Remarks by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the honourable Ms Sue van der Merwe, at the Tsunami Benefit Dinner of the National Independent Halaal Trust, Lenasia, 26th January 2005

Your Excellencies
Member of the Diplomatic Corps
Honourable Members of the business community
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

On behalf of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address you at this benefit dinner.

I believe this meeting is not simply a fundraiser but also a statement and show of solidarity from the people of our country to the people of the countries that experienced the worst destruction as a result of the tsunamis and to the families of those from other countries throughout the world who lost their loved ones.

Let me begin by saying that in the recent history of the world, the last five hundred years or more, we have been fascinated by the histories of people who live alongside big rivers and oceans and who have prospered through fishing and trade and who have developed fishing industries and great maritime empires on account of their geography and vantage point in the world.

Our interest has also been because a river or an ocean is often both a barrier and a bridge because its also offers the possibility of connection and interaction. In other words, an ocean can separate one people from another and that space which belongs to neither one nation nor another is a place at which interaction happens, new ideas and products are exchanged, resulting in new ways of life, greater diversity and understanding and possibly cultural coalescence.

The Indian Ocean in particular has been one that has played a great role in human history - from the early, precolonial days sailing ships from as far afield as China using the monsoon winds even traded with East Africa. Ancient trade patterns were determined by the seasons, the winds and the tides. Then in the days of colonial plunder, the Indian Ocean became a gateway from the Cape in the South of Africa to India and beyond in search of gold, spice, silk and precious gems and metals that would in turn enrich the countries of Europe.

Many a European company flourished as a result of goods gathered, plundered, sold and stolen from indigenous peoples and transported by ship back to the European metropoles and economic heartlands. It is only in recent years that new trade routes are being initiated and renewed from the days of old that will be of mutual benefit to the peoples of the East and of Africa. Through initiatives such as AASROC and IBSA, we are renewing these relations to benefit the people of Asia and Africa and more generally, the people and countries of the South. Today, despite air travel and the Internet, the sea, the ocean, remain as sources of life and livelihood and means of transportation.

But those same oceans so rich in human history and teeming with aquatic life on which we survive can also be sites of great destruction, as we have only too recently witnessed. Even in this day and age, we are now painfully and acutely aware, of the devastation that the tsunamis have wreaked on entire coastal populations in so many countries.

Thus, in the midst of our holiday season, when the news of the devastation left by the tsunamis came to our country, our hearts went out to all those people in Asia and in Africa who had been affected by the floods.

Our hearts went out to those who had survived the tragedy and those who were bereaved as a result of the loss of family and breadwinners, homes and livelihoods as a result of the quake and resultant floods.

Our hearts especially went out to the children who had experienced such great devastation in such a short space of time and whose lives would forever be changed as a result.

Today's newspapers us tell about a father and a daughter who have only just been re-united with each other - a month after the floods - for up until this point in time neither of them had known about each other's existence of whereabouts. It is these true narratives that help to uplift us, but the tragic events leading to those who now are orphans and poverty-stricken ought to also get our attention and the affected people our help.

Our hearts went out to our fellow South Africans who had been caught in the midst of this disaster and especially to South African families who lost relatives in this disaster.

We should also use this occasion to remember those who have died, to pay our respects to them and to ensure that they occupy a special place in our hearts.

I also wish to use this opportunity to reassure you that all South Africans who were unaccounted for, following the Tsunami tragedy, have now been located.

Our Minister yesterday in a press statement announced that all those previously unaccounted for have now been found safe and sound:

A total of 2900 South Africans were in the South East Asia Region during the Tsunami tragedy. As a result of the work of our Foreign Ministry Consular Services together with families in South Africa, through the Thai authorities and Interpol, South Africa has managed to trace the whereabouts of 2896 of its citizens. Of these, 11 lost their lives. Now only 4 are unaccounted for and our Consular Services in Thailand and Pretoria continue to work closely with Interpol to trace these missing people. We are still awaiting the outcome of DNA processes initiated by the Thailand authorities through their Victim Identification Processes.

