Address by Minister Dlamini Zuma on the WCAR Debate, 7 November 2001

Madam Speaker

Deputy President of South Africa

Honourable Members

We wish to take this opportunity to express our sincere thanks to all South Africans who made the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance the success that it truly was. From the ordinary South African, to parliamentarians, to academics, to artists, to sportsmen and women and especially to the South African Non-Governmental organisations for steering the NGO Forum to the successful outcome. My deep appreciation and gratitude go to my colleagues who spent long hours-hammering consensus in the different Committees.

We met in Durban to discuss what we can collectively do to change the life conditions of those that are affected by racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia and related intolerance.

It was a fitting tribute to the sacrifice of millions inside and outside the country that the World Conference against Racism was held in South Africa. It was correct that the conference was held in the country, which had witnessed the most egregious and the repugnant form of institutionalised racism. South Africa, which was not so long ago the fountainhead of racism, was the right venue to demonstrate to the world that the demon and ghost of racism can be exorcised.

To us as South Africans the hosting of this conference presented the opportunity to express our deep-felt gratitude to the international community for waging together with us the relentless struggle against apartheid racism. For it could not be that the international community could have been indifferent to the suffering of fellow human beings in South Africa. They could see that, as long as the apartheid crime against humanity was allowed to exist, as a result of their inactivity, so long would their own humanity be denied and their dignity violated.

The peoples of the world entertained the hope that out of terrible human disaster that apartheid was, would be born a democratic South Africa anchored on non-racialism, with equality of all national groups guaranteed, and a South Africa that respects human rights, at peace with the world and working tirelessly for the human up-liftment. To the international community, there could be no better venue, than South Africa that occupied the pre-eminent place in the latter half of the twentieth century.

To the indigenous people who are daily subjected to humiliation through the staggering arrogance of those who have deigned themselves their superiors, the Conference against racism offered hope that their lot would change for the better.

To the Romas, the Gypsies, the Travellers, the Sinti, the indigenous people, whose very life is characterized by conditions of wretchedness, degrading hunger and denigrating racism, the Conference renewed their confidence in themselves and their dignity accorded the necessary respect. We had the opportunity to listen to the Romas and the indigenous people tell their stories of how in their everyday life they are treated as sub-humans. We knew then, that the Conference was a success.

To the immigrants, to women and children who are trafficked as mere chattels, the Conference stood before the cruel and shameful life they endure and emphasize the enjoyment of human rights that is inherently, inalienably and rightfully theirs too.

It could be that many across our common universe expected us, with good reason, because of our specific history, to have the possibility and responsibility to make an important contribution to the universal struggle to defeat the scourge of racism.

Madam Speaker

It cannot be gainsaid that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is on the rise especially in the countries of the developed north. No country is immune from racism. The scourge of racism afflicts us all, in one way or another. The barbaric acts of terrorism in the United States on 11 September are an ample proof that intolerance, bigotry and fanaticism is on the ascendancy. Equally appalling though, has been the tendency in some developed countries and even here in South Africa to vent out anger at a particular group of people because of their religion.

The last few weeks have witnessed, hitherto, the rise of Islamophobia and Anti-Arab feeling and related intolerance in the developed countries. This form of aberration masquerades itself as the work of specialists on the Middle East and on Islam. The view expressed by these pseudo-specialists reinforces the stereotyping of the people of the Middle Eastern origin as inherently violent and prone to act savagely and being pagans at heart.

It was for this and many other reasons that it was propitious and timely that the World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was held and set out an agenda to roll back the frontiers of racism. Those of us who stayed because we cared deeply about the social ills that afflict human beings all over the world, also stayed because we understood the urgency of launching a global movement against racism, xenophobia, disempowerment and social exclusion which has become the daily companion of the majority of the peoples of the world.

Despite the absence of others, the World Conference Against Racism met and successfully concluded its work. The conference spoke so eloquently of the New World Order, which is people- centered. This new order will work hard to deal comprehensively with poverty eradication, and further, harness the process of globalization to address the growing gap of wealth between and among countries. Necessarily, this would entail the formation of the mass global movement against racism and xenophobia to take this struggle forward. The conference continued and succeeded inspite and despite attempts by others who embarked on misguided actions if only to inflict maximum embarrassment on us before the world’s delegates.

Madam Speaker

The defeat of apartheid and the peaceful transfer of power from the white racist minority government to the majority predominantly black government offered hope to many millions around the world that at last; a rear base to launch a global offensive against racism was secured. The despised of the world acknowledged with admiration that for the first in the history of the world, the victims of the worst form of racism were in power. This epoch-making victory renewed hope to millions around the world who are despised because of their colour, culture and traditions, to millions who face the degrading and denigrating conditions of poverty and, to millions who die of curable diseases.

South Africa is a home to the former oppressor and the oppressed. We are the embodiment of the United Nations. A country endowed with a different tapestry of cultures and mosaic religions. We are the country that is varied in many respects like the colors of the rainbow. We are the microcosm of the world. We are referred to as a miracle, precisely because, we demonstrated that no matter how intractable our situation at times had seemed to be, that we had the ability and ingenuity to reach a comprise. What had been expected to be an unimaginable conflagration made way for cooperation among various groups. It seems to us that we must have said to ourselves the oppression of one by another diminishes the victim and the perpetrator as well.

As it was once said "consider the flowers of a garden, it would be said that though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, in as much as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the tress of that garden were all the same shape and colour! Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heightened the effect thereof". This could not be more correct reflection of our situation.

