Address of the President of the Republic
of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the Opening of the
World Summit for Sustainable Development
Johannesburg, 26 August 2002
Mr Nitin Desai, Secretary-General of the World Summit
for Sustainable Development,
Your Excellencies Ministers, Ambassadors and Senior
Leaders and members of civil society,
Members of the mass media,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
On behalf of our people and the peoples of Africa as
a whole, I would like to thank you most sincerely for
the honour you have extended to us by electing us President
of the World Summit for Sustainable Development. We
will strive to discharge the responsibilities that attach
to this high post, and count on your support and cooperation
in this regard.
I am privileged to join His Excellency Mr Nitin Desai,
in warmly welcoming you all, to Johannesburg, South
Africa and Africa. I trust that you will have a happy
and productive stay in this city of gold, Johannesburg,
which, for more than a century, has been home to people
drawn from many parts of Africa and the rest of the
In the last 30 years, the torch of sustainable development
has travelled from Europe, to the Americas, through
Asia, and now burns in Africa. After a protracted journey,
it has arrived in the continent that is the cradle of
The fact that we have convened at this cradle of humanity,
emphasises the obligation we all face to respond with
all seriousness and with a sense of urgency to adopt
a meaningful Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, in
the interests of all humanity and our common planet.
I am convinced that it is our shared view that we should
approach our work over the next few days in this spirit.
I am also certain that we share the view that poverty,
underdevelopment, inequality within and among countries,
together with the worsening global ecological crisis,
sum up the dark shadow under which most of the world
I am also certain that we are of one mind that the
imperative of human solidarity as well as actual experience,
demand that, together, we must strive for a shared prosperity.
A global human society based on poverty for many and
prosperity for a few, characterised by islands of wealth,
surrounded by a sea of poverty, is unsustainable.
All of us understand that the goal of shared prosperity
is achievable because, for the first time in human history,
human society possesses the capacity, the knowledge
and the resources to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment.
To use these possibilities successfully requires that
we also agree to the concept of a common but differentiated
All of us also understand and accept the positions
agreed in Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro about the need
for all of us to act together to protect the global
environment. All of us agree that unsustainable patterns
of production and consumption are creating an environmental
disaster that threatens both life in general, and human
life in particular.
The 1992 Rio Earth Summit produced several landmark
agreements aimed at halting and reversing environmental
destruction, poverty and inequality. Agenda 21 placed
at the centre of the challenges facing humanity, the
appropriate framework for sustainable development.
In accepting Agenda 21, we agreed to integrate social
and economic development with environmental protection,
in a manner that would ensure the sustainability of
our planet and the prosperity of all humanity.
These important decisions were reinforced by the conclusions
reached at a series of international conferences covering
such important issues as gender equality, social and
population development, children's rights, world trade,
food security, health, habitat, racism and racial discrimination,
financing for development, and the environment.
The UN Millennium Summit stands out among these global
conventions because its outcome, the Millennium Declaration,
constitutes a united pledge made by the world's political
leaders, at the highest level. These leaders committed
themselves to meet the Millennium Development Goals
that must help to inform the outcome of this Summit.
Apart from the detail of the agreements arrived at
in the context of the global negotiations of the last
decade, I believe that it would also be true that the
recognition has grown that, indeed, the world has grown
into a global village. The survival of everybody in
this village demands that we develop a universal consensus
to act together to ensure that there is no longer any
river that divides our common habitat into poor and
This indicates that the noble concept of human solidarity
has, once again, regained currency as a driving force
in the reconstruction and development of our common
world. This confirms our collective capacity to overcome
cynicism, to outgrow market fundamentalism, to accept
the imperative for people-centred development. Among
others, the Earth Charter represents this healthy development.
We can therefore make bold to say that there exists
a detailed global agenda for sustainable development
that provides the solid base from which the Johannesburg
World Summit for Sustainable Development must proceed.
Regional initiatives, such as NEPAD, provide us with
the framework and institutions to translate the global
agenda into reality.
Sadly, we have not made much progress in realising
the grand vision contained in Agenda 21 and other international
agreements. It is no secret that the global community
has, as yet, not demonstrated the will to implement
the decisions it has freely adopted.
The tragic result of this is the avoidable increase
in human misery and ecological degradation, including
the growth of the gap between North and South. It is
as though we are determined to regress to the most primitive
condition of existence in the animal world, of the survival
of the fittest. It is as though we have decided to spurn
what the human intellect tells us, that the survival
of the fittest only presages the destruction of all
As we deliberate and work on a way forward, we need
to take stock of the inertia of the past decade and
agree on very clear and practical measures that will
help us to deal decisively with all the challenges that
we face. This is the central task of this Summit.
We do not have a new agenda to discover. We have no
obligation to relearn what we already know about the
parlous state of human society and the environment.
There is no need for us to reopen battles that have
been fought and resolved.
There is every need for us to demonstrate to the billions
of people we lead that we are committed to the vision
and practice of human solidarity, that we do not accept
that human society should be constructed on the basis
of a savage principle of the survival of the fittest.
The Summit meets under the theme "People, Planet
and Prosperity". Its focus is on the improvement
of people's lives everywhere, through sustainable development.
What is required of us is that we agree on the practical
measures that will help humanity to achieve these results.
The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation we must discuss
and negotiate, must be a real Plan of Implementation,
a credible and meaningful global plan of action for
the realisation of the goals that humanity has already
Similarly, the Political Declaration of the Summit
must constitute an honest pledge by the world's governments
to implement the programme contained in the Plan of
Implementation. Work is proceeding to construct this
Declaration, which cannot be finalised outside the context
of the Plan of Implementation. The necessary consultations
will take place to ensure that it is truly owned by
all of us and constitutes a genuine commitment to act.
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 realisation of social and people-centred development."
Accordingly, our proceedings must take into account
the effective participation of civil society both in
deciding what is to be done and in implementing what
has been agreed.
This World Summit comes after a long and intense process
of global interaction. In this regard, I am privileged
to thank the Secretary General of the United Nations,
Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the Summit, Mr
Nitin Desai, his team and the Bureau of the Summit Preparatory
Process, President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the government
of Indonesia, Professor Emil Salim, and many others
for the sterling work they have done to bring us to
where we are.
The peoples of the world expect that this World Summit
will live up to its promise of being a fitting culmination
to a decade of hope, by adopting a practical programme
for the translation of the dream of sustainable development
into reality and bringing into being a new global society
that is caring and humane.
We will realise this if we have agents of change in
our global village. These are men and women who will
get down to the serious work of the achievement of the
agreed goals. This requires brave, bold, conscientious
and principled people. I believe that I am addressing
that group of people now.
I wish you success in your critically important deliberations.
I thank you.