Address by Deputy President Zuma to the Workshop of the Burundi Women's Initiative South African Air Force Headquarters, Pretoria, 14 June 2004

The First Lady, Mrs Zanele Mbeki,
The Speaker of Parliament, Ministers, Deputy Ministers,
Members of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures,
General Siphiwe Nyanda,
Leaders of political parties,
Members of the diplomatic corps,
Representatives of the business and religious sectors,
Traditional leaders and traditional healers,
Distinguished guests,

Thank you for the opportunity afforded to me to interact with you today, as you deliberate on how to extend the co-operation between South Africa and Burundi.

We have, over the last few years, worked closely with our sisters and brothers in Burundi to achieve peace, stability and the restoration of democracy in that country.

It is therefore appropriate and timely that South African women should familiarise themselves with the Burundi peace process, and to find ways and means of working with their Barundi sisters to achieve peace and security in that country.

I must hasten to add that this initiative falls squarely within the objectives of our country, to work for peace and security in the continent.

Within the ambit of the AU and earlier of the OAU, we have become involved in various initiatives, including the prevention, management and resolution of conflict. We have also become involved in working for the socio-economic regeneration of the continent, through the elaboration of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

Our involvement stems from the belief that we should not be an island of relative tranquillity amidst suffering in our continent. It is our duty to assist where we can, to make the dream of an African Renaissance a reality. We are involved to achieve the vision of an Africa that is free from conflict, wars and famine, and an Africa that can exploit its resources for the benefit of all, to achieve prosperity and a better life.

The achievement of these objectives requires the participation of both men and women, and so far, the involvement of women has been somewhat minimal. The role of women is more important in activities relating to conflict resolution, especially given the huge impact of wars on women and children, including destitution, brutality such as rape, murder and famine.

The presence of women from various political persuasions and organisations at this meeting is a good demonstration that South African women appreciate the important role they need to play to bring about peace and stability. This effort must be encouraged, and we are pleased that a similar dialogue was organised between the women of South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo not too long ago.

With regard to Burundi, I must report that given the progress that has been made so far, we believe that there can be no turning back.

The next few months are going to be critical. The Great Lakes Regional Heads of State Summit held on 5 June in Tanzania has given a clear directive that the elections should go ahead as planned on the 31st of October 2004. This will usher in a democratically elected government, in accordance with the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of August 2000.

The implementation of the timetable leading to the elections is going to involve a lot of hard work for all the Barundi people. Some of the milestones in this regard include the institution of the Independent Electoral Commission, and the passing of the electoral law, the drawing up and passing of the post-transition Constitution and a communal law.

To further advance the peace process, I will on Thursday and Friday this week be in Burundi, as mandated by the recent Heads of State Summit, to help the Transitional Government of Burundi and the Burundi parties to reach agreements based on understanding and compromises, on outstanding issues relating to power-sharing.

The successful conclusion of the talks will hopefully contribute towards building certainty regarding the post-election political society that will emerge.

Regarding the security situation in Burundi, you would be aware that there is still an armed group that remains outside the peace process, the Palipehutu-FNL led by Agathon Rwasa.

Noting that the group continues to pose an obstacle to the peace process, and a threat to security and stability in Burundi, the June 5 Summit urged the AU Peace and Security Council to consider the activities of this group in light of the AU Constitutive Act, the AU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism and other relevant AU instruments and decisions, and to recommend appropriate political and legal action within three months.

The summit also urged that during the three month period, the Palipehutu-FNL should take advantage and join the peace process. I will make myself available should the movement choose to use this period to engage in serious negotiations.

I must emphasise that Burundian women have a very important role to play in the road ahead, leading to elections and beyond.

Therefore the planned dialogue between South African and Burundian women next month will be very important in advancing the peace process, and in promoting the participation of women in the peace process.

There are a number of outstanding issues that require the attention of the Burundian women, to contribute to the peace process.

Having borne the brunt of the war, women need to put pressure on the various political parties to implement the agreements they have signed, the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of 2000 and the three ceasefire agreements.

Women need to become visible in all formations and be part of preparations aimed at ensuring that the October elections are free and fair, and that they lead to a new democratic order in that country.

In addition, women should be part of the effort of ensuring that the post-election democratic order is sustainable.

The women of Burundi cannot afford to be passive; this is their future and the future of their children. At this critical stage in the history of their country, they should really make their voices heard through a number of forums and opportunities. For example, they could make their views known to the Great Lakes regional leadership, to the African Union and United Nations, who have representatives in Burundi, and also to the Facilitator.

Also requiring attention is the participation of women in resolving challenges such as the social impact of the Burundi conflict. Hundreds of refugees that are returning home require assistance.

There are also the challenges of the demobilisation and reintegration of combatants within communities, including the rehabilitation of former child soldiers who were part of armed groups.

As you deliberate today, you may also look at the issue of post-election reconstruction and development, the role women can play in this regard. This will also contribute to ensuring the sustainability of the democracy that will emerge after October.

There is therefore clearly a lot of work still to be done in Burundi, and we are pleased at this initiative, which will involve women from both South Africa and Burundi in the search for lasting solutions. We are confident that at the end of this workshop, you will arrived at a number of other interventions in which women could participate and make a difference.

Compatriots, let me once again thank you for joining this mission of achieving peace in our continent. I must truly commend Mrs Mbeki and colleagues for initiating this very important dialogue.

The building of solidarity between Burundian and South African women is a step in the right direction.

We wish you well in your discussions, and look forward to working with you on this project in the future.

I thank you

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