Remarks by the Minister of Minerals and Energy of the Republic of South Africa, Ms Buyelwa Patience Sonjica delivered on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the conclusion of the 38th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Africa Region Conference, Cape Town, 27 July 2007

Honourable Chairperson
Honourable President and Deputy President of the CPA-Africa Region
Honourable Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the CPA-Africa Region
Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly
Chairperson of the NCOP of RSA
Secretary-General of the CPA-Africa Region
Secretaries and Clerks of Parliaments
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentleman
Good Evening:

It is a great pleasure for me to be here tonight and to address this farewell dinner for all delegates from many different countries, yet who share common values and a historical journey that spans centuries.

Unlike in the distant past, we now come together in dialogue and discussion as people, nations and states that have a great deal to talk about, ideas to exchange, best practices to share, and to work towards a common understanding of where this globe we call home is going and how the people of the world can best make progress together.

I believe that our collective hope is for a more inclusive world; and that what we do when we come together on occasions such as this one is to plan the road ahead, build foundations and pathways to a more inclusive world and an egalitarian world society.

For us on the African continent, part of our common dream has also been that of African unity. Thus, this year has also been a very special year for us, since together with our brothers and sisters in the African family, we have come together to celebrate 50 years of the independence of Ghana. We have used this opportunity to work actively towards putting in place the building blocks for a continental unity. But we have also looked back at our history to see how far we have come from the days of independence, from the moments of liberation.

We have paid tribute to visionary leaders and great democrats such as Kwame Nkrumah. Today I am reminded of his insightful words from his book, Africa Must Unite.

"In our struggle for freedom, parliamentary democracy was as vital an aim as independence. The two were inseparable."

"We wanted to free our people from arbitrary rule, and to give them the freedom to choose the kind of government they felt would best serve their interests and enhance their welfare. Our struggle was fought to make our people free to practise the religion they chose, to give them the liberty to associate in whatever groups they wished, to create an atmosphere in which they could say, write and think freely, without harming their neighbour or jeopardising the state."

These words speak to us from the pages of history, but they also echo the principles that we still hold dear, the ideas and ideals that bring us together as parliamentarians, the notion that 'the People Shall Govern' - the desire for 'government for the people, by the people and of the people'.

Of course the Nkrumah dream and that of his generation of leaders did not always fall on fertile ground. The situation that he and others of his ilk faced was more complex on the ground and possibly more challenging than the Africa and the world that we have today.

But we ought to salute these efforts and those of his generation, outstanding leaders in Africa, Europe, Asia, Australasia and the Americas who paved the way for us to occupy the space we now do. The seeds that they planted have now begun to grow and we continue to water the tree and seek comfort in the shade of a democratic order.

Nkrumah's statements on African unity, in some ways, also points to some of the unifying factors that bring us together from across the globe.

For Nkrumah speaks about "hopes and plans for creating a modern society which will give our people the opportunity to enjoy a full and satisfying life."

"The forces that unite us," he argues:

"are intrinsic and greater than the superimposed influences that keep us apart. These are the forces that we must enlist and cement for the sake of the trusting millions who look to us, their leaders, to take them out of the poverty, ignorance and disorder left by colonialism into an ordered unity in which freedom and amity can flourish amid plenty."

Of course, the challenge for us today is that in this rapidly globalising world, collectively we need to put our shoulders to the wheel to address "the poverty, ignorance and disorder" of a different kind. No country remains untouched by the forces of globalisation. Our destinies are linked together as never before.

We have to face the reality of an ever-increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor of the world. We need to work hard to bridge the gap between developing and developed nations and to produce that 'common wealth', that shared prosperity that our very name and identity suggest is possible and within reach.

Of course, much progress has already been made.

Surely, on the positive side, globalisation is creating unprecedented opportunities for wealth creation and for the betterment of the human condition.

Economic performance across the globe is the best it has been in years. Global expansion has meant higher demands for commodities at higher prices, among other developments. There are unprecedented opportunities for wealth creation and for the betterment of the human condition. Reduced barriers to trade and enhanced capital flows are fuelling economic growth.

