Opening Statement by the Deputy Minster of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Africa, Ms Sue van der Merwe, at the Senior Officials Meeting of the XIV Ministerial Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement Durban, 17 August 2004

"Challenges for Multilateralism in the 21st Century"

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

It gives me great pleasure, on behalf of the South African Government, to welcome you to the city of eThekwini, or Durban as most of you will know it, a city that from the time of the XII Summit onwards has become synonymous with many major decisions of our Movement. We do so with the expectation that our discussions here will take us further in defence of internationalism and multilateralism.

It is the critical agenda of our Movement and of this meeting that has compelled many among you to cross oceans and landmasses, to travel over vast distances and for great lengths of time, so that we can gather here today to make the tangible choices we have to make, here and now, to stem the tide of unilateralism and to improve the lives of the poor.

While we meet, our nations wait in anticipation. The world watches and the world's people eagerly await the outcomes of our discussions to know what we are doing to bring about the realisation of their dreams of a better world.

It is new challenges coupled with deep-rooted concerns that combine to make our meeting even more crucial than before and the discussions we have even more opportune.

We are confronted with a time in history characterised by new and emerging challenges for developed and developing countries - Doha, Monterrey, Johannesburg and other major international meetings have recognised that globalisation and liberalisation, even with all the merits associated with them, cannot be left simply in the direction of market forces and private financial flows, if they are to be truly progressive over the longer term.

At the same time new challenges on the international security front have also emerged with the tragic events of 11 September 2001. Powerful and dangerous forces have been unleashed through the international effects of economic globalisation on the one hand, and the threat of terrorism on the other. The net effect of this is that the marginalised amongst us thus become even more marginalised when those who have adopted extreme positions take advantage of the prevailing international turmoil to vent their own discontentment and xenophobia through acts of terror and intimidation.

Distinguished delegates

As we focus on the Challenges for Multilateralism in the 21st Century, let us bear in mind that the current configuration of the global system, structures and institutions have provided developed countries with the ways and means to pursue their own interests to the detriment of the interests of developing countries. Thus it should not have come as a surprise that development as a priority issue seems to have assumed a less central position on the international agenda. This has translated into growing marginalisation of the interests of developing countries.

Part of our struggle for the restructuring of the world system and for the development agenda to be paramount is our insistence on the pre-eminent authority of the United Nations General Assembly in world affairs. It is the only truly democratic forum in the multilateral system and it is our duty to make its relevance felt. The moral authority of General Assembly resolutions and decisions remain a powerful force in convincing all role players in disputes to take a different direction or for collective action to be taken on matters of world concern.

In the same vein, there is a growing tendency on the part of countries of the North to mount global "campaigns" against threats that are perceived and defined in the North but allegedly originate or are based in the countries of the South. This is done without the prior acknowledgement of the contributions of developing countries to both the definition and also the condemnation of these threats. These unilateral actions, disregarding the centrality of the United Nations Charter and international law, have become the flagrant response. This tendency is further exacerbated by the re-emergence of a type of state behaviour reminiscent of the colonial era, with the emphasis on greater interference in domestic affairs of states in the developing world.

Distinguished delegates,

The time has arrived for us to defend the principles of the Movement and to reaffirm the Movement's role in, and contribution to, contemporary multilateral affairs.

The whole arena of multilateral architecture is in urgent need of a practical and realistic re-formulation around key priorities. Therefore, as the theme of the Conference suggests, an important expectation of the outcome of this meeting is to pronounce on the role the Movement can play in strengthening multilateralism in the 21st century.

We must remind ourselves that the central task facing us remains the creation of a multilateral milieu conducive to the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment, root causes for so many of the other multilateral ills of the global village. We must create a milieu in which we can change the lives of our people for the better, whilst at the same time guaranteeing peace and security for all. The pursuit of these tasks requires that we take ownership of shaping a multilateral agenda for action.

The main elements of such an agenda have to a large extent been defined and determined by the outcomes of the recent global conferences, benchmarked by the historic Millennium Summit of the United Nations. However, events such as 9/11 and the war in Iraq have to some extent slowly eroded the political will revealed at the Millennium Summit. One of our tasks would therefore be to recapture the political will of the major players in order to restore global determination to create a better world for all.

Taking the initiative to restore and enhance the partnership with the North to augment the process of multilateralism imposes on us the responsibility to increase our political strength. Such strength is a necessary ingredient for strengthening our bargaining power in the relations between the developed countries and the countries of the South.

· Now is the time when our Movement ought to intensify its work towards the creation of a new people-centred world and an egalitarian world society. Now is the time when a heightened awareness of the threats to multilateralism through the imposition of unilateralism ought to galvanise us into concrete courses of action.
· Our conscience dictates that we strive for nothing less than self-determination. Thus the need to consolidate our political strengths is paramount.
· Our consciousness of the need to inculcate a culture of peace and stability in the world and the cultivation of a democratic world culture commands us to support the moral authority of the United Nations General Assembly in world affairs.
· At the same time it is our contention that the eradication of world poverty and underdevelopment will not become a living reality as long as rich and powerful countries determine the rules governing economic and trade relations which runs counter to the attainment of world prosperity.
· The re-writing of the rule-book that at present condemns the majority of the world's people to perpetual economic and social marginalisation and rewards the minority with infinite wealth is at the heart of the endeavours of this Movement.

Thus true to this Movement we have sought a dialogue based on true engagement and authentic interaction so to advance our cause. Furthermore, we are consolidating relations with each other so that our friendships, further strengthened through genuine co-operation, can bring about an enabling international environment in which the developing countries can begin to occupy their rightful space in the world.

Fundamental among our concerns are the current processes of globalisation and liberalisation that in effect create a wider gap between the rich and the poor of the world. At the same time, we have recognised that our task is not to flee from the global but to take on this new struggle for power, to organise ourselves in such a manner that we can assert ourselves in this new reality and to strategise so that we can put forward a renewed and re-energised focus on the need for an egalitarian world.

Our bargaining power and the process of inserting the question of development prominently on the multilateral agenda could also benefit from the activities of the mass movements of civil society in both developed and developing countries. The growing role that ordinary people can play in international public opinion and also their impact on the formulation of policy must therefore be taken into serious consideration as we attempt to strengthen the position of the South.

This also raises the important challenge of how governments, especially governments in the South, relate to the emerging prominence of civil society in international affairs. I believe it is essential that we also give due consideration to contributions of civil society to the ideas and policies of our Movement and its impact on our relations with the developed countries.

Distinguished delegates,

In conclusion, I wish you all success in your deliberations in the Committees of the Conference. It is my hope that you will conclude your work unified in the belief that the work of the Movement is not done unless universal peace and security are attained and when, and only when, poverty and underdevelopment are no longer the daily bread of the majority of men, women and children of the developing world

Together as governments and people, through championing the interests and aspirations of the South, it is indeed possible that the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved, that the full freedom of humanity can be advanced and that the dreams of our peoples can flower.

Beyond the confines of this meeting place, the people of the world watch and wait. Let us take out of this meeting concrete plans and tangible deliverables. Through this, and only through this, will we hold aloft the spirit of true internationalism and global solidarity and will there be real hope for the future of the world.

I thank you.

Quick Links

Disclaimer | Contact Us | HomeLast Updated: 17 August, 2004 4:17 PM
This site is best viewed using 800 x 600 resolution with Internet Explorer 5.0, Netscape Communicator 4.5 or higher.
2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa