Address by the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, to The Joint Sitting of Parliament, Palais Du Parliament, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, 1 December 2005

Your Excellency, Speaker of the National Assembly, Jean-Pierre Thystere-Tchicaya,
Your Excellency, Speaker of the Senate, Ambroise Noumazalaye
Honourable Ministers
Honourable Members of Parliament and Senators
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

I am very pleased and honoured to be afforded this privilege of addressing the Joint Sitting of the Houses of Parliament of the Republic of Congo.

Once more, I wish to use this opportunity to thank the Government and the people of this country for the support you lent to our struggle against apartheid and for the contribution you made to ensure that as South Africans we have the possibility to build a democratic order.

Indeed, as His Excellency, President Sassou-Nguesso said last night it was in this very city that in 1986 the Organisation of African Unity launched the Africa Fund which played a critical role in mobilising the necessary resources that enabled us to defeat colonialism and apartheid. We are indebted to the Congolese people who, even in the face of the desperate resistance of colonialism in Angola, stood by the sister people of that country until they gained their freedom.

This principled struggle against apartheid and colonialism led among other landmarks in Africa's struggle for freedom to its hosting of the negotiations that brought together Angola, apartheid South Africa, the United States of America and Cuba, which resulted in the adoption of the Protocol of Brazzaville that paved the way to the independence of Namibia.

We are indeed happy that we have come to you, our brothers and sisters, to further strengthen these bonds of solidarity. Since we have worked together to defeat apartheid and colonialism, we have a duty to join hands, once more, to overcome the twin challenge of poverty and underdevelopment.

In this regard, our visit here is aimed at building a partnership for development for the mutual benefit of our two countries and peoples. By the time we depart from this sister country later today, we believe that we will have elaborated a focused programme of work defining in concrete terms this partnership for development.

This vision spans various sectors, namely, the improvement of the physical infrastructure, trade, mining, energy, agriculture, education, health and culture. As far as physical infrastructure is concerned, we have together recognised the importance of improving air, river, maritime, road and rail transport. In this context, the rehabilitation of the airport infrastructure here in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, which are major ports of entry into the Republic of Congo, should be a major point of focus.

Coupled with this is the related need to rehabilitate secondary airports so as to create hubs thereby spreading development across the territory of this country. Furthermore, we have agreed that South Africa will train air traffic controllers and assist with the reconstruction of technical facilities in the field of air navigation.

Concerning river transportation, we will work together to improve and expand the harbour and help modernise capacities in related services. This will also include assisting with the dredging of sand at the port of Brazzaville.

Part of our common strategy includes the building of development corridors, for instance the rehabilitation of the national road between Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. We also support the decision to submit to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the project for the construction of a bridge linking Brazzaville and Kinshasa.

As far as mining is concerned, the South African Council for Geosciences will soon be undertaking geological surveys with a view of identifying the mining potential zones across the length and breadth of this country. This should be accompanied by a programme of building capacity in the mining sector.

Clearly, one of the key drivers for development in this country is energy. As we know, the Republic of Congo is endowed with vast water resources which, among others, should be converted into hydro-electricity. In this regard, we are ready to contribute expertise for the modernisation of the Djoue hydro-electric power station, the relaunching of the pre-paid meter system, the construction of the micro-electric power stations of Mbama and Liouesso and the provision of solar panels.

As we all know, development cannot take place without education. In this regard, we are ready to avail our institutions of higher learning to students coming from the Republic of Congo. Within the context of our health agreement we will strengthen co-operation with the Folateng hospital in Johannesburg and with the national centre for generic essential medicines as well as building of capacity of referral hospitals.

As part of our joint efforts to stabilise the internal security situation, the South African police service will share experiences and exchange information with their Congolese counterparts. Again, given the importance of agriculture in our partnership for development, South Africa is ready to avail its expertise in the farming and processing of agricultural produce.

All these programmes will take place within the framework of the General Co-operation Agreement which was signed by our two foreign ministers in 2003. This Co-operation Agreement makes provision for the establishment of a Joint Bilateral Commission, which should drive this partnership.

In order to reinforce our co-operation, we will later today sign five agreements in the fields of trade, health, culture and foreign affairs.

Honourable speakers,

Adam Hochschild writes in his book, ,'King Leopold's Ghost,', that "When Europeans began imagining Africa beyond the Sahara the continent they pictured was a dreamscape, a site for fantasies of the fearsome and the supernatural. Ranulf Higden, a Benedictine monk who mapped the world about 1350, claimed that Africa contained one-eyed people who used their feet to cover their heads. A geographer in the next century announced that the continent had people with one leg, three faces, and the heads of lions. In 1459, an Italian monk, Fra Mauro, declared Africa the home of the roc, a bird so large that it could carry an elephant through the air.

