Opening Statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Africa, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, at the South Africa-Africa Union-Caribbean Diaspora Conference, Kingston, Jamaica, 17 March 2005

Your Excellency, Most Honorable P.J Patterson, Prime Minister of Jamaica
Your Excellency, Minister K.D.Knight, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jamaica
Honourable Senator Delano Franklyn, Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica
Your Excellencies Ministers and Deputy Minister from Africa and the Caribbean
Your Excellency, Mr Carrington, Secretary General of CARICOM and Commissioner of the UN
Your Excellency Mr. Patrick Mazihaka, Deputy Chairperson AU
Honourable Colleagues, Ministers,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Caribbean and African scholars and intelligentsia
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
Comrades and Friends:

We are pleased to be among comrades and friends here in Kingston at this historic Conference, which marks yet another important milestone in the history of the African and Caribbean peoples.

Accordingly, may I extend our gratitude to the people and government of Jamaica for the hospitality extended to us, and the excellent arrangements made for this Conference.

We are gathered here today as friends who have taken some moments away from their busy day-to-day lives to reflect on our common origins and heritage, our shared struggles against slavery, colonialism and apartheid and also our common victories.

We are gathered here today also as a continuous quest for unity in action, a process started by our forbears many decades ago.

We have come together to affirm our identity as one people, because of our common origins. With Africa not only as our place of common origins, but also widely regarded as the Cradle of Humankind, today we can all say with conviction that African blood flows through our veins.

Some of us have come from the long African coastline from where our people were captured forcefully shipped off in chains to the Carribbean Islands. We are gathered here to pay homage to the multitudes who fought for freedom, the heroes and heroines who with determination, tenacity and unwavering courage cast this inhumane system of slavery into the dustbins of history.

We are also gathered here as combatants in the titanic struggle for peace, security and democracy and against underdevelopment and poverty.

We are also gathered here as friends who have shared challenges and a common destiny.

It was in 1994 that we gathered in Pretoria (now called Tshwane) as friends and witnessed the inauguration of the first democratically elected president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Some of us shed a tear or two on this occasion, because humanity had won against apartheid - a crime against humanity - and the Carribbean and the African continent had played an important role in this regard. We gathered there to share a common victory.

Accordingly, we have also gathered here in Kingston for the South African people to give thanks to you, for the victory in South Africa was as much a victory for the South African people as it was about the Carribbean people.

Vast oceans and great distances did not stop you from showing solidarity with us. The divisions that geography imposes upon people did not separate you from our cause for freedom. Instead the interconnectedness grew.

You stood shoulder to shoulder with us and formed a mammoth movement because you saw an affront to our dignity and humanity as an affront to your own dignity and humanity. The solidarity with the people of South Africa became a great global movement against black oppression and racism in the world.

Our presence in the Caribbean also gives us an opportunity to make our acquaintance with and salute such great heroes as Nanny of the Maroons, Tacky, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and of course Norman Manley. Accordingly, we remember all those gallant fighters from the Caribbean, who stood up against slavery, racism and oppression, among them the great Toussaint L'Ouverture, Marcus Garvey, Alexander Bustamante as well as Jose Marti, Simon Bolivar and Harriet Tubman. Yet they knew fully well that theirs was only a humble contribution in making the world a better place for Africans to live. They laid the foundations for all of us. Now it is our task to follow their lead.

The valiant history of these Africans stolen from their homes continued to be a guiding light to those Africans still on the continent dispossessed of their land. Thus on both sides of the Atlantic we wrestled hard to break the backbone of colonialism.

As the late President of the ANC, Oliver Tambo observed during his visit to Jamaica for the Peoples National Party Founders Day Banquet in July 1987:

" We make this tribute to your heroes, not to satisfy any formal requirements of protocol, but because we truly feel that these outstanding fighters belong to us as well. They are of that detachment of men and women whose example reaches beyond national boundaries and crosses the vast oceans to inspire all who are oppressed, to give hope and encouragement to those who are struggling.

"And what is it that specifically ties them to us? It is the vision that instructed their lives, that the voiceless can and must have a voice; that the downtrodden and the despised should have an unfettered right to shape their lives; that none has a prerogative to set himself up as God presiding over the destinies of others. These National Heroes of Jamaica and the Caribbean are tied to us because from these shores thousands of miles from our own, they stood up and even perished, to assert our own entitlement to a democratic future"

Of critical importance to note is as President Thabo Mbeki observed that "our common African history is replete with great feats of courage, demonstrated by the heroes and heroines and heroic peoples, without whose loyal attachment to hope and the vision of a bright future for Africa, her people would long have perished."

Indeed among these great feats of courage are:

  • That first victory of our brothers and sisters in Haiti. By 1804 the victory of the San Domingo Revolution was complete with the defeat of the Spanish, British and the French and the state of Haiti established.
  • The battle of Isandlwana of 1879 which saw the military brilliance in the great defeat of the most advanced army in the world at the time, the British army at the hands of the Zulu people.
  • The Battle of Adwa is another milestone because the Ethiopians under Emperor Menelik were victorious over the Italians in 1896 and the world saw it as a victory of Africa over Europe, which a historian describes as "a victory of freedom for Africans and other freedom-loving people in the rest of the world." The victory in Adwa inspired anti-colonialist movements, the formation of early African nationalism especially in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Cape, in America as well as in the Carribbean through Garveyism and through the Pan-African movement inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois.
  • The movement towards African Unity with the independence firstly of Ghana and the formation of OAU was another such defining moment where Africans on the continent and the diaspora sought to free themselves as a continent, knowing full well, as Kwame Nkrumah had pointed out, that each one's freedom depended on those of the others.
  • For us, the final defining moment that has brought us together is the victory of the African people, the Caribbean peoples and the progressive forces of the world over apartheid. It was the culmination of this struggle for national liberation that inspired all of Africa and the world and it helped to open the road for the second wave of the struggle for peace, democracy and sustained development to sweep the African continent. We all believe that a new Africa could arise and a new world emerge free of racial discrimination, oppression, conflict and poverty.