But there is a great deal of vulnerability that comes with opening yourself so completely to global forces of which you have little control and which seem to the ordinary onlooker as more powerful than national sovereignties and the democratic order that we as parliamentarians and as citizens of the world hold so dear.

This puts immense pressure on all of us and informs our work. It poses challenges that some say we will only be able to solve together as inter-nations and not necessarily as nation states. The restructuring of the international systems of political and economic governance must become a living reality as part of arriving at a more democratic world order.

In this context, our work as parliamentarians from different and far-flung places becomes even more crucial.

Certainly our shared work must be to nurture and strengthen our network, to build closer relationships so as to deepen our democratic cultures. This Association offers all of us the opportunity to share ways and means

  • of strengthening our parliaments,
  • to better measure the impact of our legislation,
  • to improve oversight through sharing knowledge about the systems we use,
  • so as to deepen public participation
  • and improve access of citizens to their rights
  • and enhance the accountability of public representatives to the electorate.

But we also need to go beyond this as indeed I am told that this gathering has done in articulating the connections between sustaining vibrant democracies and sustaining development. I believe that at the heart of our striving is precisely this view that the democratic exercise is also part of sustaining development, that thriving economies and societies derive from truly sustaining democracy.

Most recently former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, also articulated this view when he gave the fifth Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg a few days ago. And I quote:

"We live in an era of interdependence. That is true everywhere in the world; but in some ways it is more obvious in Africa than anywhere else. We Africans know, perhaps more than most, that problems like water shortages and disease, like environmental degradation and political unrest, cannot be neatly contained within national borders. If some of us are poor, we are all the poorer; if some countries are unstable, we are all less secure.

Similarly, we know that solutions to these problems will only come if we work together - across borders, across boundaries of race, religion, language and culture.

To accelerate our progress, to extend its reach into every corner of this continent, we must work together toward a comprehensive strategy - one that rests on three pillars: peace and security; development; human rights and the rule of law.

They all re-inforce each other; they all depend on each other, just as we do."

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Given these circumstances, how then through our work do we ensure that we are all enriched by our riches.

Researchers tell us that the world has enough resources to eliminate poverty - but only if we take determined and concerted action at national and international levels, which brings us back to the building and renewing of the democratic foundations that bring us together in this meeting.

For this reason, we need to ensure that the integrity of the institution that is parliament is preserved and strengthened and is dynamic enough to address the problems besetting us at present.

The Association has done valuable work also through election monitoring and assistance, thus improving our participatory democracies. The interconnectedness between good governance and sustainable economic growth has been a theme of this event; and I trust that the outcomes will enrich our practices now and in the future.

I also believe that this Association can play an important role in supporting the strengthening of the institutions of the African Union, particularly the Pan African Parliament (PAP), whose mandate comes up for review very soon.

As you are aware, the PAP, as currently constituted, only has advisory powers which come up for review in 2009 during which time a decision will be made as to whether it can be given decision-making powers.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association could also play an important role in the strengthening the future role of regional parliaments such as the PAP. This will ensure that these institutions are able to develop effective ways of overcoming problems and devising workable solutions to the challenges we face in the international community of nations.

If the various topics discussed during the course of this conference are anything to go by, then I am indeed encouraged that we are indeed making progress towards a democratic, non racial, non-sexist and united, world - a world in which - to quote former President Nelson Mandela at the dawn of South Africa's democracy - "the sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement."

As this conference draws to a close, I would like to thank all participants for their very active contributions to the conference and the enlightening deliberations and discussions that have taken place.

May the sun continue to hold a lofty position in the sky because of all your efforts in strengthening democracy all over the world.

Finally, on behalf of the government and people of South Africa, we wish to thank all the distinguished delegates for coming to our beautiful land.

I trust you have made strong friendships here in the last few days and that you have formed a bond with the people of this land. May you return to our shores soon to experience more of our country, landscapes and culture.

I thank you.

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