Notes Following Briefing to Media by President Motlanthe and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Pretoria, 25 February 2009
Good Morning ladies and Gentlemen of the Fourth Estate. This morning we had our discussions with the Secretary General of the UN. We are honoured that he chose our country as his first on his trip to Africa. We compared notes on a range of important issues regarding the flash points on the continent of Africa. We compared notes with regard to the humanitarian and peace efforts in the DRC; the Zimbabwean political developments; the Sudan, Burundi; and of course closer home we also spoke about the role that South Africa plays globally with regards to important matters such as climate change, the impending G20 Summit that will be held in April in England.
We also had discussions about our responsibility of hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup finals and that the UN has an opportunity to make a contribution particularly with regards to transport issues relating to the emissions efforts. So these are some of the important matters that we discussed and compared notes on.
With these brief remarks I would like to invite the Secretary General to make his remarks. Over to you sir.
Mr Ban Ki-Moon
Thank you very much, Mr. President.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the media, Sawubona.
It is a great pleasure for me to be here on my first (official) visit to South Africa as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
And I thank President Motlanthe and the Government of South Africa for the warm welcome and the kind hospitality provided to me and to my delegation.
South Africa holds a particular place in the United Nations family because of our own long engagement against apartheid, in support of the struggle of the South African people.
That particular place has sustained the test of time as South Africa is today an important partner for the United Nations, because of the major role South Africa plays in international and regional peacemaking, peace keeping and peace building efforts.
It is facilitating the peace process in Burundi and mediating in Zimbabwe. It is contributing more than two thousand troops to United Nations operations from the Congo and Sudan to Nepal and it has paid a heavy price for that commitment.
These are some of the subjects I discussed a few minutes ago with President Motlanthe and other cabinets ministers, including the Foreign Minister, the Environment Minister and the Finance Minister. We have just held a very fruitful and constructive meeting.
On Zimbabwe, I welcomed the inauguration of the new Government of national unity. The partnership between the Zimbabwean parties will need to be nurtured. Although the UN has no direct mandate to help implement the Agreement between the parties, we are ready to ensure that the enormous challenges confronting the Zimbabwean people are effectively addressed.
That said, I remain concerned about reports of arrests and detention of opposition activists and human rights defenders. I hope that these people will be freed as soon as possible. Also, in the face of the rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, especially the current cholera epidemic, the UN will do all possible efforts to increase its support to Zimbabwe, including for nationally owned stabilization and recovery programmes. My Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, is currently in Zimbabwe. She will recommend how the international community can step-up its humanitarian efforts in the country.
On the DRC: I commended the role of South African peacekeepers in saving, daily, the lives of Congolese civilians under extremely difficult circumstances. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I hope we can count on South Africa’s continued and significant support to reform the Congolese security sector.
We also discussed with the President South Africa’s key role as an economic powerhouse with by far the largest, strongest and most diversified economy on the continent. We discussed the forthcoming G-20 meeting in April, where South Africa’s President will be once again the only African leader in attendance and an effective voice for the millions of voiceless and most vulnerable.
I am here in South Africa to concretely reach out to countries that have a potential leadership (role) in confronting global challenges. One such challenge is climate change. While South Africa has been an effective advocate on behalf of the G-77, (to date,) much of Africa has not benefited from the current international climate change regime. It is time to change that. Africa must help shape the Copenhagen deal in a way that benefits the interests of the continent and its citizens. South Africa has shown commendable leadership and can do more.
As to issues specific to this country, I stressed to President Motlanthe my appreciation of the fact that South Africa has made remarkable strides in consolidating democracy since the end of apartheid. It has built solid and reliable democratic institutions. The forthcoming elections present a historic opportunity to showcase South Africa to the region and the world as a country that is capable of effecting peaceful democratic change.
But, perhaps more importantly, I wish the best of luck to the Bafana Bafana when they set out next year to become hopefully the first African football champion of the world, as they have done so in rugby. And while our United Nations teams might be able to compete on other fields, we cannot claim to have Benny McCarthy or Steven Pienaar on our side.
