Keynote Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Africa, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the African Union Caribbean Diaspora Conference London, 24 April 2007

Honourable Chairperson, Your Excellency Christopher Kolade, the High Commissioner of Nigeria,
The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jamaica Anthony Hylton
Your Excellency The Dean of African Missions in London Mr. Samuel Libock Mbei
Your Excellency The Dean of the Caribbean Missions in London Mr. Laleshwar KN Singh ,
Your Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
Comrades and Friends:

First, let me express our gratitude to all of you for having heeded the call to this Conference. Your presence here today, answers why the need for this Conference.

In his book entitled "In Arcadia , Ben Okri tells us the following story :

You die, and find yourself, like Daphnis, at Heaven's Gate. A mysterious person meets you at the entrance. You ask to be admitted. The mysterious person insists first on a conversation about the life you have lived. You complain that you had no breaks, that things didn't work out for you, that you weren't helped, that people brought you down, blocked your way, that your father didn't love you, that your mother didn't care, that economic times were bad, that you didn't have the right qualifications, that you didn't belong to the right circle, that you weren't lucky, in short you pour out a veritable torrent of excuses.

But for every excuse you bring forth the infinitely patient mysterious person points to little things here and there that you could have done, little mental adjustments that you could have made. He gently offers you examples of where, instead of giving up, you could have been more patient. Tenderly, he shows you all the little things you could have done, within the range of your ability, your will that would have made a difference. And as he offers these alternatives you see how perfectly they make sense, how perfectly possible the solutions were, how manageable. You see how, by being more alive to your life, and not panicky and afraid, things could have been so much more livable, indeed quite wonderful.

"You suddenly see that you could have been perfectly happy during all the time that you were perfectly miserable. That you could have been free instead of being a prisoner. That you could have been one of the radiant ones of the earth. That living could have been fun. It could have been worthwhile. That life could have been a playground of possibilities. It could have been a laboratory of intelligence and freedom. And living could have been composed of experiments in surprise, in immortality. Experiments in the art of astonishment. Fascinating time - games. Space - games. Dimension- games".

"You suddenly see that living is the place where gods play within mortal flesh. An open - ended play in which dying is the most open - ended ending of them all, opening out into the infinity of nothingness, or into the infinity of absolute being"

"Therefore, living is the place of secular miracles. It is where amazing things can be done in consciousness and in history. Living ought to be the unfolding masterpiece of the loving spirit. And dying ought to set this masterpiece free. Set it free to enrich the world. A good life is the masterwork of magic intelligence that dwells in us. Faced with the enormity of this thought, of the Damascene perception, failure, despair, unhappiness, seemed a small thing, a gross missing of the point of it all."

But, I'm happy that since the beginning of time, Africans wherever they have been, whatever the circumstances, have ensured that they do not find themselves at the Heaven' Gates, unable to account for the lives they had lived.

The Africans had always taken for granted the necessity to advance development and contribute to the greater wellbeing of self, society and the environment. The civilisation that Africans collectively produced were to be reflected in the architecture of the city of One Hundred Gates, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Temples of Ethiopia, the City of Carthage in Tunisia and the many prehistoric ruins in other parts of Africa. The Sculptures of Benin, Ancient Kingdoms of Ghana and Mali, the Makhondis of Mozambique and the rich Paintings of Kgalagadi. The African participated in the human development for the greater good of Humanity and deliberate subordination of the individual.

We state it as a matter of historical fact and not an act of self praise that Africa enjoyed a Golden Age of trade, commerce, education, flourishing of the arts and craftsmanship. These contributions were made because - We always understood that "life was a playground of possibilities, a laboratory of intelligence and freedom and that living is a place of secular miracles"

We carried this belief even when our cities were destroyed as evidenced when Rome ordered the destruction of Carthage, turned such a beautiful city into ruins and cursing the strong men and women of Africa were condemned into slavery in the most cruel and inhuman manner in order to build their capitalist economies in the name of trade.

