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,
Honourable members of the delegation of the Secretary-General,
Deputy President of our Republic Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
Distinguished guests,
Comrades, 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 of nations.

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 power.

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.

We 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.

Esteemed 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.

Your 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:

"Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams."

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:

"Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths…
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams."

Secretary-General, 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.

Inevitably 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 world order.

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 from foe…

"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…

"But 10 years later, those who lived east of the wall are left wondering what its demise really meant…For the most part they have found that capitalism's lavish banquet is laid before a favoured few…

"Those who fought against communism…now 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."

Writing 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.

Our esteemed 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 ours.

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.

The Secretary-General!

Issued by: The Presidency
14 March 2006


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