Minister Dlamini Zuma has extended the government's gratitude to all the families whose relatives were designated as unaccounted for because they offered valuable assistance and co-operation as we tried to trace their relatives and displayed tremendous patience and understanding of the seriousness and difficulties of the situation at hand.

As the South African government, we have formed an Inter Ministerial Task Team on Disaster Management under the leadership of Minister Sydney Mufumadi that has considered proposals for a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to relief assistance for countries affected by the Tsunamis and has participated in international meetings dealing with the devastation and what the international community should be doing.

On her recent visit to Helsinki, our Foreign Minister also canvassed Nordic countries for their support in the establishment of an early warning centre in the Indian Ocean to prevent the recent tragedy from recurring in the future.

The importance of putting Early Warning Systems in place cannot be underestimated and it should be welcomed that Asian nations have been meeting yesterday and today in Beijing on setting up an Early Warning System.

On Saturday the Thai government will be a hosting a ministerial level meeting on Early Warning Systems that will feed into an officials' meeting in March under the auspices of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation.

On our part, it should be noted that for some time we have been both enhancing and developing a Early Warning System for the SADC region which will, amongst others, attempt to predict natural disasters.

Today's occasion also offers us the opportunity to thank NGOs and the private sector for their support of the survivors of the tsunami disaster and for reconstruction.

The National Independent Halaal Trust must be praised for its efforts to host this dinner for the benefit of the survivors of the tsunami waves in both Asia and Africa and for interacting with the private sector to get the support of individual companies in this fund generating exercise.

I believe that in principle and in practice it is our duty as people of South Africa, Africa and the South to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering in the wider world. It is only through seeking the ways and means of meeting the needs of the world's people and through succeeding in our endeavours, that we can say we are truly building a people-centred society and a more humane and caring world.

The recognition that I am my brother's keeper should prevail, that our neighbours are part of our household and not a separate species, that even across mountains, seas and vast oceans, we must extend the hand of friendship and in this way bring humanity closer together.

As South Africans we are only too acutely aware of how our struggle for freedom and our liberation has depended not only on our ourselves but also on the solidarity of progressive governments and ordinary people throughout the world who donated their funds and lobbied their governments so that the South African people could be free from apartheid.

It is this striving for a better Africa and a better world that should be at the heart of our national project to end poverty, to improve the quality of life of our people and the people of the world and to strive towards a more egalitarian society.

In global terms, we should continue to work towards the breaking of the divide between North and South, between the metropoles of the North and the underdeveloped and marginalised regions of the South. Our efforts should be geared towards working towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals in general and the implementation of the NEPAD projects in particular at both national and international levels.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sure you will agree that the tsunami waves that moved at immense speeds demonstrated nature at its most destructive and that this destructive power was unleashed upon us.

Let this world disaster, tragic as it is, give us renewed energy and commitment in our collective and creative powers to improve the lives of the world's people.

The American poet, Walt Whitman in his poem Years of the Modern asks a pertinent question that we should all ask ourselves even in our day and age. He writes:

What whispers are these O lands, running ahead of you, passing under the seas?

Are all nations communing? is there going to be but one heart to the globe?

I think that this gathering tonight of concerned organisations and individuals and the funds generated by this event suggest that indeed our hearts are working together as one and indeed there is hope for a future that, in Whitman's words, demonstrates "one heart to the globe."

The Ministry and Department of Foreign Affairs will continue in its efforts to build our relations as a young South African nation with others. We shall continue to support a multilateral approach to world affairs and we shall continue to help end the plight of the suffering in the world wherever they may be.

As government and people, let us work together in our solidarity efforts and continue to do all we can to assist the people and countries devastated by the earthquake- generated tsunamis.

I thank you for your time.

Issued by Ronnie Mamoepa on 082 990 4853

C/o Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

26 January 2005

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