Address by Thabo Mbeki, Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa,a t the First Continental Conference of African Experts on Landmines, World Trade Centre, Kempton Park, 19 May 1997

South Africa is honoured and privileged to welcome you to this important conference.

Today we are gathered in a free South Africa, a South Africa that is a product of the unity of African efforts. Today we are gathered to address crucial issues that impact on our common destiny, our peoples' lives and well being.

As Africans, we are all acutely aware that ours is the continent which is the most afflicted by the deadly menace of anti-personnel landmines. Furthermore, we all know the enormity of the problem and the challenge it poses in a continent with limited financial resources and great developmental needs.

This is an historic meeting because the action plans we adopt here can be turned into reality. Africa can become the first continent to take a collective decision against this evil device, the anti-personnel landmine, which has destroyed thousands of Africans' lives.

Outside of our continent, the perception persists that Africa remains, as of old, torn by interminable conflict, unable to solve its problems, condemned to the netherworld.

Out of this Africa there are recent miracles and new hope every day as parties that had fought against each other for decades, as deadly enemies, have come - and are continuing to come - together to serve the greater good of the millions of their people who have been victim to apartheid and the pestilences of war, including disablement, displacement, degradation and death.

There exists within our continent a generation which has been victim to all the things which created this negative past. This generation remains African and carries with it an historic pride which compels it to seek a place for Africans equal to all the other peoples of our common universe.

It is this generation whose sense of outrage against the exploitation of the past, as well as continued exploitation, guarantees Africa's advance towards its rebirth. Africa has and is readying itself for growth and development, fuelled by her own efforts.

As all other peoples, ours demand a better life. This requires of our governments, the private sector and non-governmental organisations that they continue to work ceaselessly towards meeting people's basic needs in jobs, welfare, education, health, the alleviation of poverty and so on.

Africa has experienced and the world has witnessed the horrific effects and tragedy wrought on civilian populations by the indiscriminate use of anti- personnel mines. The presence of anti-personnel landmines lurking to maim and kill the innocent while denying the able-bodied and hungry from using the land productively severely restricts many of our peoples from aspiring to this vision we have of Africa. If we act collectively and with unity of purpose, we can in all earnest begin the process for an anti-personnel landmine-free Africa. Africa is the forerunner in cost effective demining technology and we have the expertise.

But let us remember that we cannot de-mine today simply to re-mine tomorrow. It is therefore imperative that we adopt appropriate government policies and actively campaign for a global ban on anti-personnel landmines.

We are encouraged by the growing momentum on our continent to forever ban this deadly scourge because it is our firm belief that this is the only lasting solution to prevent the escalation of the current anti-personnel landmine problem. Africa owes it to its people to rid the continent of the deadly menace of these anti-personnel landmines and to join those who are striving to ban these destructive weapons globally.

I would like to give a special word of thanks to those donor countries and organisations that have made it possible for this African conference to take place. I would also wish to express my sincere appreciation to the NGO's that have for years fought hard to drive this issue to the forefront of world attention. The global momentum against anti-personnel landmines is escalating and we must seize this opportunity to ensure that our continent acts quickly, decisively and with unity to protect our children and meet the needs of our generation.

I would like to take this opportunity finally, Chairperson, to assure you of the full commitment of the Government of the Republic of South Africa to the outcome of this conference and such steps as may be necessary to ensure that we achieve our common objectives, both on this continent and elsewhere in the world.

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