Statement at the Opening Session of
the Meeting of Heads of State and Government at the
WSSD, 2 September 2002
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government,
Your Excellencies, Heads of Delegation,
Your Excellency, Secretary-General of UN, Kofi Annan,
Distinguished Representatives of Civil Society,
Delegates, ladies and gentlemen:
I am honoured to welcome you to the city of Johannesburg,
to South Africa and to the African continent. I also
welcome you to this important part of the deliberations
of the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD).
I would like to thank all the Ministers, Officials
and leaders of non-governmental organizations, who worked
tirelessly during the course of the past week to ensure
the success of the World Summit. The progress they have
achieved should enable us, the Heads of State, Government
and Delegation, representatives of civil society and
business leaders, to take the necessary decisions that
will make it possible for us to emerge from this Summit
with a concrete Plan of Action that will give meaning
to our theme - People, Planet and Prosperity.
During the period we have engaged one another at the
World Summit for Sustainable Development, we have achieved
much in bringing together a diverse and rich tapestry
of peoples and views, in a constructive search for a
common path that will move all of us forward faster,
towards a world that practically respects and implements
the vision of sustainable development.
The matter rests with all of us gathered here this
morning whether, when we conclude our work as we meet
on this continent that is the Cradle of Humanity, we
will be able to say, truthfully, that we have taken
decisions that will meet the objectives we set ourselves
when we decided to convene the World Summit for Sustainable
I am certain that the billions of people of the world
on whose mandate we occupy our seats, expect a very
clear and unambiguous answer to the question whether
we are ready and able to respond to the pressing challenges
of sustainable development.
Two days ago, people took to the streets of Johannesburg
to give voice to the demand that our Summit meeting
must produce practical and meaningful results on very
specific matters. The same message has been communicated
from the many meetings held by representatives of civil
society as part of this great gathering of the peoples
of the world.
The message is simply this - that we can and must act
in unity to ensure that there is a practical and visible
global development process that brings about poverty
eradication and human advancement within the context
of the protection of the ecology of the planet Earth.
It is that this Summit must set concrete goals and
targets for the realisation of these objectives and
agree to implementation and monitoring processes that
will ensure that all of us respect the global agreements
into which we must enter.
As Africans, we have been privileged to host the leaders
and representatives of the peoples of the world as they
met to consider their response to the urgent challenge
of sustainable development. As these hosts, we are moved
by a deeply-felt sense that the ordinary peoples of
the world understand that a new and brighter world of
hope and a better life for them is struggling to be
That expectation is informed by the recognition by
these billions that not all is well with our societies
- the way they function, the way they treat human beings,
the way they treat the environment that constitutes
the irreplaceable base for the sustenance of all life
on our planet.
It is informed by the sense that the means and the
knowledge exist within human society successfully to
address all these challenges. The question arises as
to why as human beings we do not act, when we have the
capacity to overcome problems that are not god-given,
but are the creation of human society and human decisions
Where there is every possibility to act to communicate
a real message of hope, why is there despair! Since
the means exist to banish hunger, why are so many without
adequate supplies of food and others are faced with
famine, including millions in this region of Southern
Africa! Why are people being swept away to their graves
by floods that are without precedent in recent history!
Why do millions die every year from avoidable and curable
diseases when science, technology and engineering have
the means to save these human lives!
Why do we have wars when we established institutions
to end war! Why are there many who cannot read and write
and count when, everyday, human intelligence breaks
through many barriers of darkness to make the seemingly
unknowable part of the ever-expanding stock of human
knowledge! Why does the accumulation of wealth in human
society produce human misery!
What are the answers to all these questions and others!
Who are the beneficiaries of these perverse eventualities,
and who, the victims! Who and what is to blame! What
shall we do! What should we do!
I believe that we gathered in Johannesburg to answer
these questions. The poor in the world believe that
we travelled from all corners of our common globe to
the very Cradle of Humanity to find answers to these
They believe that important changes in the world, including
the end of the Cold War, created the possibility and
necessity both to pose and answer these questions. What
we decide by the middle of this week will tell them
clearly whether they were right in their belief.
It may be that the fault rests in the fact that we
are prisoners of the immediate, and consider it a cursed
spite that we are called upon to right a time that is
out of joint. It may be that we draw comfort from doing
what we have always done. The known, order, routine,
conformity, stability and inertia are, after all, an
important part of what makes for a life of individual
It may be that we fear a break with the present because
we know the present, ugly as it may be in many respects,
and are fearful of a better future that only exists
in the imagination, and may have unknown and unintended
consequences, if we dared to have the courage to break
into the future.
But, surely, there is no one among us who thinks that
billions in the world should continue to be condemned
to poverty, underdevelopment and a denial of human dignity.
Surely, there is no one among us who believes that we
should not care about the natural world whose environmental
integrity is the fundamental condition for the very
survival of humanity.
If this conclusion is correct, and I believe it is,
then we have every possibility to establish the Johannesburg
World Summit for Sustainable Development as a defining
moment that will live forever as the midwife that brought
into our world the child that humanity conceived at
Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro, and brought up during
a period of gestation that has encompassed the UN Millennium
Summit and other important international conferences
held since 1992.
This, I believe, is the task we all face as we work
to conclude the World Summit for Sustainable Development.
Less than a decade ago, this country was home to the
anti-human system of apartheid, even as it was part
of the combination of African countries that have given
us proof that Africa is truly the Cradle of Humanity.
The legacy of that inhuman system is evident everywhere
in this country.
It would be correct that from here, the home of our
common ancestors, the leaders of the peoples of the
world communicate a genuine message that they really
care about the future of all humanity and the planet
we inhabit, that they understand and respect the principle
and practice of human solidarity, and are therefore
determined to defeat global apartheid.
From this city that owes its birth and growth to gold,
itself the product of billions of years of natural evolution,
must issue a strong and united voice that says - now
is the time to act!
A message must come from this original home of all
humanity that we are ready and prepared to be judged
not by the number and eloquence of the resolutions we
adopt, but by the speed and commitment with which we
implement our agreements that must serve the peoples
of the world.
Nothing, whatsoever, can justify any failure on our
part to respond to this expectation.
I trust that you will have a fruitful and enjoyable
stay in South Africa.
I wish the Summit successful deliberations.
I thank you