Remarks by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the honourable
Ms Sue van der Merwe, at a Lunch for European Union Ambassadors, Pretoria, 22
Ladies and Gentlemen:
pleased to have been invited here to share my thoughts on a matter, which is close
to my heart, and that is the pursuit of multilateralism.
I believe that
at the heart of our relationships with others is a sense of reaching out. This
is both as a result of an almost natural (human) curiosity to get to know each
other - but also more than that, it is through a desire - an affinity if you like
- to see oneself as part of a wider world and to take on the practical responsibilities
that such a vision demands of us.
International space ought to be one that
is always opening up and out, re-organised and re-shaped to offer more possibilities
of freedom and genuine dialogue, with walls that do not represent hardening of
attitudes, but are permeable so that ideas can be exchanged between one way of
life and another, in this way building on to the whole. The difficulty for all
of us becomes of how to fashion these spaces so that we do not lose who we are,
yet gain more of who we are in the process of cultural contact and exchange.
Neil Ascherson tells us in an essay in the London Review of Books (24 May 2001),
"The international community, as we are still reluctant to call it,
is a cellular structure whose most obvious spatial component is the nation-state
For the moment, the political world we inhabit is a cellular honeycomb of nation-states,
though some cells are far bigger than others."
I have been reading
a book by Richard Hall called Empires of the Monsoon: A History of the Indian
Ocean and its Invaders, which recalls contacts between Asia and Africa from the
pre-colonial period to the colonial period.
In this book we learn how the
sea-captains of days gone by could not fathom why the monsoon happened, but nevertheless
they knew that the winds came on time, year after year, to fill their sails. They
knew how to use the monsoons to get from one place to another.
during the heyday of the Roman empire," we are told:
trade had existed with the East, conducted mainly by Greek mariners who had learned
how to use the monsoons. They brought back jewels, cinnamon, perfumes and incense,
as well as silks and diaphanous Indian cloth much sought after by the women of
Rome. But with the collapse of classical civilization in Europe, all the knowledge
acquired by the Greeks was lost to Europeans."
Hall ends the same
book by saying that:
"The monsoons no longer dictate when ships can
travel the Indian Ocean, yet their rhythms still pervade the lives of two billion
people throughout the Indian sub-continent and from East Africa to Malaysia. The
Indian Ocean is renewing its status as a 'zone of encounters and contacts' and
a 'crossroads of culture
"The challenge [he writes] of the next
century for the Africans will be to escape from this subservient relationship
with their Indian Ocean neighbours, to find an equal place in an arena where their
main contributions were for so long limited to ivory, gold-dust, leopard-skins
While this particular book focuses on the Indian Ocean
as a site of possibilities, I think the same goes for relations across the Atlantic
Ocean and for relations between Africa and Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.
How should we, even and maybe precisely because we do live in the throes of a
new information age, foster relations between countries that enable people and
nation states to renew themselves, to cultivate relations not of subservience
but of equality, not of racism but of a greater tolerance between people and understanding.
How indeed can Africa find an equal place in the world arena?
I yearn for
a time when encounters and cultural contacts between people across vast oceans,
mountains or seas, are characterized not by borders, barriers, body searches,
tariffs, toll-gates, duties, visas, passports, customs, checkpoints, walls and
electrical fences, but rather by mergers, movements, handshakes and hugs, a journey
of humankind walking hand in hand, statements of unity, acts of integration, moving
This may well be an impossible dream, and here the
words of the great Nelson Mandela come to mind- that it is "no easy walk
to freedom" but I think we ought to still maintain and boldly assert that
this dignified, righteous and good sense of a world community in the true sense
of the word is what we still ought to strive for.
As South Africans we managed
to transform our country from an outcast - a promoter of racism and reaction,
a force of destabilization and aggression, into a facilitator of friendship, a
promoter of peace, democracy, equality and social and economic progress not only
for ourselves but for our region and for the whole of the African continent.
encounter with each other, at a crossroads in our history, enabled us to make
a conscious, deliberate choice as a people and a nation. The choice we made was
the road of peace and sustainable development, dialogue not war, reconciliation
and not revenge. We chose to embrace the notion of unity in diversity, thereby
recognizing similarities and the need to work together, without being dismissive
of difference. We laid the foundations for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic
In fact the early years of the 1990s had already seen extensive
discussions and negotiations between different parties and people in South Africa
to reach common ground, to establish trust, to avoid conflict and to provide an
agreed-upon framework for the establishment of a new state. Without these processes,
arguably the transition to a new South Africa would not have been as peaceful
as it was and the ground would not have been prepared for the changes that were
This also necessitated that the transformation of society and of
the economy, should focus not only in changing the legislative framework and putting
in place new policies and implementation plans, but also that we carry out concerted
political processes to promote unity and to encourage reconciliation, that we
put in place mechanisms and set up independent institutions to safeguard freedoms
At first, we declared that we were the rainbow nation and later
this expression of purpose and identity was further enhanced when then Deputy
President Thabo Mbeki at the adoption of the New Constitution in 1996 asserted
that "I am an African."
Contrary to what some felt at the time,
this was not meant as an exclusion, but in order for South Africans to see themselves
with their feet firmly on African soil rather than looking northwards or eastwards
or westwards for that matter in search of an identity to adopt as their own.
African identity was also appropriate because in a larger context, our achievements
came in the last decade of the 20th Century, which witnessed the start of the
second wave of democracy to sweep the African continent. It was this second wave
that also co-incided with the culmination of our own liberation struggle in South
Africa and the holding of our first democratic elections in 1994 that ushered
in a new era for the people of this country.
This was an important step
towards cultural, social, political and economic integration from a new country
whose predecessor had for decades of apartheid rule considered itself as other,
that could exploit Africa as it wished.
I have said before and I wish to
say it again that: this fundamental change in identity was almost as if the country
had shed its skin and was now revealing its true self, beginning to articulate
its own values, its own systems of thoughts, re-thinking, re-shaping and re-fashioning
itself as an African nation. But part of this shift meant also refashioning itself
within an international space through its foreign relations.
Thus in the
international arena, it became necessary that as African countries we commit ourselves
jointly as governments and as civil society to work in continental and regional
structures to ensure a collective approach to good governance, to economic integration
and development and to a greater protection and enjoyment of all human rights,
including the economic, social and cultural rights of all our people.
Africa, we have embarked on a comprehensive transformation, reform and renewal
strategy that has as its over-arching objective to break the vicious cycle of
political instability, to address the lack of a human rights culture, to end poverty
and underdevelopment, and to improve Africa's capacity to defend and advance its
The key building blocks of this strategy have been increased
political unity and concerted action through the African Union (AU). In order
to give effect to these undertakings, a Peace and Security Council, African Court
of Justice, Pan-African Parliament and Economic, Social and Cultural Council have
been set up as organs of the AU.
But this must be seen in conjunction with
the accelerated socio-economic transformation through the macro-economic development
programme, namely the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) has been developed under the NEPAD process
in order to promote democracy, good governance and the attainment of peace and
stability. It reflects the commitment of African States to open their governments
to scrutiny and points to fundamental issues of credibility and sustainability
of policy reforms in a transparent manner.
The Pan-African Parliament in
particular launched last week in its permanent home in Gauteng is intended to
strengthen people-to-people interaction and to foster dialogue. What brings African
countries together in support of this (45 have already ratified the Parliament)
is the need to deepen and nurture democracy at a continental level, to avoid conflict
and to resolve problems through negotiations and settlements.
of the PAP include - among others - the promotion of the principles of human rights
and democracy in Africa; encouraging good governance, transparency and accountability
in Member States; promoting peace, security and stability and contributing to
a more prosperous future for the peoples of Africa by promoting collective self-reliance
and economic recovery. In the first five years of its existence, the PAP will
be advisory and not a legislative authority.
Thus far in its first week
of work, the Parliament has focused on rules and regulations, thereafter there
will be the establishment of committees. It is likely that the Parliament will
meet in another session later this year to consolidate its work. What has provoked
debate thus far is the matter of language and translation. This is of course a
fundamental issue that needed addressing before other matters on the agenda could
President Mbeki has aptly called this Parliament an "African
Parliament of Liberators". As the hosts of the PAP we have a responsibility
to create the best possible conditions for this assembly of the peoples of Africa
to carry out its work.
For us, this is only the beginning of a process.
The eradication of poverty and the attainment of prosperity are our long term
objectives. This is not only an African problem of course but one that the world
community has addressed and must continue to address.
I think that the
central task facing us is the cultivation of a multilateral milieu that is conducive
to the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment, one that can assist us in
the global fight against AIDS and other contagious diseases. We need to nurture
a multilateral milieu in which marginality ought to become a thing of the past,
where together we need to address terror, we need to come up with the best ways
to address the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). We need to be able
to guarantee peace and security for all and as continents and countries take collective
ownership of shaping a multilateral agenda for action.
Thus for us partnerships
are important - true engagement and authentic interaction, especially as new challenges
also emerge while other processes in Doha, Monterrey, Johannesburg and other important
gatherings attempt to re-think the direction that current globalisation processes
are taking. Specifically the Millennium Development Goals together with the Johannesburg
Declaration and the WSSD Programme of Action have given us a development agenda
for the world.
We are grateful of the support EU countries have given NEPAD
processes and the consolidation of relations through the Africa-Europe conferences
as well as support for peace-keeping missions on the African continent. Of course,
the expansion of the EU offer new challenges for us as it does for the EU itself.
It opens a bigger international arena of possibilities and new areas for
co-operation. Bilateral and multilateral relations ought to benefit from these
And as I said at the beginning of my address, what we need
is to open up the international space for interaction, for encounters, contacts
and crossroads of a wholly new kind.
I would be eager to hear about what
we can do together to enhance our own relations as South Africa with the EU countries,
as well as to create new opportunities and new sites for interaction and mutual
I thank you.