Address to the opening dinner of the All Africa Customs Union Conference,
26 January 2003

The Deputy Minister of Finance of South Africa, Mr Mandisi Mpahlwa,
The Secretary General of the World Customs Organisation, Mr Michel Danet,
The Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service, Mr Pravin Gordhan,
Esteemed delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me begin by welcoming all visitors to our beautiful country, especially those who are in South Africa for the first time.

We know, Programme Director, that even those who have been to this country before, feel as if it is their first visit each time they come here because this country has a lot of different things to offer.

I must say I feel privileged to be able to join you for this historic All Africa Customs Conference, which is the first meeting ever of the Heads of Customs Administrations of the African continent. This conference is indeed another indication that we are serious about transforming the manner in which we run our affairs as Africans.

The international trade environment has been rapidly changing, and customs administrations, like all other sectors, have to adapt and devise new ways of dealing with the challenges.

New developments in many fronts, including international security demands, put pressure on customs administrations to refocus and to strengthen security and many other aspects relating to this field of work.

The globalised drug trafficking, trade in counterfeit goods, money laundering and other schemes are among a few that African administrations need to be able to detect faster, prevent and eliminate.

This conference is therefore well placed to come up with the appropriate mechanisms that will guarantee the integrity of customs administration, and greater worldwide security, for the benefit of all our peoples.

Ladies and gentlemen, I must also add that this conference takes place during an exciting period of the rejuvenation of the African continent. Your deliberations, therefore, will no doubt add value to the collective wisdom we need to achieve a total rebirth of this continent.

When the African Union was launched in Durban, South Africa, in July last year, the landmark event once again confirmed to all of us that all aspects of our lives and all structures would need to be transformed to be aligned with the African Renaissance.

Taking over from the Organisation of African Union, which had done fairly well in its difficult task of building unity and the decolonisation of the continent, the African Union heralded a new beginning for Africa, an era which needed a new way of doing things, new institutions and a new way of thinking.

In May this year, the continent will be marking the 40th anniversary of the founding of the OAU. When we celebrate, we should be able to do so with a clear vision and determination of the future, and be able to make the founding fathers and mothers of an independent and free Africa proud.

We should, in our celebrations, be able to remember with pride the names of some of the great leaders of this continent, among them Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Pixley ka Seme, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and many others, as we are doing our best to implement their vision of building a better Africa.

We believe we indeed have reason to celebrate, for although we have not reached our goals yet, the way forward is clear to all. Some of the structures of the African Union, such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development, (NEPAD), are already way ahead in their work. This economic blueprint of the continent has charted the way forward with regards to the economic transformation and the road to sustainable development.

We should all make the NEPAD programmes succeed. In our different areas of operation, we can all find ways of contributing to its implementation. For example, we must provide a quality customs administrations, in tune with the demands of NEPAD and our vision for sustainable development.

Most importantly, ladies and gentlemen, all Africans, young and old, men, women and children, can and should contribute to the African Renaissance. An African parent must raise children who will be proud to be Africans and who will work for the good of the continent.

An African teacher should endeavour to produce citizens who will understand the values that the new Africa should promote and inculcate in its peoples.

Our academics, students, workers, politicians, farmers and Africans in every sector, should all do their work in a manner that puts Africa first and which promotes the vision of an African rebirth. The African expatriates should, when walking in the streets of London or Paris, be the best ambassadors for this continent in their words, actions and thoughts.

We also need to, as part of this rebirth, promote people-to-people co-operation among our respective sister countries. The African Renaissance should mean that Africans would not turn a blind eye to problems in neighbouring sister countries, especially those affected by conflict and wars.

You will agree with me, ladies and gentlemen, that it is of utmost importance that we work earnestly to prevent, manage, resolve and eradicate conflicts in the continent, if we are to achieve the stability and prosperity we desire.

The strengthening of peace and security mechanisms is therefore critical.

You would be aware that South Africa is actively involved in a few peace initiatives including in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As we speak, President Mbeki is in Paris, in his capacity as chairperson of the African Union, where he is attending the special Summit of Heads of State on the situation in Cote'd Ivoire. He is among those leaders who do not just theorise about the African Renaissance, but who is doing a lot in practice to realise this revival.

This weekend here in Pretoria, we are pleased to be hosting discussions between President Pierre Buyoya of Burundi and the leaders of three armed movements opposed to his government, Mr Pierre Nkurunziza and Mr Jean Bosco Ndayikengurukiye, who each lead different factions of the CNDD-FDD movement, and Mr Alain Mugabarabona who leads Palipehutu-FNL.

The talks, which began on Saturday, are focused on discussing the detail of implementing cease-fire agreements that the Transitional Government of Burundi and the armed movements signed in October and December last year.

Whilst the talks are still continuing between Mr Nkurunziza and President Buyoya, we are happy to report that the negotiations between President Buyoya and the other two leaders, Mr Ndayikengurukiye and Mr Mugabarabona, were concluded positively last night.

The three parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the implementation of the cease-fire agreement earlier this evening in Pretoria and are ready to implement the agreement.

We are optimistic that the discussions between President Buyoya and Mr Nkurunziza will also yield positive results.

The resolution of the Burundi conflict is urgent. We stand ready to assist, through various ways, including the pending deployment of the African Mission force, which will be responsible for the verification and monitoring of the cease-fire agreements. As you may have heard, the African Mission will be constituted by troops from Mozambique, Ethiopia and South Africa.

I am sure you join me in wishing our Burundian brothers and sisters well during this phase. They have gone past the milestone of signing the agreements.

The implementation phase should now be made to lead to the end of the war and suffering of the Burundian people.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me reiterate that this continent is on the right track and the number of good news stories coming out of Africa gives us hope. One such good news story is the new trend of a peaceful changeover in governments. The recent successful elections in Kenya were another example of a new way of doing things, of letting the will of the people prevail.

Colleagues, step by step, we will achieve our objectives if we continue to work together to meet the demands of our time, as is happening in this conference. The programme of this conference alone bears testimony to the fact that you have identified the right priorities and challenges.

I wish you courage, strength and wisdom as you deliberate on all these critical issues on your agenda.

In addition, please do enjoy your stay in this southern tip of Africa.

I thank you.

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