In the words of Guyanese scholar, Walter Rodney, in "How Europe underdeveloped Africa", he asserts that

"The process by which captives were obtained on African soil was not trade at all. It was through warfare, trickery, banditry and kidnapping." It was social violence and destruction, many died on the route and "the massive loss of the African labour force was made more critical because it was composed of the most able-bodied young men and young women."

Africans on the continent and the Diaspora shared a common bond of suffering; they also together celebrated the victories against their enslavers and oppressors - albeit short-lived. They inspired each other in mind in the celebrated victory in Haiti in 1804 with the establishment of the first Black Republic, the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879, that saw the mighty army of the British empire vanquished, the battle of Adwa in 1896 where the Italians suffered a humiliating defeat by the Ethiopians. These are some of the instances that inspired Africans towards their liberation and led to powerful cultural movements and bonds such as Ethiopianism and later Rastafarianism.

Africans always lived their lives in a way that made it possible to face that mysterious man at the gates of heaven with their heads high.

The 200th anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery

We join forces around the world in marking the struggle for the abolition of the slave trade, of the trans-Atlantic slavery of Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean with the passing of the Abolition Act 200 years ago.

We fully support the commemoration of this, as a special year in honour of those who suffered, as indeed we celebrate the lives of those who fought bravely against slavery.

  • And again it was here in London in 1900 that the early stirrings of Pan-African Unity took place when the Trinidadian barrister Henry Sylvester Williams organised the first meeting of the Pan-African Congress. The legendary W.E.B. Du Bois in his address "To the Nations of the World" made his famous statement; and I quote:

    "In the metropolis of the modern world, in this the closing year of the nineteenth century, there has been assembled a congress of men and women of African blood, to deliberate solemnly upon the present situation and outlook of the darker races of mankind. The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line, the question as to how far differences of race - which show themselves chiefly in the colour of the skin and the texture of the hair - will thereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization."

    People like Marcus Garvey were committed to celebration of black historical achievements, but were also very concerned about linking the Diaspora to the Continent. Writers such as George Padmore, later CLR James and even later Frantz Fanon contributed immensely to the analysis of the African condition and outlining the circumstances for liberation. Of course, there were also South African intellectuals like Sol Plaatjie, Pixley ka Seme and John Mafukuzela Dube, founders of the African National Congress (ANC), who were inspired by these developments.

    Pixley ka Seme wrote in 1906 in an essay entitled "the Regeneration of Africa", I quote: The African already recognizes his anomalous position and desires a change. The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already, I seem to see her chains dissolved her desert plains red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities. Her Congo and her Gambia whitened with commerce, her crowded cities sending forth the hum of business, and all her sons employed in advancing the victories of peace- greater and more abiding than the spoils of war.

    "The ancestral greatness, the unimpaired genius, and the recuperative power of the race, its irrepressibility, which assures its permanence, constitute the African's greatest source of inspiration. He has refused to camp forever on the borders of the industrial world; having learned that knowledge is power, he is educating his children. You find them in Edinburgh, in Cambridge, and in the great schools of Germany and so on. These return to their countries armed with their industrial and educational initiative, and untiring devotion to these activities, must be regarded as positive evidences of this process of regeneration"

    Indeed, although this was said in 1906, it still has resonance today. Africans "have always understood life as a playground of possibilities". They have always been able to manage difficulties and found solutions to seemingly intractable problems. They have always been able to account - how they lived their lives to "the mysterious man at the gate of heaven"

This historical antecedent set in motion heroic struggles whose legacy we now have the privilege to celebrate and honour.

Of course, Africa and the African Diaspora are celebrating this year, the year of the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence.

Africa and the African Diaspora are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence. We pay tribute to the heroes of this country and to the legacy especially of Kwame Nkrumah who believed that only a united Africa could achieve economic independence, that only African countries acting in unity could give support to those who were still fighting for liberation in Southern Africa, especially South Africa.

The 40th anniversary of the death of Albert Luthuli

This year we are also commemorating the 40th anniversary of the death of South Africa's First Nobel Peace Laureate and President of the African National Congress (ANC), Dr Albert Luthuli.

