Address at the French National Assembly
Paris, 18 November 2003
Distinguished President of the National Assembly,
Honourable Representatives of the People of the French
I am certain that you, the esteemed Members of this
honoured House, the National Assembly of France, will
recognise these words that were addressed to the Representatives
of the People of France 210 years ago:
We wish in our country that morality may be substituted
for egotism, probity for false honour, principles for
usages, duties for good manners, the empire of reason
for the tyranny of fashion, a contempt of vice for a
contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, magnanimity
for vanity, the love of glory for the love of money,
good people for good company, merit for intrigue, genius
for wit, truth for tinsel show, the attractions of happiness
for the ennui of sensuality, the grandeur of man for
the littleness of the great, a people magnanimous, powerful,
happy, for a people amiable, frivolous and miserable;
in a word, all the virtues and miracles of a Republic
instead of all the vices and absurdities of a Monarchy.
We wish, in a word, to fulfill the intentions
of nature and the destiny of man, realise the promises
of philosophy, and acquit providence of a long reign
of crime and tyranny. That France, once illustrious
among enslaved nations, may, by eclipsing the glory
of all free countries that ever existed, become a model
to nations, a terror to oppressors, a consolation to
the oppressed, an ornament of the universe and that,
by sealing the work with our blood, we may at least
witness the dawn of the bright day of universal happiness.
This is our ambition, - this is the end of our efforts....
As you know, these words, described as Principles
of Political Morality, were spoken by the Jacobin,
Maximilien Robespierre, in February 1794. I have quoted
them not because I have come into your midst as a Jacobin.
I have cited them because they communicate an inspiring
message about a French people that dared to be free,
that dared to act boldly, to create a new world. We
too have dared to absorb them into our own consciousness
because, though two centuries old, they tell us what
we should do about our patrimony and ourselves.
I have made bold to recite them in this hallowed chamber
because they have suggested that we have a right to
make demands on a nation which cannot but be a great
nation, otherwise it could not have sprung on the world
an epoch-making Revolution and placed on our firmament
a lodestar that cannot be extinguished, the Declaration
of the Rights of Man.
I have not known whether it was right that I should
stand here and recall the words of a towering French
citizen of a turbulent France of the past, who also
said: To punish the oppressors of humanity is
clemency; to forgive them is cruelty. But what
I have known is that it was not possible to come into
this Chamber and not be reminded, forcefully, of its
origins and what was done in this historic city in 1789,
which gave birth to much that, today, we take for granted.
Esteemed representatives of the people of France, I
am honoured and privileged to bring you the warm greetings
and convey the sincere sentiments of friendship of the
people of South Africa. In all humility, I thank you
for the possibility you have given us to speak to you
inside this Chamber.
Our people, and I as part of them, gaze on France and
see in her a people of whom Maximilien Robespierre spoke,
that strives still to become a model to nations,
a terror to oppressors, a consolation to the oppressed,
an ornament of the universe and that, by sealing the
work with (its) blood
may at least witness the
dawn of the bright day of universal happiness.
As South Africans, we have no choice but to conclude
that such a people cannot but be friends and allies.
In 1917, during the First World War, a transport ship,
the Mendi, carrying 823 African men from our country,
sank in the English Channel because of an accidental
collision with a friendly British ship. 616 perished
in the icy waters that separate you from Great Britain.
Had these survived the journey from their motherland,
they would have served in French docks, handling the
materiel that was needed by the allied forces confronting
the German armies. Some would have served in the logistics
units that had to brave German fire to deliver food
and ammunition to the men who occupied the frontline
trenches of combat in a war that claimed so many lives
of the combatants on both sides of the conflict.
Some of their compatriots and ours are buried at a
cemetery at Bois dElville, near Longueval, and
others at the British military cemetery at Arques-la-Bataille.
The permanent domicile of these South African souls
in France communicates the message that our two peoples
are linked by bonds that are unbreakable.
In 1816, a century before these South Africans perished
on French soil, a young South African woman, Sarah Bartmann
had died in this city, having been brought here from
her country of birth, via Great Britain, to be displayed
to the public as a curiosity. I would like to convey
the sincere thanks of our people for the decision taken
by the National Assembly last year, to repatriate Sarah
Bartmanns remains to the country of her birth.
She has found her final place of rest above the Gamtoos
River, in the Eastern Cape province of our country,
where she was born.
But even earlier than Sarah Bartmanns forced
arrival in France, at the end of the 17th century, our
country had received Frenchmen and women forced to flee
from religious persecution in their own country. These
were the Huguenots, members of the Reformed Church established
by the Protestant John Calvin, who found refuge and
a new home in our country, contributing much to its
evolution, including a successful wine industry.
But, Mr President, as the Honourable Members of the
National Assembly are aware, like the people of France
in the 18th century, we too had to engage in struggle
to free ourselves from another tyranny. That struggle
took place over many centuries.
The first European to fall in an armed skirmish with
our people was the first Portuguese viceroy in India,
Dom Francisco de Almeida. This happened in 1510 in a
clash between Portuguese sailors commanded by de Almeida,
and the Khoi people among whom Sarah Bartmann belonged,
signaling the beginning of a conflict that finally ended
484 years later, in 1994, when our people gained the
liberty foreseen in the Declaration of the Rights of
Man of 1789.
