DEPUTY PRESIDENT ZUMA AT THE CLOSING SESSION OF THE HEADS OF MISSION CONFERENCE, CAPE TOWN, 15 February 2001

The minister of Foreign Affairs Heads of Missions Government Officials I am pleased to be here today to share my thoughts with you at the end of what has been a very important conference.

As representatives of South Africa in the rest of the world, I am sure you are all acutely aware that beyond the confines of our national borders, South Africa is considered a pilot project, a world first so to speak, to try to create a peaceful, prosperous, harmonious, non-racial and non-sexist society.

I think it would be true to say that the world watches our every move with heightened interest and that the oppressed everywhere invest their hopes in what happens right here in our country. I think we must agree that we do have a unique story to tell the world. The story of how the democratic South Africa has come about, of how our new nation and our stoic and heroic people emerge seemingly unscathed from centuries of extreme poverty and degradation.

The story of how a people with determination and strength of belief and character, dared to take on the might of the apartheid state and its functionaries and, succeed, beyond belief, in building a new society, freed from the shackles of the past.

This is how we should present our country to the world. We must convey the truths of the reality of who we are, how we have fought for our democracy and ensured through our constitution that we have a firm foundation on which to build the future. We must tell the world that we have taken a great leap out of our past - out of the worst possible system and scenario, to a present and a more certain future - where we would have the best democracy and are actively doing all we can to deepen and strengthen our democratic fundamentals.

We must also tell the world that, in doing so, in taking the 'no easy walk to our freedom' we too have taken a giant leap for mankind, for all humanity who wish to believe truly that genuine equality is possible.

There is no one way to tell this story of leaps and bounds, of tremendous pain and great joys. Our envoys all over the world, speaking in many voices and accents and in different tongues must find the best ways in which our story can be told and reinforced. You must find the best ways in which we can describe our birth and our growth and how we should brand ourselves on the map of the world through our success and our constant striving to better the lives of our people and our continent.

As we conclude these crucial deliberations, I believe that each and everyone of you must take away from them a sense of confidence in your ability to carry out your tasks in the countries where you represent us.

I believe that a conference of this nature was long overdue and thus I congratulate the Minister and Deputy Minister and members of the Department of Foreign Affairs for their foresight in organising it.

As the world has shrunk and continues to shrink into one globalised community, the role of the diplomat is not always clearly and statically defined, and the skills required to perform your tasks effectively are themselves now diverse and constantly changing.

The lines of communication are shorter than they used to be. At the touch of a button, information is exchanged and moves from place to place, so that the way in which we conduct ourselves and address the matters at hand necessitate a different kind of approach.

The new reality requires a new type of South African diplomat who is well versed on world issues, understands clearly the policies of our government and how they relate to what they do and what is required of them to ensure that they are easily and comprehensively understood by the rest of the world.

This is particularly true for the South African diplomat abroad, because of the prominence that our country has assumed in world affairs, especially those of the African continent.

This is true particularly for the South African diplomat who knows and understands through first hand experience what it is like to be a new person, a new people of a new nation. As representatives of our country you have the task of defining for your hosts the various stands and activities of your country. When leaders make statements in the country, your understanding of the policies and thinking behind them determines your effectiveness in articulating these to the world. In this regard I trust that your deliberations this week have been insightful and fruitful.

As part of the African continent we find ourselves thrust into a leadership role while at the same time seeking assistance ourselves from those that are more developed than us.

South Africa, while engaging the world’s most powerful on issues of how world affairs are conducted and how they ought to be conducted, finds herself at the same time having to confront complex issues affecting her own development and the continent as a whole.

There are those who would suggest that we are trapped between these two worlds, but a closer analysis reveals us to be an integral component of both parts of one world, at the cutting edge perhaps between the developing and developed, and poised to build a real bridge connecting the one to the other so that prosperity can be common to all.

While we aspire to compete with the best in the world, we have also to work hard to ensure that our African brothers and sisters walk hand in hand with us into the global village. This is a deliberate collective path that we have chosen to follow - for we believe that our country cannot hope to sustain its development if it takes place in isolation.

We are Africans in a continent of African peoples and cannot, with a clear conscience, separate our lot from that of our fellow Africans. Indeed doing so could only have disastrous consequences for us.

There are those who at various times would want us to distance ourselves from what they perceive to be a hopeless continent. While this would seem to them to be an easy route to take, it would certainly not work for us in the long term precisely because the world has grown smaller.

What happens in one country affects another and what happens on one continent is perceived to be common to all who live there. We have therefore chosen the route of engaging both our neighbours and the developed nations in our efforts to bring about a better world.

We believe that technological and information advances present an opportunity for us to propel ourselves into the Information Age and leapfrog many decades of development that other countries have had to go through.

To do this however we must create the correct environment by fostering peace and stability on our continent.

This we need to do as a matter of urgency because if we don’t, we shall take a backward step into the past, instead of modernising and humanising for the future. We also stand the risk of being left behind thus truly becoming the forgotten continent.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am saying this because it is important for you as representatives of our country in foreign lands to understand clearly why we do the things we do. As ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general, you are literally our first and best line of advance and also of defence in articulating our position on various issues that we are involved in.

Many negative messages emerge from within our borders that misrepresent our. Thus it is crucial that your understanding of these issues within our country be at a high level that enable you to deal effectively with these negative messages.

You have been briefed in the last few days on the various roles that South Africa has played and continues to play in various forums. In the short period of six years, South Africa has moved from total isolation to being a world leader among world leaders. Our President has lifted our country to a level where we are making an effective impact on the direction the world must take.

The challenge to our representatives is how to exploit this new stature of our country and articulate and enhance our successes. In the book, Understanding African Conflicts, by Adebayo Adedeji, the important point is made that people’s perceptions of their country do matter, that where negative perceptions and expectations of conflict exist, bad things will happen and this will turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

On the other hand, where positive attitudes exist and are encouraged, the people of these lands will do all they can to ensure success, prosperity and continued happiness. I hope that over the last few days, you have arrived at this broad common understanding of the challenges and problems of our country and the world today, and that areas of divergence have been documented for further discussion, debate and resolution.

It is also in our efforts for a better life and a better Africa, that we have committed ourselves of the entrenchment of democracy in the world and are supportive of structures which have this as their aims. Thus, the African Renaissance is not only a dream, but a conscious attempt on our part to deliver to all African people the prosperity that they have suffered and struggled for, for so long. We do all these things as a new country, young in age, but willing to act and make its mark on the world stage. This we do, not only out of national self interest but because of our profound commitment to permanent peace, stability, democracy and good governance, knowing full well that the success of our nation is inter-linked with the world.

It is your task as our envoys to fully and objectively understand the conflicts in your region and to convey an accurate picture, because the success of all of us in preventing conflicts and mastering these problems is on our complete comprehension of them.

When President Mbeki speaks of our role in Africa and all over the world, we must internalise what he says and project this vision in whatever we do and how we do it.

The question I want you all to ask yourselves is what role you ought to be playing as our ambassadors in light of our achievements. As we renew ourselves as a South African people and a nation, we do so because we know it is in our interest that our country should succeed. We do so fully conscious that we and future generations are the inheritors of our own wisdom and the guardians of our own wealth. For us to succeed in our interactions and relationships with other nations, requires that we have pride in our country, in our constitution, and in our state institutions.

Our national pride should be a source of our confidence, our conscience and our strength and act as a catalyst to our progress. I wish you well as you return to your stations all over the world.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the Presidency


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