We will contribute instead in our own way to the success of the next World Cup through a joint project of the Global Environment Facility, supported by the United Nations development programme and environment agencies. We will spend 11 million dollars to upgrade the South African public transport system ahead of the 2010 World Cup. The project's environment objective is to reduce greenhouse gases from urban transportation in South African cities for the World Cup and beyond.
Thank you very much and Siyabonga.
Questions and Answers
Question: You have expressed concern about the plight those in Zimbabwe who are still detained. I just wonder how both of you feel this might be undermining the Global Political Agreement?
Answer: (Mr Ban Ki-Moon) I discussed this matter with President Mugabe when I met him in Addis Ababa during the AU Summit meeting. I urged him and also appealed to him while I would support and welcome the launching of the unity government it would be appropriate and it would be a welcomed gesture for the leader from Zimbabwe to embrace all different opinions and leaders in the country by releasing all the detained people. I hope that he will listen to the expectations of the international community by releasing them all as soon as possible.
(President Motlanthe) I was assured by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai when I met him last week that this matter is high on their agenda and they are attending to it. He assured me that in his discussions with President Mugabe they had agreed that all the detainees should be granted bail on their own cognisance.
Question: Was the discussion also of the many Zimbabwean refugees pouring over the border into South Africa; perhaps easing immigration restrictions so that they may stay longer and how will South Africa respond?
Answer: (President Motlanthe) As the South African government we are taking a benign attitude towards the movement of people between the two countries as a way of alleviating the very dire conditions in Zimbabwe. That is why we have invested our efforts in ensuring that we support this inclusive government because its primary task is to stabilise the situation and create conditions for all of these Zimbabwean refugees and Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to return home.
(Mr Ban Ki-Moon) I really appreciate the government of South Africa for accommodating those refugees coming from Zimbabwe. I know that it would be a huge challenge economically, politically and socially to accommodate so many refugees at this time. In that regard I really appreciate President Motlanthe’s generosity for providing human rights and humanitarian assistance.
I have dispatched the senior advisor on humanitarian affairs Catherine Bragg. She is currently in Zimbabwe. She met President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai and other leaders of Zimbabwe to discuss how the United Nations can better coordinate and better mobilise humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwean people.
I have discussed this matter also with President Mugabe in Addis Ababa last month. He was open-minded to the UN and the international community’s assistance on humanitarian grounds.
I think that is the right thing to do for him as well as for the international community.
I will receive a report from Catherine Bragg on her recommendation on how we can mobilise more humanitarian assistance including this refugee issues. At the same time I want to count on the continuing support and assistance by the South African government and people for them.
Question: Sir I think there is some concern about the situation in Zimbabwe in the context that given the global meltdown the focus wouldn’t be on Africa now especially with other western powers. There is a concern that the situation as it is; there could be a situation where the whole unity government fails. What do you think should happen because for example there is a need for economic assistance? What do you think the world should do? What should happen?
Answer: (Mr Ban Ki-Moon) I think two tracks should proceed in parallel. On the part of the Zimbabwean government leadership, particularly President Mugabe, they should carry out and implement this September 15 power-sharing agreement sincerely and fully. That is the way to meet the expectation of the international community, to meet and uphold the aspiration of Zimbabwean people.
The economic situation is very dire and the humanitarian situation is very worrisome and there is the cholera epidemic which has cost thousands of lives. According to a WHO report, there are more than 83 000 people who are sick and more than 3 000 people have been killed.
Those are very serious issues. President Mugabe should promote national reconciliation and at the same time he should promote economic cooperation.
The international community, led by the UN stands ready to provide the necessary assistance, humanitarian assistance and promotion of human rights and providing all necessary medical and sanitation support to Zimbabwean people.
But all these efforts would be better mobilised; would get stronger and more support from the international community if we can see the progress in political and national reconciliation. The release of political prisoners will be important and desirable not only on the humanitarian and human rights ground but also on the national reconciliation process.