Chairperson and distinguished delegates:

This Conference owes its being firstly as a joint South Africa-Caribbean Diaspora Conference with a view to celebrating the historic feat of the defeat of that crime against humanity and to consolidate the already excellent and warm relations between our peoples.

The objective, however, grew in stature with the adoption of the idea by the African Union Heads of State and Government to strengthen links with the Diaspora as part of the renewal of the mother continent, Africa. We are grateful to our continental organisation, the AU, and glad that our African brothers and sisters are here.

Our humble view of this Conference is that this is part of the continuous dialogue that is an imperative between our two regions, and should extend to the rest of the African Diaspora and as part of the broader South-South dialogue.

We are gathered here as friends to share our thoughts on a whole range of issues in a world where the power balance has reached explosive disequilibria. The skewed accumulation of wealth, power, resources, and the unequal distribution of the benefits of globalisation have entrenched gross inequalities.

We are also gathered here at a time when climate change is real and its effects are felt across the globe resulting in devastating hurricanes and cycles of drought and flood. Natural disasters also continue to wreak havoc. The hurricane last year in this region took its toll on the people and on economic life - in fact this Conference would have been held in October were it not for the after-effects of this disaster.

The recent tsunamis also caused immense loss of lives and livelihoods. We need to acknowledge that the ability of people to recover is determined by their wealth. The rich can mitigate the effects of a disaster, but this is not the case with the poor. At a time when the harmony between us and nature is critical, we need to look at those who are most vulnerable and discuss what can be done.

Let us also use this opportunity to discuss matters arising out of the World Conference Against Racism and how as people of the Caribbean and Africa we should continue to fight racism in the world.

We are gathered here as friends also to determine how we can ensure that the youth of Africa and the Caribbean can constantly share ideas, their dreams and vision of their future. Most of them do not know each other's countries - at the moment what connects them is the music on both sides of the Atlantic. The sounds of the African drum have remained unchanged across the Caribbean, Brazil and the African continent. Since the youth possess the future, we must strengthen these ties and create opportunities for genuine social interaction.

Chairperson:

As the Guyanese British poet, Grace Nichols, has written in her poem "Epilogue" (from her poetry collection I is a long-memoried woman):

I have crossed an ocean.
I have lost my tongue.
From the roots of the old one,
a new one has sprung.

In this poem Nichols refers to the struggles of an African woman who has been enslaved and forced to cross the Middle Passage. In her newfound alienation this black woman has to re-invent herself. Her voice is one of defiance. Yet it is also her strength that comes across, the capacity to survive, to speak and to dream and to re-build a future.

Gathered here at a time when the entire world is reflecting on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals, we cannot help but play our part in this regard and paying tribute to the strength and resilience of women in Africa and the Caribbean.

In our history, women slaves had to try by all means to survive and to ensure that their children also survived. Women in Africa have for centuries been the main tillers of the land, producing all the necessary food for entire communities and have thus been responsible for food security. It is the women, who often against all odds, have been the bearers of culture and the nurturers of nature. It is the women who have been the mainstay of the informal economy and have turned market places into vibrant sites for community, culture and people.

We know that 70% of the world's poor are women and therefore the fight against poverty must take into account the feminisation of this poverty. There cannot be sustained development without the emancipation and participation of women and the empowerment of the girl child in particular.

We also need to ensure that the agenda for co-operation between the Caribbean and Africa has also at its centre the question of women's empowerment and their relation to social, economic and cultural development. We need to play our part as the Caribbean and Africa to ensure that the women of our regions are represented in government, in academia, in the judiciary and in the mainstream economy.

Among the issues that this Conference will address is also how to assist to eradicate poverty, how to use our collective strengths to make social and economic progress in the world economy and to confront the international financial, investment and trade regimes that favour developed economies, and as well as the UN reform and issues of integration etc.

All of these subjects will be discussed at length at this Conference. The real challenge is what do we do in terms of concrete actions and follow-ups and how to give practical content to our thoughts so that we advance our agenda of prosperity and development in practical ways.

Our unity is essential because alone we are weak, but together we are a united force; we can speak and act with the strength of one powerful voice.

The great leaders of Africa and the Caribbean tried to build a new world and it is precisely this task that we are grappling with in the present, that brings us here - to forge a new road ahead. Because only when we recognise the journey that we travelled in the past and the milestones in the present, shall we arrive at a new consciousness and know with certainty what needs to be done.

Let us proceed on this journey with hope that we shall succeed in our endeavours. I would like to conclude with the words of Senegalese poet, Paulin Joachim, with the lines that he wrote to a fellow poet David Diop

And it is true we are wounded at the lowest point of hope
But hope in us has never beaten its wing
It rises on our human horizons
Like a fresh unfolding bud
There lives in us unconquerable hope
Snapping at the wheels of freedom
In due course it hunts down with huge supplies of stones
Against the wall that will crack in the end
For we will not leave the smallest scrap to the demons of despair"

On that note, I thank you for making time to be here and wish you well in your deliberations.

I thank you.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
P/Bag X152
Pretoria
0001

17 March 2005

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