It was therefore inevitable that we, the victims of
a pernicious system of racist white minority rule, which
considered and treated us as sub-human, would identify
with the French Revolution and draw inspiration from
what was done in this country which led to the solemn
declaration that Men are born and remain free
and equal in rights, which proclaimed the vision
of Equality, Liberty, Fraternity!
We have come to France carrying the knowledge in our
hearts that we are visiting an ancient people who, as
Maximilien Robespierre said, by sealing the work
with (their) blood
may at least witness the dawn
of the bright day of universal happiness. We have
therefore known that to visit France is to come among
friends and partners in the struggle to build a better
But the question we must answer together is whether
it is possible to build that better world! We come out
of Africa and therefore have no choice but to ask this
question. This is because our continent has great need
of its own dawn of the bright day of universal
The peoples of our continent, the Cradle of Humanity,
cry out everyday for a better life of hope rather than
despair. And yet millions wake up daily to a life of
seemingly unending poverty.
Millions have resigned themselves to a life of restless
nights and days of lethargy caused by empty stomachs.
Even where they only have water to fill the void, as
they drink they expose their frail bodies to water borne
illnesses. Millions are ravaged by diseases, which can
be cured or managed, but nevertheless envelope helpless
millions, imposing avoidable morbidity and early death.
They crowd together in urban slums preying on one another
through criminal misconduct, like beasts informed by
the instinct of the survival of the fittest, slowly
suffocating from the foul smell of the open sewers and
rotting piles of accumulating refuse and the stench
of poverty. The clean air and the quiet of the countryside
and the pleasing sights of nature hide a reality of
lives without hope.
Unable to read or write, they are imprisoned behind
an impenetrable wall of darkness that condemns them
ever to recede to the periphery of the human world,
as others advance in the continuous flight from ignorance
They can never be certain that tomorrow the guns will
not bark once again, portending death and added misery
as the poor engage in a bitter struggle to claim first
place in a scramble for scarce resources and opportunities.
They do not know whether the following day another soldier
will not elevate himself, assisted by the guns in his
hands, to proclaim himself the ruler who cannot and
shall not be questioned.
France is an important part of an historic European
process. This is the European Union which, already composed
of 15 countries, is set to be further enlarged with
the addition of 10 new members. Europe seems set on
an irreversible course towards integration.
The modern intelligentsia that emerged in Africa in
the 19th century began the movement towards African
integration and unity. Today this has found expression
in the African Union and its socio-economic development
programme, NEPAD. Together these two initiatives represent
Africas determined effort to achieve the vision
first projected more than a century ago. And because
of the example set by the EU, we have drawn on the European
experience to design our own Union.
For us integration and unity are matters of critical
importance. They are of central relevance to the African
struggle to defeat poverty and underdevelopment. Many
of our countries have very small populations and limited
possibilities to develop on their own, relying solely
on their resources.
Our own experience also tells us that development in
one country will inevitably attract people from other
countries as economic migrants. This is also facilitated
by the fact that very often, the colonial boundaries
we inherited have served to divide communities and families.
Taking all these factors into account, and conscious
of the imperatives dictated to us by our past, we have
as Africans decided that we must do everything we can
to determine our own future.
Accordingly, we are paying maximum attention to the
important issues of peace and stability, democracy and
human rights, poverty eradication, the improvement of
the quality of life of all our people, and, of course,
the political, economic and social integration of the
various African regions and the continent itself.
The progress towards peace and democracy made in such
countries as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi,
the Comores, Liberia and Sudan is an expression of Africas
determination seriously to address her challenges. In
this regard, we would like to express our appreciation
for everything the French government and people have
done to help us find solutions to the problems that
continue to afflict the Cote dIvoire.
In a months time, the Protocol enabling the establishment
of the Pan-African Parliament will come into force.
We expect that the first session of this parliament,
with members from all the African parliaments, will
take place at the headquarters of the African Union
in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January next year. This
will mark a decisive step forward in Africas efforts
to consolidate democracy and human rights.
Whatever the difficulties and obstacles, we will persist
in the effort to achieve Africas renaissance.
The gigantic effort in which we are engaged, to realise
Africas renewal and address the legacy of half-a-millennium
of slavery, colonialism and bad governance, may very
well require that our continent generates the popular
energies that gave birth to a democratic and republican
But it is also clear that it will be extremely difficult
for us to achieve our goal of the social and economic
renewal of Africa without the support of France and
the rest of the developed world. In this context, I
must express our deep appreciation for the G8 support
for NEPAD and the important role of President Jacques
Chirac in this regard.
Interestingly and instructively, the EU has long recognised
the difficulties that attach to the struggle against
poverty and underdevelopment, and taken the appropriate
steps to address this challenge. This is reflected in
the decisions to establish the Structural Funds and
the purposes for which these are expended.
As the Honourable Members of the National Assembly
are aware, some of these Structural Funds are used to
address the challenge of development in those regions
within the EU with per capita GDP below 75% of the EU.
