Keynote Address by Deputy Minister Nomaindiya Mfeketo at the Workshop in Commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the 1987 Dakar Conference
Ambassadors present today,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to address you this morning on this occasion in commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the historic Dakar Conference which took place in 1987.
The Dakar Conference is firmly engraved in the annals of our history. It represents a day when citizens who were concerned with the future direction of apartheid South Africa took the initiative to recognise the centrality of the then banned and exiled African National Congress (ANC) in determining a post-apartheid South Africa.
Significantly, the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Dakar Conference take place during the Year of Oliver Tambo, our struggle stalwart and the longest serving President of the African National Congress who would have been 100 years old this year. Oliver Tambo’s legacy is celebrated as he was South Africa’s chief diplomat in exile. OR Tambo laid the foundation for our foreign policy and was passionate about our solidarity with oppressed masses.
Indeed, before this significant moment in history, it was none other than our chief diplomat in exile, Oliver Tambo, who was the President of the ANC who had been driving the message that dialogue and peaceful engagement, not war, with the adversaries is the most sustainable means to achieve franchise for the oppressed. This message had always been the clarion call of his forebears who understood that parties in conflict must, at some point, come to the table and resolve their problems through dialogue and not through armed conflict. Indeed it was as an acknowledgement of this commitment to peaceful transition through dialogue that Chief Albert Luthuli was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on 10 December 1961.
Ladies and gentlemen,
What stands out about this historic moment is that these Afrikaner intellectuals, professionals, religious leaders, students and other civil society figureheads were themselves beneficiaries of the apartheid system. The time had come for them to recognise the ANC as a legitimate voice of the people which stood for dialogue as a means of achieving democracy, peace, justice and reconciliation for all South Africans.
Oliver Tambo understood that the Dakar talks were an outstanding moment which breaks with the past in the history of the struggle against apartheid. That is why he described Professor Van Zyl Slabbert, the leader of the Afrikaner delegation who was also a former leader of the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), as a “New Voortrekker."
Tambo went on to say that to get out of the Progressive Federal Party and join such extra-parliamentary forces of change was a “very correct move”, and he called on the rest of the members of the PFP to leave Parliament to work for real change.
Such talks about talks would not have been possible were it not for the unloosening of the process of contact with the ANC initiated by key individuals and organisations.
Ladies and gentleman,
There can be no better testimony for the value of constructive political dialogue than that which the example of the Dakar Talks of 1987 provides us with.
Unfortunately, on their return back to South Africa, the IDASA-delegation was at the time however crudely charged with being unpatriotic and disloyal to the country, and demonstrators demanded that they be charged with high treason.
And yet, the only crime which these compatriots had committed was that they had engaged fellow South Africans, who happened to be in exile, in an extensive debate about how to bring about democracy in our country.
Indicative of the kind of intimidation and condemnation that the IDASA-delegates had to face and endure when they returned, is the recriminations faced by one of our guest speakers here today, Dr Theuns Eloff. At the time, he was the Chairman of the Student’s Representative Council at Potchefstroom University and a Reformed Church minister. However, after Dakar, his own church and some of his congregants, as well as Former President PW Botha, singled Dr Eloff out as a target. Former President Botha even attacked him by name in Parliament.
When the real talks between the National Party and the ANC started in 1991, Dr Eloff however became the head of administration and an active facilitator at the multiparty talks that resulted in a new Constitution for South Africa. We are honoured to have him here with us today and to hear from him.
As South Africa also celebrates 23 years of freedom this year, I believe that we should re-acknowledge the important role of constructive political dialogue in our societies. This is of course especially true in societies that are today still busy transitioning towards democracy, where such critical political dialogue remains a crucial feature.
But constructive dialogue and its practical outcomes are also imperative for the long-term maintenance and deepening of democracy and the nurturing and broadening of constitutionalism.
So many of our current challenges would be better addressed if we were to recognise the importance of engaging more constructively with each other, thereby increasing understanding and striving to bridge the gaps in differences of opinion.
Today we therefore do not only celebrate the commemoration of the Dakar Talks, but also deem events such as these as important moments of learning.
Specifically, numerous lessons can be taken from the 1987 Dakar Meeting that can inspire our youth who are facing multiple challenges today.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation will steadfastly continue its efforts to institutionalise dialogue support through our research, training and mediation support efforts.
Success in all the elements of the peace-building process is ultimately linked to the ability and capability of political rivals to engage in constructive political dialogue. And such efforts remain invaluable, globally.
In the spirit of our late icon, OR Tambo let us continue to join together to create one nation and one Africa as he intended. And let us today celebrate the courageous efforts of our leaders, and be mindful of the sacrifices that they have made to realise a better future for all.
I cannot think of a better statement than that which was made by Isithwalandwe Chief Albert Luthuli, who clearly instructed and chattered our diplomatic currency of taking peace throughout the world. We recall when he said upon receiving his Nobel Peace Prize: ‘May the day come soon when peoples of the world will rouse themselves and effectively stamp out any threat to peace, in whatever quarter of the world it may be found. When that day comes, there shall be peace on earth and goodwill between men’ …and may I add, women (open and close quotes).
I would now like to invite Her Excellency, Ambassador Safietou Ndiaye of Senegal, who will speak more about the role of Senegal in hosting the Dakar Conference.
I thank you.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION
OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road