"In the Middle Ages, almost no one in Europe was in a position to know whether Africa contained giant birds, one-eyed people, or anything else. Everyone knew that as soon as you passed the Canary Islands you would be in the Mare Tenebroso, the Sea of Darkness.," (P6, Ibid)

Yet, despite these scary stories that they had about Africa, we know that the Europeans eventually sailed south, came to these shores and other areas of the continent and perhaps because they expected to find serpents as well as incarnations of the devil himself, when they encountered Africans they treated us like creatures out of their dreamscape, out of a ,'site for fantasies of the fearsome and the supernatural'.

As a result, both the modern Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo experienced some of the worst atrocities, especially from 1889 when the inhabitants of these states, under the Belgians and the French were subjected to some gruesome bloodshed.

The atrocities were occasioned by both the racism of the colonisers as well as their avarice in the face of the natural riches with which this region is endowed. As Honourable Members know, that from 1889 to 1910 this country was administered primarily by French companies that held concessions to exploit rubber and ivory resources.

Like in the other Congo under the Belgians, there were in this country 'scandals over the decimation of the African population through forced labour', which led to protests by the heroic African people in the then French Congo. These atrocities continued until in the 1930,". (http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/world/A0857525.html)

In most parts of the Congo Basin the plundering of the rain forests while gathering rubber and timber, included chilling accounts of killings for those Africans who dared to resist the pillage of their land by foreigners.

I am referring to this part of the history of this country and the neighbourhood because this is one of the regions on our continent where we are faced with the major task of entrenching the permanent peace and security to which the masses of the people are entitled. Clearly, coming from this brutal history, as Africans, we have a special responsibility to spare our people the unnecessary pain of further wars and conflicts whose indecencies were inflected on the people during the colonial period.

In this regard, I am glad that I can today visit the Republic of Congo at a time of peace because we all know, as this generation of Africans, that we have to do more and work harder to banish from Africa the scourge of wars and conflicts which have disfigured our countries and continue to destroy our efforts to bring about development and a better life to our people.

Accordingly, the progress made in this country towards peace and stability is an encouragement to all of us who are determined to ensure that our countries should concentrate on the matters that are important to our people, which are the fight against poverty, against disease and against underdevelopment.

I have no doubt that all of us assembled in this hallowed House as well as millions of Africans in the Republic of Congo, in South Africa and in the entire continent, are determined that our countries and continent should no longer be defined by conflict and war, by poverty, by hunger that has become synonymous with our existence.

Accordingly, we made a common pledge, through the African Union (AU) and its development programme, the NEPAD, that we shall spare neither strength nor effort to make Africa peaceful and stable; to make our countries, individually and collectively, developed and prosperous; to build and entrench democracy and the rule of law; to respect human and peoples rights and develop the talents and potentials of our people so that they too, can stand tall as equals among the peoples of the world.

To achieve all these, we rely, among others, on the leadership of the Republic of Congo gathered here and your counterparts in the sister African countries to help honour the commitments we have made through the AU, whose central objective is to pull the African people from the morass of poverty and underdevelopment, while pursuing the noble goal of African unity.

Honourable Speakers,

We share the same vision of embracing peace and stability across our continent and indeed, across the world. In this regard, I wish to thank you for the role that your country is playing in this Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) and the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC). In particular, we wish to express our profound appreciation for the important contribution that you have made to restore peace and stability in Sao Tomé and Principé, in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I am confident that I speak for many Africans when I say we are deeply thankful to you. These are the same challenges of peace and security facing our African compatriots especially in Cote d,'Ivoire and Sudan. As part of the mandate given to South Africa by the AU, we are ready to do whatever is necessary to work with our brothers and sisters in these countries to achieve the related goals of peace, stability, national unity and democracy.

Honourable Members,

I am confident that we all agree that we have to act together urgently to accelerate the reform process of the United Nations (UN), taking into account our responsibility to strengthen the multilateral system.

Further, as are aware, later this month, the ministers of trade will meet in Hong Kong to chart a way forward with regard to global trade agenda. In this regard, our strategy is predicated on the Doha development agenda, which, among others, seeks to improve market access for products from the developing countries as well as eliminate trade distorting subsidies especially in agriculture.

