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 Officials,
Leaders and members of civil society,
Distinguished Delegates,
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 world.

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 humanity.

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 lives.

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 responsibility.

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 wealthy parts.

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 humanity.

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 set itself.

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.

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