Toast Remarks of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki,
at the Official Dinner in Honour of HE Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United
Nations, Tuynhuys, Cape Town, 14 March 2006
Your Excellency Mr Kofi Annan,
esteemed Member of the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo and Mme Nane Annan,
members of the delegation of the Secretary-General,
Deputy President of our
Republic Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Excellencies Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
ladies and gentlemen
The natural order of things permits that only a few
human beings ever have the possibility and responsibility to lead the global family
Through the ages, many who have had this possibility have derived
their authority from the coldly brutal ability of their nations to impose their
will on the peoples of the world, because of their irresistible economic and military
As Secretary-General of the United Nations, we and billions of others
throughout the world have, for many years, looked up to and accepted you as our
leader, ever ready to respond to your gentle guidance as we engaged in daily struggle
to define the road map that would lead us to the creation of the humane societies
for which all human beings yearn.
We found it easy to accept your leadership
because we knew that you did not have the instruments of power that would oblige
us to bend to your will, against our will.
We respected your leadership
because we knew that you would base your own ability to be our guide on your respect
for our own dignity as sovereign human beings and states, and therefore our ability
to think for ourselves and act rationally in the interest of all humanity.
were confident that you would never relate to us as objects of policies elaborated
by the powerful, with our role being merely to submit to the will of others who
were superior to us because they disposed of unbridled powers of coercion.
Secretary-General, whenever you have spoken and acted as our leader, we have understood
that you sought to dare us to aspire towards the creation of a better world. You
sought to inspire us to share your dream - the dream of a new world characterised
by the true political, economic and social liberation of all human beings.
high position may not have made it possible for you to petition the nations to
treat your noble dreams, the powerful substance of your moral leadership, honourably,
by citing what the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, said in his moving poem entitled,
"He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven". The poem reads:
I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread upon
Had I the power to command you, Mr Secretary-General,
I would direct that you stand up now, in front of this eminent audience and repeat
after W B Yeats, for our nation and all nations to hear your challenge:
I the heavens' embroidered cloths
I would spread the cloths under your
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under
Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams."
you assumed office on New Year's Day, 1997. When you conclude your second term
on 31 December this year, you will have led the nations of the world during a
decade that encompassed the closing years of the second millennium and the 20th
century, and the opening years of the third millennium and the 21st century.
this transition could not but arouse expectations that as we rang out the old,
we also rang in the new. It was inevitable that some would ask whether you, the
Secretary-General of the United Nations during this supposedly epoch-making transition,
had done anything to ring in the new!
But you also took office just over
seven years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a moment identified
by the historians as marking the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new
Commenting on this event 10 years later, in 1999, the US "Time"
magazine said: "Who are we without the wall? For decades, the ugly scar across
the face of Berlin offered a navigational beacon to the governments of the world.
It reminded them of who they were and who they were not, and differentiated friend
"The tearing down of the wall was a dramatic, unplanned
historical triumph that closed the book on an era. It redefined, mostly for the
better, the way millions of people would live their lives
10 years later, those who lived east of the wall are left wondering what its demise
For the most part they have found that capitalism's lavish banquet
is laid before a favoured few
"Those who fought against communism
find themselves railing against the godless consumerism that capitalism has brought
in the wake of godless communism. Even among the victors, the wall's collapse
has posed a troubling challenge: it is a lot more difficult to define what we
are, now that what we are not is history."
Caught in the great wash
of these historic events, which did indeed define the way we live, but which for
billions was not better, we looked to you, honoured Secretary-General, to lead
us through what were bound to be turbulent times.
Those among us who see
every tomorrow as but the expression of a petty pace in the evolution of human
society, will not have realised that you were called upon to lead the nations
of the world at a time of global turmoil and an inherent disequilibrium in the
structuring of human affairs. At such an historic moment, there could not be a
new imperium that could order the unfettered demons to be gone, and be obeyed!
In a 4 December 2003 article in the "Los Angeles Times" you said,
"Today, the common ground we used to stand on no longer seems solid. In seeking
new common ground for our collective efforts, we need to consider whether the
United Nations itself is well suited to the challenges ahead."
in the "Wall Street Journal" on 22 February 2005, you returned to this
topic and said: "The UN cannot expect to survive into the 21st century unless
ordinary people throughout the world feel that it does something for them - helping
to protect them against (both civil and international) conflict, but also against
poverty, hunger, disease and the erosion of their natural environment. And in
recent years, bitter experience has taught us that a world in which whole countries
are left prey to misgovernment and destitution is not safe for anyone. We must
turn the tide against disease and hunger, as well as against terrorism, the proliferation
of deadly weapons and crime
Earlier in 2001, in your Nobel
Lecture, when you and the United Nations were justly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize,
you said: "We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If
today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further, we
will realise that humanity is indivisible. New threats make no distinction between
races, nations or regions. A new security has entered every mind, regardless of
wealth and status. A deeper awareness of the bonds that bind us all - in pain
as in prosperity - has gripped young and old.
"In the early beginnings
of the 21st century - a century already violently disabused of any hopes that
progress towards global peace and prosperity is inevitable - this new reality
can no longer be ignored. It must be confronted."
In many ways, daily
events underline the enormous pull of centrifugal impulses in global human society,
which communicate the message that the human centre cannot hold, that things will
fall apart and that mere anarchy will be loosed upon the world.
As an African,
part of a great Continent toiling towards its renaissance, I am proud that a world
leader, who is an African, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has had the courage
to stand up against the seeming blood-dimmed tide, to point humanity in another
and more humane direction - that, despite the representation of phenomenon as
essence, a deeper awareness of the bonds that bind us all, in pain as in prosperity,
has gripped young and old, and that humanity is indivisible.
leader, Kofi Annan, a servant of the peoples of the world and an African nevertheless,
has spread this noble dream under our feet, urging us to work towards its fulfilment.
Whatever we do next, we should tread softly because we tread upon his dream and
I am privileged to welcome the Secretary-General, his dear wife and
his delegation to our country and thank them for honouring us with their visit.
I welcome them on behalf of all our people, who will never forget the enormous
contribution made by the United Nations to our struggle to achieve our liberation
from the apartheid crime against humanity.
We therefore welcome you, Mr
Secretary-General, as a liberator into the midst of an army of liberators, where
you rightly belong. Please consider this free South Africa as forever your home.
Comrades, ladies and gentlemen, please rise and join me in a toast to the
good health and continued success of the Secretary-General of the United Nations
and Mme Nane Annan, and the revitalisation of the United Nations Organisation
as a true representative of the hopes and aspirations of "We, the people"
of the world.
Issued by: The Presidency