In his Nobel Prize Acceptance speech, he ( Chief Luthuli) spoke about the goal of a united Africa "in which the standards of life and liberty are constantly expanding" and "in which the dignity of man is rescued from beneath the heels of colonialism which have trampled it." He called for Africa to free itself from past woes and tribulations; and "to see herself as an emerging continent" whose fight is for "noble values and worthy ends" and "not for land and enslavement of man".

We are here to attest and celebrate the leadership of the torchbearers that gave birth to this historic moment;

Of course in Africa, we celebrate the lives of many leaders who through their vision formed the OAU.

They demonstrated that solidarity and unity were crucial for strengthening the struggle for independence especially the countries of the South like Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa and for the fight against underdevelopment and hence the birth of the OAU including those here in London who formed the Anti - Apartheid Movement probably the largest global solidarity movement the world has seen founded here in London by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston spread all over the world and all peace - loving people.

It was therefore not surprising that the first country to impose sanctions against Apartheid South Africa was Jamaica because they had accepted that the African and the African Diaspora needed to act in unison and in solidarity for the freedom of Africans wherever they are.

After the liberation of South Africa, President Nelson Mandela said the following in his address to the OAU "The titanic effort that has brought liberation to South Africa, and ensured the total liberation of Africa constitutes an act of redemption for the black people of the world. It is a gift of emancipation also to those who, because they were white, imposed on themselves the heavy burden of assuming the mantle of rulers of all humanity. It says to all who will listen and understand that, by ending the apartheid barbarity that was the offspring of European colonisation, Africa has, once more, contributed to the advance of human civilisation and further expanded the frontiers of liberty everywhere.

Of course the Africans in the continent and in the Diaspora were strengthened by the tireless efforts by persons like Michael Manley, Sir John Compton, lots of personalities and many ordinary people in the Caribbean and the Diaspora.

Finally at this meeting in Tunis, President Nelson Mandela stated that " We shall remove from our agenda the consideration of the question of Apartheid South Africa"

"Where South Africa appears on the agenda again, let it be because we want to discuss what its contribution shall be to the making of the new African Renaissance. Let it be because we want to discuss what materials it will supply for the rebuilding of the African city, Cartage"

Of course, I would like us to go back to what President Thabo Mbeki delivered in his speech "The Historical Injustice"said in 1978 in Ottawa, Canada "Modern political science recognises the fact that social systems are founded on definite historical origins. If the saying "out of nothing comes" is true, then it must follow that the future is formed and derives its first impulse in the womb of the present. All societies therefore necessarily bear the imprint, the birth-marks of their own past and whether to a greater or lesser extent must depend on a whole constellation of factors both internal and external to each particular society.

"Those of us, who claim to be revolutionaries, must resist all attempts to persuade us that our future lies in the hands of an ungovernable fate. For the imperative of our epoch has charged us with the task of transforming ourselves from the status of objects of history to that of masters of history."

I am quoting all these people to say that what we are doing today has its first impulse in history.

The African leadership having arrived at the conclusion that the OAU was no longer adequate to deal with the challenges of today, in the year 2002, requested South Africa to host the launch of the African Union. After the it's launch, the continental body decided to recognise the Diaspora as the sixth Region of the African Union.

Thereafter a number of Conferences of Africa and the Diaspora intellectuals took place in Trinidad, Senegal, Brazil etc.

These gatherings were an effort to consolidate what was started by the Africans in the Diaspora in 1900. Putting the signposts of the journey ahead that we are collectively undertaking to take in our hands, understanding that our future is bound together.

South Africa in 2005 had a meeting in Jamaica primarily to express our appreciation, support and to celebrate our 10th anniversary with the Caribbean.

Programme Director,

The AU in 2006 decided that South Africa should host the first Summit of Africa and the African Diaspora. This was accepted with humility recalling the sentiment expressed by President Mandela that when South Africa appears on the Agenda it should be to discuss what South Africa's contribution should be to the rebirth of the continent.

Challenges of the 21st century

Of course, having declared the 21st century, as the African century, it is clear that we have to mobilize all people on the continent and the Diaspora because we have to wage a titanic battle. a titanic battle of ideas, battle against poverty and underdevelopment ,a battle for the emancipation of women and empowerment of our youth.

It has to be a battle for ending the marginalization of lots of Africans in the Diaspora.

It has to be a titanic battle to reclaim our cultural heritage. The fact that it is easier to buy CD's of an African artist in Europe and America than in Africa must come to an end.

The implementation of the programme of action of the World Conference Against Racism will need to marshal all our forces in Africa and in the Diaspora. The question of reparations which should be measures aimed at reversing the devastating consequences of racism and slavery in history must necessarily extend beyond the narrow understanding of reparations as individual financial compensation of victims.

"There is no doubt that slavery and apartheid were crimes against humanity. The nature of the damage caused by slavery and colonialism is complex and manifold: it involves the wholesale destruction of peoples and groups, the erosion and in some cases theft of social, economic and human capital and the destruction of the social fabric of entire people", (WCAR Document 2001)

A further challenge for us is the closure of the digital divide. Africa and the Diaspora has to come together to share their scientific advances from biotechnology, nanotechnology to space technology for peaceful use.

Mobilization of the great battle against HIV and Aids and other infectious diseases. The battle for the development of Africa and the Diaspora has to be seen to be as inclusive as possible.

Human Trafficking

The scourge of human trafficking should more accurately be described as a modern form of slavery.

The term human trafficking obscures the evil practice that involves the buying and selling of human beings in order to exploit them economically, and force them into domestic and sexual servitude. We also have to address the continued skills drain of Africa's best talent to the West is a new and insidious form of an old practice - the practice of taking the skills of the best from Africa for the advancement of Western economies

Programme Director,

This conference is part of the preparations in Europe, America, Caribbean and Africa for the Ministerial and civil society conferences in October 2007 and eventually the African and African Diaspora Summit in 2008.

Thus, to answer again the question posed at the beginning, this conference is necessary to revive and strengthen the spirit of Pan Africanism and to strengthen and profile the African Diaspora wherever they are.

  • To act in unison in order to deal with the challenges of globalisation.
  • To challenge the imbalance of power.
  • To ensure the rebirth of the continent.

Africans against all odds have always scored victories; they have always turned "life into a playground of possibilities". The African rebirth will be moral, peaceful and will lead to a better world.

The Conference will have to focus on an action plan that will both accelerate socio-economic development and increase our access to markets, both regionally and internationally.

The people of African descent have to show the world a new world order where diversity is celebrated and harnessed as a collective strength rather than a cause for discrimination.

Finally, I would like to quote from an unlikely source, a Bahai scholar who wrote: (Baha'u'allah) about diversity.

"Consider the flowers of a garden, it would be said that though different in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty.

How unpleasing to the eye if all flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the trees were all the same shape and colour. Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden and heighten the effect thereof".

I do believe that indeed those who have suffered and who have been undervalued can create a new beautiful world for all humanity.

Ben Okri, in his book, "Way of Being Free", writes, " They tell me that nature is the survival of the fittest. And yet look at how wondrous gold and yellow fishes prosper amongst silent stones of the ocean beds, while sharks continuously prowl the waters in their impossible dreams of oceanic domination and while whales become extinct…how many butterflies and iguanas thrive, while elephants turn into endangered species, and while even the lions growl in their dwindling solitude.

"There is no such thing as a powerless people. There are only those who have not seen and have not used their power and will. It would seem a miraculous feat, but it is possible for the under valued ones to help create a beautiful new era in human history. New vision should come from those who suffer most and who love life the most".

Therefore, I wish to conclude by stating that "At heaven's Gate when we meet the mysterious person we shall not pour out a veritable lament of excuses but be able to show that life was a playground of possibilities, a laboratory of intelligence and freedom and that living was a space of secular miracles, where amazing things were done in consciousness and in history"

I thank you.

Issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs
C/O South African High Commission in London
United Kingdom

For more information, contact Ronnie Mamoepa on +27829904853 or Nomfanelo Kota at +27824593787 or or

Quick Links

Disclaimer | Contact Us | HomeLast Updated: 25 April, 2007 8:09 AM
This site is best viewed using 800 x 600 resolution with Internet Explorer 5.0, Netscape Communicator 4.5 or higher.
2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa