26 June 2000


The President of the General Assembly,
The Secretary General of the United Nations,
Excellencies, Heads of State and Government,
Distinguished Guests

With the advent of democracy in South Africa six years ago, the newly elected government, together with the people of our country, inherited a distorted system of governance, with institutions that were in direct conflict with the imperatives for sustainable economic growth, social development and our reintegration into the world economy and community of nations.

We were faced with the daunting challenge to transform our country, in a sustained and deliberate manner, in order to address the deeply entrenched poverty affecting millions of our people; a racially polarised society in terms of wealth distribution and opportunities; and a brutalised society with intolerably high levels of violence, corruption, social disintegration and moral decay.

When South Africa joined the community of nations in signing the Copenhagen Declaration in 1995, it was another critical point in our history as a young democracy. Our commitment to address poverty, promote social integration, create an enabling environment for social development, promote full employment, build the capacity of our people and mobilise resources for social development, held special significance for us, as they still do today.

Through the rights and liberties enshrined in our Constitution, and the relevant institutions such as the Human Rights Commission, Gender Commission, the Constitutional Court, Public Protector, etc., we have ensured the protection and promotion of human rights and restoration of the dignity of all its peoples.

Critical in all this, are the public-private partnerships, including the joint negotiating forums like National Economic, Development and Labour Council - NEDLAC, that have created the space for the engagement of all social partners in new development partnerships.

State institutions are also being restructured the enable them to promote an ethos of service, accountability, transparency, and eliminate corrupt practices at every level.

Mr President, great strides have been taken in ensuring free access to health care for children under 6 years of age and pregnant women; our social security benefits are now accessible to all who are eligible irrespective of race or sex.

However, many challenges still remain, and amongst the most critical is the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has the potential to reverse all of our gains. It is clear to us that there is a direct link between HIV/AIDS and poverty. The incidence of poverty provides fertile ground for the exacerbation of this pandemic.

It is therefore of grave concern to us that vital health care and medication remain out of reach for the people that need it most, many of which are in the South and particularly in Africa. We therefore urge the international community to integrate the ethics of human development into trade negotiations and ensure that the existing trade and patent regimes are not skewed in favour of the corporate sector at the expense of the most vulnerable sectors of our populations.

Our commitment to address poverty, promote employment and build human capacity is evident from the initiatives we have taken to prioritise education, including the problem of illiteracy and skills development.

Our commitment to address racism and inequality is unquestionable. We will be holding a national conference on racism in South Africa later this year and will also be hosting the United Nations Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Other Related Intolerances. The links between the Beijing Declaration on women and the World Social Summit Development Commitments needs to be reinforced as women, children and the elderly still bear the brunt of poverty, and social and economic exclusion.

The translation of our vision and goals into concrete and sustainable programmes requires an enabling regional and global environment. There is no question that peace and stability are prerequisites for economic growth and sustainable development. We cannot continue to address issues of social and economic development without addressing the question of wars and conflicts raging around the world.

We are therefore committed to the resolution of conflicts through dialogue and to building capacity for conflict prevention and management in our sub-regions and on the continent as a whole.

However, our capacity to deliver on our social commitment to improve the lives of our people in many of our countries, is seriously hampered by crippling debt servicing and repayments. South Africa therefore reiterates its support for debt relief for the highly indebted and poorest nations, most of which are in Africa.

In this regard, Mr. President, South Africa's development trajectory cannot be separated from that of its neighbours in the Southern African region nor from the continent as a whole. While much can and is being done to strengthen our domestic response to our persistent problems, international agreements on free and fair trade and the promotion of peace and justice are also critical.

Economic growth in the region has not been sufficient to create sustainable jobs, for the region, job creation and job security remain major challenges.

Resource constraints have seriously limited the region's ability to promote job creation even through labour intensive public works programmes. Much needed investments in infra structural and rural development initiatives have been set back by external debt and macro economic constraints.

Our commitment to address poverty, promote employment and build human capacity in also evident in the initiatives we have taken to prioritise education. In this regard we are reviewing our educational system to ensure that knowledge and skills are relevant for a more globally integrated world and at the same time is also able to address the problems of illiteracy and access to opportunities for poor people.

Together with the ratification and implementation of international human rights instruments in countries, we would like to see mechanisms to monitor the implementation and protection of such rights. While we all accept that good governance is essential for the protection and promotion of human rights, we cannot forget that this requires the setting up of relevant institutions within an enabling legal framework.

These institutions require substantial human, material and financial resources. Many nations of the South do not have the necessary resources for these and would need sustained technical and financial assistance.

Since the last Summit, overall levels of Official Development Assistance have declined with most donor countries not meeting commitments made in Copenhagen.

Donor countries need to be sensitive to the specific needs of recipient nations and honour aid commitments on the basis of development priorities.

We are concerned at the trend in our forums which seems to attempt to water down and renege on commitments made in the Beijing and Copenhagen Declarations. We certainly cannot remain silent or be party to the systematic reversal of the gains made in Copenhagen and Beijing. We therefore urge countries and participants to implement commitments taken in Copenhagen, Beijing and now Geneva.

To us, as developing countries, the Copenhagen Declaration and the Beijing commitments were significant steps in addressing the legacies facing our nations and remain important in our endeavours to create a better life for our people.

Mr President
Heads of State and Government
Distinguished Delegates,

South Africa commits itself to the 20/20 initiative on social development. We urge all countries to work towards the fulfilment of this important objective.

Thank you

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa