Remarks at the Opening Session of the 10th Convention of the International Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), Durban City Hall, 28th March 2010

Programme Director,
Professor Dasarath Chetty, President of the South African Chapter of GOPIO,
Leaders and members of GOPIO from other parts of the world,
Your Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is fitting that this 10th Convention is held in our melting pot, which is the city of Durban. A place, whose rich history binds its diverse cultures and peoples with the peoples of Indian origin. It is equally fitting that this Convention takes place in the same year that we mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first people of Indian origin to South Africa.

Distinguished guests,

We gather here today, in the same year that we commemorated the 62nd anniversary of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, whose noble soul was finally laid to rest in our shores not so long ago. Sadly, and as fate would dictate, the people of this city, and indeed the rest of our country, recently paid their last respect to Fatima Meer, whom I am certain, would have been proud of this moment. Fatima Meer, like other people of Indian origin before her, joined the ranks of ordinary citizens who rose to positions of prominence in our country as a result of their commitment to social justice, freedom and human rights. The arrival of so-called indentured labourers to South Africa, a lamentable accident of history, and unbeknown to the creators of this system, gave this country many men and women of great vision, who saw beyond the faint light of their challenges, and decided to hope and struggle for an alternative and a better South Africa.

This year we also celebrate 100th birthday of Dr Monty Naicker, a stalwart of our liberation struggle and a leader of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), who led his people in the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign. Dr Naicker also led the first batch of resistors in Natal during the 1952 Defiance Campaign.

It is commonly known that since the formation of the NIC in 1894 by Mahatma Gandhi and the Satyagarah Passive Resistance at the turn of the last century, South Africans of Indian origin actively participated in the liberation struggle of our country. They demanded full South African citizenship and their commitment to South Africa was never in doubt.

Needless to say that the rich inheritance of Gandhi’s Satyagraha political philosophy found expression not only in the struggle led by the South African Indian Congress but in the liberation movement as a whole. We were not found wanting in the liberation struggle of our country but also South Africans of Indian origin contribution in the building of a united, non-racial and democratic South Africa has been enormous for a small population like ours.

We have also contributed and continue to contribute in the field of business, in the judiciary, in the field of medicine and science, in the academia and in Government institutions among others. And we do this as proud and loyal South African citizens.

I know very well that the members of this organisation fully appreciate how far South Africa has come because you were one of those organisations that from inception in 1989 added its voice in opposition to apartheid. The members of GOPIO will also easily identify with the contributions and sacrifices made by people of Indian origin in this country, because this very same organisation did not hesitate to call on their active participation in the struggle to defeat apartheid, when ordinarily others would have waivered.

Programme Director,

The theme of this 10th Convention, turning historical adversity into advantage, is equally fitting, not only to the people of Indian origin the world over, but to this city, this province and this country. If anything, the people of South Africa, in their multitude and across cultures know very well what it means to embark on collective efforts to turn the tide of oppression, and create opportunities for a better country.

Our vision to have a better South Africa inspired us to adopt and declare through the Freedom Charter, that this country belongs to all who live in it. Our determination to bury the past of racial and cultural oppression, found expression on our post 1994 Constitution which guarantees equality, basic freedoms, and affirms the unity in our diversity.

It seems to me that most, if not all, the issues that you would concern yourself with during this 10th Convention have a direct bearing on this country as they speak not only to the core Priorities of the current administration but to the ideals and goals of the ruling party since 1994. The issues of culture, identity and language are intrinsically linked to the challenge of social cohesion in South Africa that the ANC has long identified.  It is the view of the ANC that the issue of social cohesion is an important requisite for nation-building, reconciliation and national stability within a multi-racial and multi-cultural society such as South Africa.

So as you deliberate on these issues, and in the context of turning adversity into advantage, I hope, sincerely, that you will be able to locate yourself within this on-going project of social cohesion in South Africa. In the same vein, the struggle for the emancipation of women, the empowerment of our youth with the necessary skills to be agents of positive change, are issues worth addressing.

Given the history and harsh realities of this country, one of the daunting tasks we face is how to manage socio-economic transformation in an orderly fashion so that the wealth that we possess can be optimally distributed and shared among all our people.  It is my firm belief that the community gathered here has the necessary skills, human and other resources to make a contribution in whatever form, in order for the people of this country to turn their adversity to advantage. 

Programme Director,

We live in a world affected by many challenges, such as poverty, human rights violations, the ubiquitous climate change, unequal and unfair trade balance, and those who are at the coal-face of these challenges are the people of the South.  Nonetheless, these challenges should not impose upon us feelings of despair, but rather should enable us to unleash our creative imaginations in order to defeat them.

Such creative imagination can only come through painstaking work, greater and genuine co-operation between the Governments of the world. While this is the case, the existence of organisations such as GOPIO open up opportunities for another form of co-operation, namely, people-to-people co-operation. The global challenges we confront can only be defeated if people of different cultures work together, based on a common programme of action, no matter how minimal, in order to bring a more caring, just and better world.

Efforts to confront these challenges have seen Governments of South Africa and the rest of Africa and Governments of Asia and India, strengthening their historical co-operation and are having positive economic and political spin-offs. These efforts have remained a necessary, but not a sufficient condition to deal with these challenges. What we also require are creative mechanisms at the level of non-state actors in order to ensure that there is greater co-operation between our peoples across the globe, to provide support, and inject new meaning to efforts aimed at ridding the world of its challenges. Therefore, in the context of the theme of this 10th Convention, I look forward to hearing about the advantages that can be derived from greater co-operation among our people. 

I would go further to say that an organisation of this nature representing people of “Indian Origin” can be regarded as an organisation in Diaspora. As such, another element of people-to-people relations will be to see how such a formation can engage with Africans in Diaspora, in order to strengthen our global efforts in creating a better world. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

In exactly 74 days from today, this country will host the world’s greatest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup. Through this event, we will leave an indelible mark on the minds of the world that something good can come out of Africa. I also hope that this community will in its numbers grace this country during this sporting occasion.

In conclusion, let me recall the words of Dr Yusuf Dadoo expressed on the eve of his imprisonment on 29 February 1948, when he said, in part:

…for the successful prosecution of our present struggle a great and heavy responsibility rests on your shoulders. Whether the struggle is to be of long or short duration will depend in a large measure on the degree of unity we are able to maintain within our ranks.

A heavy responsibility rests on all of us gathered here today, to play our role, albeit in a different theatre of struggle, to forge unity, build prosperous and peaceful communities, and a better world.

Thank you

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