Following the holding of the Conference in Djakarta, Indonesia to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bandung Conference that gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement, we have a special responsibility to ensure the implementation of Africa-Asia partnership within the context of enhanced South-South co-operation.

Honourable Members,

There was a time when there were those who regarded the pursuit of democracy, human and peoples' rights as well as the rule of law as alien concepts to Africans. This is and was always incorrect, because our own struggles against colonialism and apartheid have been struggles against undemocratic systems of governance, against the denial of our human and peoples' rights, against disrespect for the rule of law.

Indeed, the masses of our people, across the continent, engaged in titanic struggles to change these undemocratic and autocratic systems. Today, as before, these masses want nothing less than the right to determine their own destiny and participate fully and democratically in processes of governance.

These masses want nothing less than for their human and people rights to be respected; they want nothing less than for their governments to govern properly, to use state resources for the development of the people and to live in conditions of peace and security.

All this is now reflected in the Constitutive Act of the AU, which was approved by our parliaments and enjoins all member states to respect and pursue these values. Like the Republic of Congo, we too are determined to do everything possible to honour the commitments we have made as members of the AU.

It is therefore in our own interest, as Africans, that we should strengthen institutions of democracy, such as these Houses of Parliament. It is in the interest of the millions of Africans for us to empower our parliaments and other institutions of democracy to be effective in their work so that they can better assist to accelerate the process of development in our countries.

In this context, it is important, for all of us, to do whatever we can to strengthen the Pan African Parliament and ensure that this premier continental gathering of African representatives discharges its responsibilities as it should and helps further to entrench the culture of democracy in all our countries.

Furthermore, in part, our underdevelopment arises from the fact that for many centuries there has not been sufficient investment of education and training in our people, especially among women and youth. The result is that we have an army of millions of disempowered people whose lives are defined by hopelessness.

Clearly, we have to work together to concentrate on improving the levels of education and the overall human resources development. This means, in part, paying particular attention to expanding access to primary and secondary education.

This challenge also include, among others, giving special attention to the reduction of poverty among women and establishing programmes that focus on specific issues faced by poor women. Naturally, we must pursue these objectives within the context of the pursuit of the central objective of the emancipation of the women of Africa.

Today, the 1 December, is World Aids Day. As millions across the world observe this day, we should renew our commitment to redouble our efforts to attend comprehensively to the health challenges facing our continent, including AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition, and so on.

Again, one of the factors contributing to our poverty and underdevelopment is our inability to use our own resources for the development of our countries and peoples. For far too long have our resources enriched the countries of the developed North while we continued to live in poverty.

Until such time that we, as Africans, take bold and practical steps to pull ourselves from the debilitating state of underdevelopment, the current position cannot be altered.

In this regard, the NEPAD offers the best possibility to free ourselves from the scourge of underdevelopment and chart a path towards shared prosperity.

Honourable speakers,

This country is blessed with some of the most important rain forests on our continent. We are very happy that President Denis Sassou-Nguesso took the initiative to convene the Congo Basin Summit, which created the framework for the sustainable development of this global resource, especially in the context of the serious challenges posed by global warming and climate change.

The Republic of Congo, working with its neighbours, can and should lead Africa with regard to pursuing a strategy for nurturing these resources and using them for our own development as well as preserving them for all humanity. I have no doubt that NEPAD, among others, should work to ensure the successful implementation of the decisions taken at the Congo Basin Summit.

Your rain forests are an important part of our lives as observed by John Reader when he says ,ÄúThe tropical rain forest is a secretive place. Like a protecting veil, a vast green canopy conceals its mysteries from prying eyes and an awesome tangle of trees, shrubs, vines and creepers deters those who would trespass in its domain.

But through secretive and forbidding, the tropical rain forest throbs with primeval essence of life on earth. Through countless millennia, it has stood wherever warmth and moisture were sufficient, expanding and contracting with the changes of climate but always preserving a precious store of life,Äôs diversity at its core.

Unchanging in form while varying in size, the tropical rain forest stands as an icon of the stability and equilibrium of nature ,Äì an anchor for the spirit in a rapidly changing world.," (P89, A companion to Africa, John Reader)

Indeed, in the Republic of Congo there is sufficient warmth and moisture for all of us to come back and through our common efforts ensure that we will always find an unchanged landscape whose varying size stands as an icon of stability whether political or environmental so that from this central place on our continent we are able, together, to accelerate the renaissance of Africa.

Thank you very much for giving us the honour to share a few moments with you.

Thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency

1 December 2005


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