President Mbeki would also give greater clarity to the African agenda and the priority of rebirth and renewal and emphasise the important connections that would link us inseparably to an African Diaspora as we sought not only to develop the continent, but also to improve the conditions of Africans and those of African descent all over the world.

     
  • The formation of the African Union (AU) came partly out of the recognition that the conditions now existed for the realisation of African potential. NEPAD became a flagship project of the AU, a concrete develomental initiative of what Africans can do together to take charge of our destiny.

     
  • As part of the process of transformation and renewal, the OAU/AU held two major OAU-Civil Society Conferences in 2001 and 2002 to forge partnership between the OAU/AU and Civil Society Organizations in promoting peace, security, development, human rights and democracy on the Continent. The second Conference included representatives of the Diaspora.

     
  • In recent years, across the African continent and in the Diaspora, there have been concerted efforts to bring together the finest and brightest minds that our intellectuals have to offer in order to advance African development and creativity. I will not go into all these except to say that

     
  • In July 2006 the international Conference of intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora was held in Salvador, Brazil and two years earlier there was the Conference on African Intellectuals held in Senegal two years earlier. The South African government also organised the first SA, AU, Caribbean African Diaspora Conference held in Jamaica in March 2005. I hope the documents from these conferences will be distributed so that we can draw from all these discussions. We should not reinvent the wheel.

Conscious of the tasks that confront us today as Africans, we meet with the same, if not more passionate understanding and resolve than those of the generations that preceded us - and with the firm conviction that the future of Africa and of Africans depends upon us forging a common unity with our brothers and sisters in the African Diaspora.
We also bring with us a new consciousness that democratic spaces now exist which can provide new opportunities for us to work together, to carry out our dreams together and to succeed in our endeavours.
Let us begin this process of dialogue among ourselves, with a view to re-defining and re-assessing the position of Africans and the African Diaspora in the world.
We need to ask ourselves very fundamental questions. These include, to paraphrase President Thabo Mbeki: What is the African doing consciously to free him/herself from the position of perpetual underling? What is it that Africans and the Diaspora can do together to change their condition and to reclaim their pride and prosperity?

Among our fundamental concerns must be to create opportunities and possibilities for development partnerships between groupings on the African continent and in the Diaspora and through public-private partnerships.
It is important that in our deliberations today and later within our respective constituencies, we continue to address the fundamental problem of poverty position that afflicts the continent and large parts of our Diaspora.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the eradication of poverty is one of the most pressing challenges. Without assistance in this regard, Africa is unlikely to meet the objectives contained in the Millennium Development Goals. Evidence also suggests that there is a feminisation of poverty with women bearing the brunt of poverty both in urban and rural areas.
Econonomic empowerment is essential especially if we are to address the problem of the "two economies" highlighted by our President. Our discussions should also look at ways and means in which Africa and the Diaspora can leverage its combined strength, expertise, experiences and resources to build their respective and collective economies.

Our youth in Africa and the Diaspora are critical to the development of our continent. They constitute an African leadership of the future. Therefore, we must make a concerted effort to empower and support them.Through youth-to-youth and youth-to-community education programmes in Africa and the Diaspora, the youth can succeed in helping to improve the quality of African life. To build a strong and united African continent, our youth in Africa and the Diaspora must meet, share and exchange knowledge, culture, history and understanding. This consultation should also begin to identify areas for concrete co-operation and exchange.

Of course, the youth in Africa become very important, because projections are, that by 2050, Africa will have the largest population in the world. We have a population pyramid which is normal; it has a broad base at the lower scale and a narrow tip at the upper end of life. In Europe the pyramid is inverted. It is standing on its head with fewer young people far more older people.

Unless we skill all our youth, the few that are skilled will be taken by the rich and the powerful. It is important also to dialogue with the West, so that they invest in our youth. They must contribute to the skilling of our youth. It could be part of our reparation to ensure that they contribute to investing in our resources. If we do not, we will be worse off in 2050. Migration is a big issue in the West. But the nature of the debate is to keep out the unskilled and poor and to encourage the skilled to enter the West. We have to see to it that we are not enslaved in a different way in the 21st century and be mindful of all these dynamics.

I hope that this Diaspora Conference looks at this as one of the important issues or we will be worse off by 2050.
This dialogue must also complement other global processes to engage the African Diaspora and to address challenges specific to Africa and the Diaspora. In this regard, I refer to processes such as The Africa and Diaspora Conference on Cultural Diversity for Social Cohesion and Sustainable Development which took place in South Africa in August 2006.

We should utilise the various bilateral and multilateral fora available to us to advance the objectives of this process of consultation. The agenda and outcomes of the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are of particular importance and relevance for Africa and the global African Diaspora. To this end, we should not shy away from using our numbers and collective strength in the multilateral institutions such as the UN, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, the ACP, the NAM, the G77, the Commonwealth, the OAS, etc. to push the agenda of the South.

Let me conclude with the words of two powerful women. The first is Nancy Morejon, a Cuban poet of African descent (from her poem called 'Black Woman'). In this poem, she reminds us of our past but also points the way to a better future. She writes:


" I can still smell the spray of the sea they made me cross….
This is the land where I suffered the whip and degradation.
I trod the length of all her rivers.
Under the sun I planted and gathered harvests I did not eat….

Here I built my world.
I went to the hills.
My real independence brought me to the fort
And I rode with Maceo's troops.

Only a century later
With my descendents
Of the blue mountain
Would I come down to the Sierra
To put an end to capital and moneylenders,
To generals and the bourgeoisie.

Now I am: only today do we have and create.
Nothing is taken from us.
Ours is the land.
Ours the sea and the sky.
Ours the magic and the vision…"


It is time that indeed together we do plant and gather the harvests which we eat - that we begin to consume what we grow and not grow that which we do not consume. In building a new African world we must ensure that ours is the land, the sea and sky, that we do possess our own destiny together, as Africans in our homeland and on the Diaspora.

Your ideas, experiences, views, opinions and suggestions are important to ensure that the Summit in 2008 is a success and that the African Renaissance becomes a reality.

I will end with the words inspired by another powerful woman. Let me quote from a memorial service of a very powerful woman, Mary Seacole who lived from 1805-1881. Memorial services are held for her every year, but I am quoting from the one held last year. I quote in part:

"In taking up the baton, we have to make a serious choice, to be seen as assertive as Mary Seacole or let cowardice steal our voice. Formidable was this woman as the annals of history have shown. As victims we must not be afraid to recount or relate the brutal agonies of hell endured in this environment of hate. Only those with hearts of stone will criticize and choose not to weep. The souls of murdered Africans cannot find peace. Neither can they sleep."

So if we want the spirits of the murdered Africans to rest in peace, we have to make sure that the present and future Africans are not enslaved.

I thank you.