A document of the European Commission on Regional Policy
says two words solidarity and cohesion, sum up
the values behind regional policy in the EU:
Solidarity because the policy aims at benefiting
citizens and regions that are in some way economically
and socially deprived compared to EU averages.
Cohesion recognizes that there are positive benefits
for all in narrowing the gaps of income and wealth between
the poorer countries and regions and the better off.
These days, thanks to the EU's structural policies,
prosperity and its fruits are much more widely distributed
around the Union.
But many old inequalities have not yet been eradicated
impact of these disadvantages is frequently evident
in social deprivation, poor quality schools, higher
unemployment and inadequate infrastructures.
Solidarity, economic and social progress and
reinforced cohesion were objectives all written into
the preamble of 1997's Treaty of Amsterdam. Article
158 of the Treaty reads "... the Community shall
aim at reducing disparities between the development
of various regions and the backwardness of the least
favoured regions or islands, including rural areas".
On June 17, 2003, European Commissioner Michel Barnier
presented a study on the impact of the Structural Funds
during the period 1994-99. Among other things, he said:
"The results of this study are further proof of
the added value of European regional policy. This policy
has contributed to growth, competitiveness and convergence,
helping the whole of the Union to take advantage of
the opportunities of Europe's single market.
The Structural Funds had increased the GDP in the less
developed regions by between 1.4% and 4.7%. 800,000
jobs were created in these regions with the support
of these Funds. 36,000 km of roads had been constructed
or improved. Support had been granted to 214,000 firms.
Over 8 million people had been trained to give them
market related skills. All manner of infrastructure
had been built covering a wide area, including educational
facilities, the environment and industrial sites.
Of interest also is the fact that the study indicated
that the direct impact of the Structural Funds in the
less developed regions was accompanied by positive indirect
returns to other Member States through higher imports
and increased trade. An earlier study had given a quantitative
estimate of the benefits that accrue to the rest of
the EU as a result of the development of the less developed
I am certain that we are of one mind that poverty,
including the worsening poverty in Africa, is the biggest
problem confronting the global community of nations.
It was because of this that the international community
adopted the UN Millennium Development Goals, the Monterrey
Consensus and the Johannesburg Plan of Action for Sustainable
To respond to this challenge in our own country, our
government has adopted policies similar to those represented
by the EU Structural Funds. Relying on the resources
generated by the developed sector of our economy, we
are implementing programmes to transfer some resources
to our own poorest and underdeveloped regions and communities.
But we can do this because of the presence within our
country of a relatively strong First World economy.
Not many other African countries have this possibility.
Accordingly, like the less developed regions within
the EU, to break out of the poverty trap, they have
to attract large resources transfers from elsewhere
in the world, given the much worse position in which
they are, relative to the less developed EU regions,
and the far fewer possibilities they have to depend
on the market for their development.
We are firmly of the view that global human society
disposes of sufficient capital, technological and intellectual
resources to defeat the scourge of poverty and underdevelopment.
But for this to happen is going to require that globally
we achieve a realignment of power and what Robespierre
called the empire of reason.
Reason tells us that it was correct for the European
Union to decide to intervene in the less developed regions
within the Union using public sector funds, since it
was clear that the market on its own would not be able
to solve the problem of underdevelopment.
Reason therefore also tells us that in our approach
to the challenge of African poverty and underdevelopment,
we should apply the same correct reasoning we have applied
to the less developed regions of the EU. Thus, we should
repeat, using the words of the European Commission:
Solidarity and cohesion, should sum up the values
behind policy of the developed world towards Africa:
solidarity because the policy aims at benefiting citizens
of a continent that is economically and socially deprived,
while cohesion recognizes that there are positive benefits
for all in narrowing the gaps of income and wealth between
the poor of Africa and we, who are better off.
The reality however is that the power to make and act
on this statement rests with those who either control
or have access to the resources that help the peoples
of Africa to extricate themselves from the gross indignity
of extreme poverty and underdevelopment.
All contemporary history communicates the message that
in many instances power is used to advance the interests
of the powerful, even to the point of the negation of
everything that reason suggests to be the right course
of action. To free the 800 million Africans from poverty
is to create great possibilities for the expansion of
the world economy, for the benefit also of those who
are better off.
Humanity has the resources to help the peoples of Africa
to end African poverty and underdevelopment. Some among
this humanity have the power to act to achieve this
result. Those in need of a demonstration of human solidarity
have no power to influence the decision to establish
International Structural Funds for their benefit. Those
with the power to take this decision face immediate
challenges of their own, resulting in driving the most
urgent challenge facing all humanity to the periphery
of global action.
Perhaps all this calls for our own Age of Enlightenment,
with its own Jean Jacques Rousseau. Perhaps, together,
we should cry out, as did Shakespeares Hamlet:
The world is out of joint, and together
take the decision that we will set it right.
Because we are speaking at this historic place, born
of a revolutionary upheaval that helped to change the
world, we can gather enough courage to ask of the representatives
of the people of France, the descendants of those who
had the daring to set afoot the events that began in
1789, that we join together to make the statement that
it is our ambition at last to witness the dawn of the
bright day of universal happiness.
I thank you for your attention.