Opening Address by His Excellency, the President JG Zuma at the World Economic Forum on Africa, Cape Town, 10 June 2009

Prof Klaus Schwab, WEF Co-chairs and fellow panellists,
Excellencies Heads of State and Government,
Honourable Deputy President
Kgalema Mothlante, Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Distinguished captains of industry,
Distinguished participants,

We wish to extend a warm welcome to all distinguished delegates to this session of the World Economic Forum on Africa.

We are honoured to host you and appreciate that you took time to attend this session in our country, and in this beautiful city of Cape Town.

Over the next few days, our continent will gain from the collective wisdom of the more than 800 economic and political leaders gathered at this forum.

We are humbled by the presence of my colleagues the Heads of State and Government, so soon after honouring us with their presence during the Presidential inauguration on the 9th of May.

We are saddened by the news of the passing on of His Excellency Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon.

His contribution to peace in the continent is well known. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and the Gabonese people.

Ladies and gentlemen, we meet during a difficult period socially and economically. The impact of the global economic downturn is being felt in every economy worldwide.

While in many parts of the developed countries scores are losing their jobs, rich governments are able to respond with stimulus packages and deploy existing social welfare systems.

For most African countries, that are still highly indebted and dependent on aid for their revenues, the continuation of the current crisis will mean increased starvation, poverty and child mortality.

We must cushion our people against the impact of the crisis as best we can, but we also need to respond in the spirit of planning for a recovery.

Africa has its own mechanisms of responding to the crisis, as do other regions of the world. No region will respond in the same way as others.

We view the economic downturn as providing both challenges and opportunities for the continent and the developing world in general.

One of the critical lessons for the world from the crisis is the need for a transformed global financial system. Financial systems cannot be self-regulatory and governance of financial institutions must be global in nature.

In addition, several recent meetings of the African Union have called for a comprehensive reform of the governance of the global financial system and the Bretton Woods Institutions, the IMF and the World Bank.

This will reflect the changing economic realities and challenges and provide a voice and representation for emerging and developing countries.

Another point raised by the developing world constantly is protectionism.

Concern has been raised by our African Trade Ministers at the growing protectionist measures being taken in developed countries.

This includes the crowding out of credit through the huge bailout packages, and adopting protectionist trade measures.

African agriculture has suffered for decades from the huge subsidies provided to developed country agriculture.

We all do understand that all economies become inward looking during difficult economic times. However we can avoid shutting out other markets.

In this regard, we support African Trade Ministers in their call for a conclusion of the Doha Development Round based on its development mandate. In planning for the upturn, we must take the view that Africa is amongst the new engines of global growth.

The continent has the opportunity to diversify markets and products, including building the requisite infrastructure and systems for intra-Africa trade as well as South-South trade.

Africa is not without its own resources. Pixley ka Isaka Seme, scholar and leader of the African National Congress pointed out as early as 1906 that:

“The African is not a proletarian in the world of science and art. He has precious creations of his own, of ivory, of copper and of gold, fine, plated willow-ware and weapons of superior workmanship”.

Africa can build on its human resources, its young and growing population. The crisis provides an opportunity to alleviate the effects of the so-called ‘brain-drain,’ by attracting the Diaspora back home to reconstructing the continent.

Many African economic emigrants have now discovered that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side, and will hopefully come home soon to assist with planning for the recovery.

The continent is also rich in natural resources, including agriculture land.

We have also demonstrated our commitment to move forward through institutions that foster good governance such as the African Peer Review Mechanism.

We also have the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as a vehicle for successful socio-economic development partnerships.

Another key element of working for sustainable economic growth and development in Africa is building peace and stability in every corner of the continent.

The formation of the African Union in 2002 created the institutional basis for a united and coherent approach to the advancement of peace, democracy and development.

The establishment of the various organs of the AU has provided further means to promote multilateral, peaceful and sustainable solutions to crisis.

African efforts continue with a view to find and consolidate lasting solutions in Zimbabwe, Darfur, eastern DRC, Madagascar and other parts of the continent.

We urge the international community to support these African efforts materially and in other forms.

Chairperson, we welcome the steps and commitments that have been taken globally already. For example in London the G20 agreed to take steps to increase the voice and representation of developing countries in the functioning of these institutions.

It also undertook to maintain their Overseas Development Assistance pledges and commitments to meeting the Millennium Development targets, to refrain from increasing financial and trade protectionism and to conclude the Doha Round.

There were also major commitments to extend financing facilities for developing countries.

We must carefully monitor delivery on all these commitments. Like all countries, South Africa has set in motion our own response mechanisms.

A core element of our response to the crisis is the expansion of a public works programme that will provide job opportunities to around four million people over the next five years.

We are investing R787 billion in infrastructure. We are also looking at training layoffs, finding alternatives to retrenchment and the provision of financing facilities for industries in distress.

A vital element in our efforts to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis is our social grants. At present more than 13 million people receive social grants to alleviate poverty.

Another step in our country’s revitalisation is the implementation of a rural development strategy.

This involves the intensification of our land reform programme, and efforts to stimulate agricultural development to improve food security.

One of our biggest infrastructure investment projects is in the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup. Hosting the World Cup has led to the creation of over 400,000 job opportunities.

The construction industry has been invigorated, while the hospitality industry is booming.

We are therefore extremely pleased that we will get an opportunity tomorrow, as part of the programme of WEF Africa, to visit the Greenpoint Stadium, one of the venues for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

This will no doubt inspire participants to return next year to join in celebrating the first ever African Soccer World Cup.

I wish all participants a very successful Forum, and once again, a warm welcome to South Africa to our international guests.

I thank you.

 

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