Main Address by Deputy Minister Fransman on the occasion of the African Diaspora Technical Committee of Experts Meeting (TCEM) on 21 February 2011
Senior Managers from the Department
Representatives African Union Commission
Ladies and gentlemen;
On the 26th July 1991 Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro jointly addressed a rally at Matanzas in Havanna, Cuba. The speeches delivered that day were captured in a publication called: “How far we as slaves have come.” In his address Madiba said: “We will ensure sooner rather than later that the poor and rightless will rule the land of their birth.’
This vision of freedom and power contrasts sharply with the images extracted from Henry Wadworth Longfellow’s poem titled “The Slave’s dream” in which he says:
“Beside the ungathered rice he lay,
His sickle in his hand;
His breast was bare, his matted hair
Was buried in the sand.
Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
He saw his Native Land.
Wide through the landscape of his dreams
The lordly Niger flowed;
Beneath the palm-trees on the plain
Once more a king he strode;”
“He did not feel the driver's whip,
Nor the burning heat of day;
For Death had illumined the Land of Sleep,
And his lifeless body lay
A worn-out fetter, that the soul
Had broken and thrown away!”
Ladies and Gentlemen; I am indeed honoured to be in your midst today at this opening session of the Technical Committee of Experts Meeting (TCEM). The Constitutive Act of the AU declares that it shall "invite and encourage the full participation of the African diaspora as an important part of our Continent, in the building of the African Union". The African Union Government has defined the African diaspora as "consisting of people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union".
Lest we forget lets be reminded that between 1500 and 1900, approximately four million enslaved Africans were transported to island plantations in the Indian Ocean, about eight million were shipped to Mediterranean-area countries, and about eleven million survived the Middle Passage to the New World. Their descendants are now found scattered all around the globe.
Ladies and gentlemen; Allow me to extended a word of warm welcome to all of you here and take this opportunity to thank the African Union (AU) for affording us an opportunity to host this Technical Committee of Experts Meeting.
The zeal expressed by the enthusiastic response given to the clarion call sounded for the resumption of this dialogue process, is indicative of your awareness to the weight of the requirement to oblige to mandate of unity of Africans throughout the world. As you may be aware, the history of the African Diaspora is well documented as it dates back to the evolution of the Pan African Project. The history of the African Diaspora is well documented and spans well over a century. It is premised on the primordial paradigm and ideological imperative of the Pan African Project.
The Pan African project has undoubtedly united Africans throughout the globe and served as a catalyst for attainment of political freedom in Africa. The proponents of the Pan African project, as you are aware, include Henry Sylvester Williams, WEB du Bois, George Padmore, Nkwame Nkrumah, Julias Nyerere and Marcus Garvey, just to mention but a few.
Allow me, without necessarily indulging you in the history that I believe you know, to remind you that the people of African descent live outside the continent as a result of varying reasons, that is either forced to move out of the continent or voluntarily chose to do so. It will therefore be recalled that the major movement of Africans from the continent was of course during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. This painful process has of late been replaced, in the main but not limited to, by what constitute a voluntary and wittingly movement in the form of brain drain, among others.
Ladies and gentlemen
Definitional issues regarding what constitute the African Diaspora remain an area of contestation despite the crafting and adoption of such a definition by the Executive Council of the AU. The continued debate around this matter could not be underestimated, given that the concept of African Diaspora has different formulations of which the interesting one is linked to the archaeological evidence that the birth place of human beings is Africa.
As you are aware, the definition of African Diaspora could be read as follows: “peoples of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and building the African Union”.
I would like to caution that, while it is acceptable and enriching to have continuous debate on this important matter, the process followed by the AU in crafting and adopting the definition was open and consultative. In this regard, a meeting of experts was held on 11 and 12 April 2005 to prepare and recommend a definition of the African Diaspora for consideration by the organs of the union. This was a follow-up to a similar meeting held which in this case included experts from the Diaspora, held in Trinidad and Tobago in June 2004.
One other key issue which requires your attention relates to the interest expressed by African Heads of State and Government to have the African Diaspora declared the sixth region of the continent. Whenever this topic is considered, it evokes serious discussion of which I am sure will be central to this meeting. As you are aware, this matter has not been finalised and as such this interest has not been translated into fully structured integration of the Diaspora into the African continent.
It is against this background that this meeting, which brings together experts on variety of areas of competence and expertise, will come out with tangible proposed modalities on how we can work towards institutionalising the African Diaspora as the sixth region of our continent.
Linked to this is the participation of the African Diaspora communities in the structures and processes of the AU. Notably, CARICOM has an observer status in the AU, however, more need to be done to ensure that there is global representation and participation in the AU structures and processes. I make mention of this important fact knowing very well that efforts have been underway to ensure that this become a reality, particularly those of the Economic, Cultural and Social Council.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is without doubt that African governments have demonstrated their commitment to the enhancement of the African Diaspora Dialogue. In the same vein, people of African decent righteously continue to associate themselves with the continent. They have contributed to the decolonisation process of the continent and therefore have a role to play in the economic advancement programmes of Africa and broadly contribute in the pursuit of the regional political and economic integration agenda.
I should underscore the fact that much is said of what the African Diaspora could contribute to the advancement of the continent and less about what Africa could do to improve conditions of Diasporas across the globe. It is indeed correct to emphasise the centrality of the African Diaspora in the pursuit of a vision of a united, peaceful and prosperous Africa.
We therefore cannot shy away from the reality that people of African origin find themselves in marginalising and difficult conditions in most of their host countries. In this regard, and in comparison to other Diaspora communities, ours remains relatively weak in both political and economic terms. I give this a special mention so that when you tease out programmatic issues, you consider the importance of collective interest and benefit for the continent and its Diaspora.
The South African government, as you may be aware, entrenched its active participation in the African Diaspora Initiative by, jointly with the AU, organising a conference which brought together Africans on the continent and representatives of the African Diaspora from the Caribbean in March 2005 in Kingston, Jamaica. The conference was held under the theme “Towards Unity and United Action by Africans and the African Diaspora in the Caribbean for a Better World: The Case of South Africa”.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Following the success of the Jamaica conference, South Africa was endorsed by the African Union to host the African Diaspora Summit in 2008. Pursuant to the postponement of the 2008 Summit, and consistent with the centrality of Africa’s development in our foreign policy, South Africa crafted a new roadmap which was endorsed by the African Union in July 2010.
This meeting constitutes the implementation of the first key element of the roadmap and will be followed by the Ministerial in September 2011 and the Summit in 2012. It is expected that this meeting will review the work already done in preparations for the postponed 2008 Summit. This will include review of the 2007 Ministerial Documents and the Draft Summit Declaration, among others.
This process should culminate in proposals of implementable projects which will be forwarded to the Ministerial Meeting in September 2011 for further consideration and the Summit in 2012 for adoption. I should emphasise that the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) remains a programme which provides a framework within which the continent has to engage with its Diaspora to promote socio-economic development on the continent.
Your proposals, while predicated on the general areas of cooperation, should take their roots from the NEPAD priority projects in various thematic areas.
Let me conclude by wishing you well in your discussions in the next two days and once more welcome you to South Africa.
I thank you,