What was said in this House last week of the "unfinished business between the Afrikaner and blacks" beautifully captures our commitment to work together for the good of our people. Our Armed Forces who are doing a sterling work inside and outside the country, black and white, amply demonstrate the spirit of togetherness of which we spoke. What was not so long, an army of destruction and mayhem, has become an army of healing and peacekeeping. This is what makes South Africa unique and this is what we can share with the world.

Madam Speaker.

The WCAR was a landmark and historic United Nations conference arranged in close co-operation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. The process has been a truly inclusive and broadly consultative one. Many member states attended and with serious commitment ensured a successful outcome.

Despite the contentious issues before it, the Conference dug deep in a supreme effort to make it a success in order to lay a firm foundation for the future of tolerance and harmonious co-existence. Those who cared sincerely about the critically important matters of human rights for all and human dignity for all, stayed, grappled with sensitive issues and responded creatively to all the challenges posed as a result. The Conference, inter alia, agreed that the process should be directed at the most pressing challenge of our time, namely poverty eradication.

Through the Declaration and Programme of Action it was agreed to launch the Global Army Against Racism in all countries in order to uproot the scourge of racism. From the inter-governmental, to non-governmental and civil society, everybody agreed, in various fora, to work jointly in partnerships to take WCAR work forward. In South Africa various government departments and national institutions will now take the process forward in an action-oriented, but well co-ordinated way.

There are three major contentious issues, Madam Speaker, that the conference grappled with i.e. Past Injustices, Palestine/ Middle East and Grounds for Discrimination and the list of victims continuously bogged down the process.

With respect to slavery, it has always been the contention of South Africa that unless and until the question of slavery was dealt with adequately, the century’s old problem of racism could never be addressed. Slavery, which has seen African men, women and children shipped across the oceans in the dark and pungent dungeons has given rise to the century’s old racism which describe us as anything but human.

There never was a doubt in my mind that those who visited this untold harm and humiliation to Africans would not accept the responsibility of their ghastly actions. What was even more galling was an attempt to reduce this pain to which the African people were subjected to into money game. This was founded on the erroneous thinking that Africans wanted an apology in order to open a legal way for compensation and reparations.

To us as Africans our dignity is, has always been and will forever be priceless. No amount of money could bring back our dignity. All we wanted, and I am happy to tell the House we did receive at end, was that those who committed an affront to our dignity to squarely look at the damage they caused and own up to it. We wanted the perpetrators of these heinous crimes of slavery, colonialism and racism to sit together with the victims of these anti human and anti-social ideologies and apologize for them and their consequences.

After protracted deliberations, all the stakeholders on this issue agreed on common positions by consensus. The final outcome addresses the main issues of concern for Africa and African people in the Diaspora, in particular, including the developing world in general. Apartheid and genocide in the context of the conference were declared crimes against humanity and colonialism was seen for what it was, nothing but the unspeakable and rabid racism.

The apology for these inhuman acts was made albeit with some legal caveats. For the first time in the history of the world, these crime against humanity were publicly acknowledged and that it was agreed that they accounted for Africa’s underdevelopment and reinforced racism against Africans. The broader remedial measures, which are encapsulated in the New Partnership for African Development, were agreed upon. These included socio-economic and developmental initiatives such as the New Partnership for African Development and other innovative mechanisms such as the World Solidarity Fund for the Eradication of Poverty, to ensure that affected countries and their citizens should benefit therefrom in as broad a sense as possible. Such initiatives, finally adopted by the WCAR, are comprehensive, holistic and sustainable and will benefit more victims.

The World Conference Against Racism also re-affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the establishment of their Independent State and the right of Israel to live in conditions of security. The return of the refugees was for the first time acknowledged in the international document. The Conference also recalled that the Holocaust must never be forgotten. Additionally it recognized the need to counter anti-Semitism and Islamophobia worldwide. We also agreed on the Grounds for Discrimination and the listing of Victims.

Madam Speaker

All member states of the United Nations are now expected to translate the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action into action. In this respect, governments, civil society and also the business sector would have specific roles in realising the objectives of the Conference. Several Government departments and national institutions/civil society, therefore, have specific responsibilities to ensure that the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action become a living reality in the course of discharging their mandates.

Consequently, the Department of Foreign Affairs will be making specific recommendations to Cabinet in the near future to ensure effective and appropriate action at the national level. The proposal will seek to involve all key players of South Africa’s society. Additionally, the Durban document also recommends further action at regional and international level.

Finally, Madam Speaker, the Conference Against Racism succeeded because all of us made a super-human effort. There were times when the Conference hovered on the brink of collapse. But, it must have occurred to all participants that the conference had to succeed for the sake of posterity. We all had to dig deep in ourselves to reach the acceptable outcomes we achieved.

At the end of this tumultuous conference, we can all agree that what we set out to do, has been done. While, we agree that it is still a long road to travel, we have begun. The Movement I represent, the African National Congress had for the entirety of its existence sought to give succour to the despised, the wretched of the earth. In continuing this rich tradition, through this conference, we hope we have made a contribution to fight till victory to eliminate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Amidst all the rough and tumble of the conference, we were emboldened by the beautiful words of Antjie Krog in her book ": Country of my skull" she says:

Because of you

this country no longer lies

between us but within

it breathes becalmed

after being wounded

in its wondrous throat

in the cradle of my skull

it sings, it ignites

my tongue, my inner ear, the cavity of heart

shudders towards the outline…..

of my soul the retina learns to expand

daily because by a thousand stories

I was scorched

A new skin

I am changed forever, I want to say:

Forgive me

Forgive me

Forgive me

You whom I have wronged, please take, with you

This genuine expression of atonement, appealed to us to work even harder to share with the world the gift of South African uniqueness.

I thank you

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