CLOSING ADDRESS TO WCAR NGO FORUM BY THE DEPUTY PRESIDENT ZUMA, 1 September 2001

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is indeed an honour and privilege to address this closing ceremony of the NGO Forum on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

As we deliberated about how to end global racism, a stalwart and hero of our liberation struggle, Govan Mbeki, passed on. An outstanding revolutionary, he dedicated his life to the fight against racism and racial oppression, and as a result spent 23 years on Robben Island. This conference will have given him a fitting tribute if it produces resolutions that will advance the fight against racism in the world.

Brothers and sisters, your robust engagements over the last few days have indeed made a meaningful contribution to the debate about these pressing challenges. We are also heartened by the inclusive nature of the conference.

The South African government takes immense satisfaction that this important event is taking place on our shores, which have been freed from the yoke of minority apartheid rule only seven years ago. We are also speaking mindful of the fact that the previous racism conferences were primarily concerned with how to bring about maximum pressure against racism in general and apartheid rule in particular. The objective was the ultimate demise of apartheid, and it was achieved.

As President Mbeki said in his opening address to this Forum, we salute all of you for the invaluable support you gave to us in our quest for democracy, freedom and justice. Without your support, it would have taken much longer for us to achieve our freedom. You set an example of what can be achieved by united global action.

Both slavery and colonialism ceased to exist, not through some act of charity, but due to the struggles by the enslaved and colonised in the affected countries. Slavery and colonialism caused untold harm, distortions and destruction. Slaves and the colonised had to embark on bitter and protracted struggles for their liberation.

The legacy of colonialism and slavery is evident in the acute social and economic disparities, which exist today. This in turn aggravates racial divisions, racial discrimination and related intolerance. The huge gap between rich and poor, and the increasing number of vulnerable groups, demand that a concerted effort be made internationally to adopt appropriate corrective measures. This conference should be seen as the continuation of the struggle to reverse the effects of these evils.

The world has also witnessed the increase of some values that should have become outdated with the forward movement of humanity.

These unacceptable practices include child labour, slave labour and gender discrimination, including the caste system.

Included in this is the discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. We need to change these appalling attitudes and in practical terms intensify their eradication from existence. The world cannot talk of enormous technological and other advances on the one hand, while harbouring such backward tendencies on the other.

We need to return to our homes and respective countries and continents with renewed vigour to eradicate these evils from within our hearts, our families, our communities, our countries and our continents.

Secretary-general of the conference, there is also reason to be concerned about the rise in xenophobia in most parts of the world, including South Africa. In our country, xenophobia results from and apartheid-era isolationist mindset. It has been fuelled by perceptions that the arrival of immigrants leads to scarcity of resources for citizens.

The fact is that several countries supported our liberation struggle. They provided us with shelter, training camps and other humanitarian assistance during our time of need. Unfortunately we have not been able as yet to explain to South Africans the role played by our brothers and sisters in the continent in the attainment of their liberation. Our neighbours paid a high price for our freedom, and those particularly in Southern Africa, were terrorised by the apartheid regime.

This makes it crucial that we begin to intensify mechanisms of educating our people to accept and welcome people from beyond our national borders. This would assist to eradicate suspicion and prejudice against what is regarded as the outsider. Civil society has a critical role to play in these actions.

As we conclude deliberations today, we need to ask ourselves what it is we can do to stop racism and related demons.

We believe it is important that the World Conference Against Racism must pronounce on the link between past injustices and the causes of poverty, underdevelopment and marginalisation, which continue to plague the developing world. Linkages are also critical for the understanding of the various manifestations of racism. The most obvious is the linkages between race and gender. By and large, the face of racism is gender related, and so is poverty. Strategies to combat racism therefore must take this into account.

We also need to remember other forms of intolerance, such as attitudes towards disability. This means we should seek to radically transform attitudes that constitute discrimination, and to fully integrate disability in all programmes as a matter of cause and not as an afterthought or special favour.

In South Africa we are attempting to do that, and have established the Office on the Status of Disabled Persons in the Presidency, with a mandate to mainstream disability in government policies.

In the implementation of the Programme of Action the focus should also be on the development and strengthening of long-term strategic global partnerships. These are key in acting as a solid front against racism and its manifestations.

The ultimate challenge will be the implementation of the results of this conference. The final declaration should lay a firm basis for effective implementation by all sectors across the globe. This means that issues put forward by different sectors should be given serious consideration, for all of us to see the need to take part in this crucial struggle to get rid of racism and create a better world for all.

It is our considered view that this conference should find some common ground, and instead of polarising the world further, we hope people will find each other. It should be an opportunity for confronting the difficulties, accepting responsibility and to accelerate the process of healing.

I must also stress that we believe it is most appropriate for this conference to take place on the African Continent, which has been devastated by decades of underdevelopment. As we speak, there is already a plan of action to take forward the revival of this Continent, through the New African Initiative.

The programme is aimed at ensuring among others:

The eradication of poverty;
Ensuring sustainable growth and development;
Promotion of peace, democracy, human rights and sound economic management.
Such an initiative is one of many attempts of redressing the legacy left by centuries of oppression and exploitation of the developing world. The underdevelopment of Africa is for example, deeply rooted in our colonial past and the history of slavery.

On behalf of the government of South Africa, I again sincerely congratulate you on the successful outcome of your deliberations.

We trust that the outcomes of the NGO Forum, the earlier Youth Summit and the World Conference Against Racism itself will inspire all of us to intensify our efforts. We are all confident that the conference will serve as a landmark in the fight against racism and poverty.

My brothers and sisters, in conclusion, allow me to draw from the wisdom of the greatest leader of our time, Nelson Mandela.

Thirty-seven years ago, when waiting to be sentenced together with his comrades, without knowing whether the sentence would be death or life, he captured the policy of the African National Congress by personalising it as follows: -

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons live together, in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for, and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

This is the kind of selflessness and dedication we would all need to have, to be able to reinforce the values of equality and dignity of all living beings regardless of their origin or status.


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