Address by the President of South Africa,
Mr. Thabo Mbeki, at the Opening of Civil Society Forum
of the WSSD, Johannesburg, 23 August 2002
Master of Ceremonies,
Our international guests,
Leaders and members of organisations of civil society,
Distinguished delegates to the World Summit for Sustainable
On behalf of the government and people of South Africa,
I am honoured to welcome you to our country. We are
very pleased and inspired that you have come from all
corners of the globe to the city of Johannesburg to
discuss the important issues on our common agenda, of
People, the Planet and Prosperity.
We are especially moved that you are in this country,
because in the past you stood side by side with us as
we struggled together to defeat the evil system of apartheid.
In good measure, we owe the freedom and democracy we
enjoy today to the sustained act of solidarity in which
you and the peoples you represent engaged, to liberate
us from racist oppression.
Our common victory made it possible for the World Summit
for Sustainable Development to convene in South Africa
and Johannesburg. Accordingly, when we welcome you to
South Africa, we welcome you to your home, a house of
freedom which you yourselves built.
This is also your home in a second and most important
sense. A few kilometers from where we sit today is the
World Heritage Site, Sterkfontein, the Cradle of Humankind.
This is one of the most important archaeological sites
in the world where some of the oldest fossilised remains
of our ancestors have been found, the birthplace of
all humanity, regardless of race or colour.
We are indeed happy that, because of the World Summit
for Sustainable Development, humanity has come back
to its ancestral home to deliberate on vital issues
that face all humanity and the common planet which made
the birth of human beings possible, after millions of
years of evolution.
The decisions that must be taken at the World Summit
must answer the question concretely whether we, the
present generations of the common humanity that emerged
from the Cradle of Humankind, have the will to ensure
that, after us, humanity will live on for millions more
We have to answer the question whether we have the
will and the common sense to ensure that we treat the
planet as a common renewable resource, a friend and
partner whose health is a necessary condition for the
health of humanity itself.
We have to answer the question whether we have the
wisdom so to organise human society that we ensure that
the billions across the globe live in conditions of
peace, freedom, equality and a decent life, free from
poverty and want and ignorance.
All these questions require urgent and practical answers.
It is vitally important that you, the members of global
civil society are here as participants at the World
Summit. Together with the governments of the world,
you have to participate in the process of defining the
problems and challenges that humanity faces. You have
to participate in the process of deciding what all of
us should do to solve these problems and to meet these
Accordingly, billions across the globe count on the
Civil Society Forum to produce positive results. They
have invested hope in the work you will do over the
next few days, that it will point a realistic and concrete
way forward towards the achievement of the common goals
of sustainable development.
Thirty years ago, delegates from across the World met
in Stockholm, Sweden, and placed the important issues
of the environment at the centre of the international
agenda. Ten years ago, Agenda 21 was adopted at the
Rio Earth Summit, in Brazil, as a global plan for sustainable
As we meet here in Johannesburg, we have to answer
the question whether we have done what needed to be
done to advance the objectives contained in Agenda 21.
We have to answer this question openly and honestly
so that we have the possibility to do what has not been
done, and to renew and restore the enthusiasm and momentum
towards sustainable development.
We must ensure that there is a common understanding
and a unified voice about what we mean by sustainable
development, avoiding any equivocation amongst all of
us - governments and civil society.
I am also certain that we all agree that the Summit
must agree on a practical programme to improve the quality
of life of all humanity through economic growth and
development and an equitable distribution of wealth
and income, social development and conversation of natural
resources. Clearly, the challenge is to meet the needs
of humanity today without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs.
Since the international community adopted the Agenda
21 ten years ago, we have seen millions of people drawn
into the ranks of billions others who are very poor.
We have seen less and less capital committed to sustainable
development, especially in the poor countries of the
South. We have seen lack of technology transfers and
the trade doors being shut on the face of the peoples
from developing countries.
Indeed, since the Rio Summit we have witnessed growing
global inequalities as well as more migrations, epidemics,
conflicts and instabilities.
In this situation, we cannot and will not be satisfied
merely with the fact that we gathered in Johannesburg,
enjoyed one another's company and merely decried the
debilitating and unacceptable conditions of the poor
and the marginalized and the immediate and long-term
threats to the environment.
The programme for the further implementation of Agenda
21 states that: " Democracy, respect for all human
rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right
to development, transparent and accountable governance
in all sectors of society, as well as effective participation
by civil society, are also necessary foundations for
the realization of social and people-centred development."
We have a responsibility, as governments and civil
society to come up with concrete decisions about:
The best possible ways of strengthening the interface
between government and civil society on the development
and implementation of policies and programmes that are
responsive to the needs of poor people;
Collaborating to involve communities in their own development;
Working together to enhance possibilities of equitable
global distribution of resources for the benefit of
Joining hands to preserve the environment and ensure
Guided by the objectives of the Agenda 21 as well as
those contained in the United Nations Millennium Development
Goals, we can mount a major offensive against global
poverty, underdevelopment and environmental degradation.
As an African, I must also say that it is also important
that the World Summit is being held in Africa just as
we are celebrating the launch of the African Union,
which reflects a new determination on the part of the
African people to build a brighter future for this great
continent of ours.
The AU and the New Partnership for Africa's Development
together provide a framework for action by governments,
the private sector, the labour movement, civil society
and the international community, to eradicate poverty
and achieve sustainable development in Africa.
I trust that Johannesburg will provide the right climate
for the world's peoples to advance their common aspirations.
Once again, something new must come out of Africa.
The eyes of the billions of poor people of the world
are looking to all of us to emerge from Johannesburg
with actions that will radically change their lives.
Let us do our best to live up to that great expectation.
Together we can and must be the architects of a positive
legacy of hope.
We wish the Civil Society Forum success in the important
work it has to do. We depend on you, members of civil
society, to continue to be the torch-bearers for sustainable
development, combatants for a better life for the peoples
of the world, fighters for the preservation of our planet.
I thank you.