(President Motlanthe) In fact the SADC Ministers of Finance are meeting in Cape Town to develop a response to the request from the Zimbabwean inclusive government for the immediate assistance that would serve as a basis for also approaching the international community for more assistance with regards to particularly the efforts in the agricultural sector of Zimbabwe.
Question: Sir we had some informal brief discussion with the Secretary General this morning on the kind of history of animosity between the two governments of the DRC and Rwanda. Specifically what is your country going to do to try and improve those relations?
Answer: (President Motlanthe) Besides the role that we play in MONUC in the DRC we as SADC – as you know we char SADC at the moment – facilitated interaction between Presidents Kagame and Kabila and we compared notes with the Secretary General about the intractable issues that underpin this conflict. We are in agreement that in the short term the efforts are aimed at ensuring that there is cessation of hostilities and that the presence of the genocidors, the Interahamwe in the North Kivu area should be addressed, as well as the finalisation of the status of the Congolese citizens of Tutsi origin. That is one of the issues that need to be addressed in order to lay down the foundation for ever-lasting peace between the two countries.
Hopefully it will result in the creation of a free trade zone to enable both countries to share in the natural resources.
Question: Have you reached an agreed upon approach towards the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir story with the International Criminal Court?
Answer: (President Motlanthe) The AU position with regards to that matter is very clear that former President Thabo Mbeki has been appointed to lead a process of finding comprehensive solution to the conflict in the Darfur and also to address the issue of impunity at a judicial level and he is already in touch with the ICC prosecutor because the AU has called for a deferment of the prosecution in order to allow time for these efforts to produce the desired results. That is the position that we have adopted.
(Mr Ban Ki-Moon) If I may answer from my perspective as the Secretary General of the UN, as everybody knows, the pre-trial chamber of the ICC has announced that they would render the decision on March 4th so we are awaiting that decision.
As the Secretary General of the UN, I hope that whatever the decision may be, the President of Sudan Mr Al-Bashir should react responsibly to the decision of the ICC and also address the issue of peace and security in the region.
When I met him in Addis Ababa I urged him that he should ensure safety and security of UN personnel and civil population. He should also keep his commitment on the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. That is what he needs to do.
I am aware of the position of the AU for the deferment of the ICC decision but that is something which the UNSC should decide. For that to be possible the Sudanese government and President Al-Bashir should also take necessary judiciary measures which can satisfy the article 16’s requirement of (inaudible).
Question: From the agreement between the DRC and Rwanda governments, 5 000 soldiers have crossed the border to DRC to take the Interahamwe from the bush and take them back to Rwanda. Without the identification of the population there it is creating confusion as to who is Interahamwe and who is not. How are you entertaining that situation?
Answer: (Mr Ban Ki-Moon) That is a question which the Congolese government and the people should discuss; that particular issue. As the Secretary General of the UN, we are mandated – MONUC – is mandated to assist and cooperate with (inaudible) in keeping peace and stability.
I am going to meet with President Kabila of the DRC and Paul Kagame of Rwanda later this week. We will discuss how to bring this process of (inaudible) between the two governments with the support of the international community. I would welcome this (inaudible). It is a very encouraging development of the situation but it has also many difficulties and uncertainties. Therefore this process of (inaudible) should be nurtured by the international community so that we can bring stability and peace. The people, particularly the civilian population has suffered too much. May civilian population were killed and there were many cases reported of sexual violence and crimes. These are all things we must eradicate and as the Secretary General I am very much committed to see the end of this prevalence of sexual crimes perpetuated against many women and girls. We are very much committed also to protecting the lives of the civilian population there. Therefore we need a concerted effort.
In that regard, as President Motlanthe has just mentioned, we really appreciate this facilitation role and leadership role of the South African government and count on such continued support, including the support of peacekeeping soldiers in the DRC.
Issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
25 February 2009