Opening Remarks by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Africa, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, on the Occasion of the Asian-African Sub-Regional Organisations (AASROC) II Ministerial Conference, Durban, 20 August 2004

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

On behalf of the Government and the people of South Africa, I am pleased to welcome you all to the city of Durban.

Our meeting here today is part of the process of renewing relations between the governments and people of Asia and Africa. This gathering is also a recommitment to inter-continental co-operation, to sharing matters of common concern as well as arriving at common positions of how in practical terms the peoples of our two continents can be brought closer together. Through these interactions, we hope to enhance our economic, political, social and cultural well-being. This meeting is also borne of the reality that so many of our people are still suffering and that, in coming together, we shall find more enduring ways to win the struggle against poverty, disease and under-development.

The late Palestinian writer and intellectual, Edward Said, in his seminal study Culture and Imperialism, makes the following observations that I think are relevant to us today:

"No-one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman or Muslim, or American [or African if I may add] are no more than starting points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of identities and cultures on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively white, or black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities."

"No-one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things."

I think that the words of Said still ring true more than a decade after he first wrote them. Even as we embrace our differences, let us at the same time recognise our sameness and celebrate our togetherness. Our distinctive identities are only starting points towards a greater unity of humanity. Our surviving and also our thriving in this world depend upon us making connections and networks that will bode well for our common future.

Those who would wish to keep us as divided nations seek to continue the polarization of the world community and fan the fires of prejudice. But we must strongly reject these prejudices and stereotyping for what they are and build a new world where men, women and children live together in peace and harmony irrespective of the differences between them.

As Africans and Asians, we ought to tell the world that we do indeed have a long tradition of working and living together and that it is this history that now inspires us even in the 21st Century to reach greater heights of co-existence and co-operation.

The spirit of the historic Bandung meeting of 1955 is with us as we meet now to re-engage and re-consolidate the ties that have bound us over the last fifty years, bonds both imposed upon us through colonialism but also through friendships of our own making and as a result of our respective freedom struggles.

Ladies and Gentleman

Let us use this meeting to further concretize our thoughts regarding the establishment of the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP) that we all desire, to set out the modalities and objectives of the NAASP and to identify concrete areas of collaboration.

Such a strategic partnership has the potential to be the collective expression of the desires and dreams of the countries of two continents. This meeting must strive towards making the NAASP a powerful vehicle that can help to stem the tide of the marginalisation of our peoples and of our regions in the politics and economics of the world. This initiative can empower us to transform our reality for the better through the sharing of knowledge and the exchange of experiences and best practice so as to identify new opportunities for trade and investment, for youth engagement, for promoting and cementing social and cultural relations among others.

While the First AASROC Conference last year set the stage for our partnership, our Ministerial Working Group meeting in March this year bore fruit in helping to clarify the contribution of Asian-African Sub-Regional Organisations towards the new strategic partnership by outlining broad areas of co-operation, as well as discussing structures and time frames.

Distinguished Delegates

The regional and sub-regional organisations of Africa and Asia, whilst in various stages of evolution and development, are clearly fundamental pillars to underpin sustainable socio-economic development and growth. The African Regional Economic Communities are building blocks of the African Union and the prime implementing agencies of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

Therefore, this partnership must work in tandem with efforts to implement NEPAD, as well as with existing institutional ties between Africa and Asia. We also need to locate the new partnership firmly within the context of a wider South - South co-operation and our present endeavours to establish an alliance for progressive change.

The fact that some of the world's largest and fastest growing economies are to be found in our two regions is not reflected in our positions on the global economic and political stage. It is clear that we need to continue to work together, sharing resources, expertise and experience, in order to reap the full benefits that can result from such a relationship.

Our history and our present demand of us that we move beyond our differences and unite in action for a better future and a better life. The 50th Anniversary of Bandung beckons and also urges us into action. Let us do all we can to make this anniversary one worth waiting for - that it truly becomes an opportunity for us to demonstrate concrete progress in our plans and to show that we are well within our time frames. Thank you for your attention and I wish you well in your deliberations.

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa