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       Statement to the Plenary by Deputy President Jacob Zuma, Durban, 2 September 2001

The President of the conference
Distinguished delegates

It is an honour for South Africa to have been afforded this unique opportunity to host a United Nations conference of this magnitude and importance.

The holding of this conference, aimed at ending racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance has a lot of relevance to South Africa given our own struggle against apartheid and institutionalised racism.

Having learnt from that painful experience, we have put in place mechanisms of ensuring that racism is removed from our statute books forever. We have a Constitution that lays a strong foundation as it enshrines and champions the causes of democracy, equality, liberty, development, justice, freedom and responsibility.

At the same time, although we have legislated against racism, it has not automatically disappeared from our communities and that is why we welcome the opportunity to be part of discussions about how to eradicate this demon from our daily lives.

We, therefore, approach and await the deliberations and the outcome of the conference with great expectation.

The challenges that face us as we gather here are immense. As a result, we need to rise above narrow national and group positions and begin to work as partners in order to facilitate consensus.

We also believe that the conference should not avoid confronting critical and difficult issues, in the hope that they will disappear. Most of these issues are critical to the resolution of fundamental problems in the developing world, which are rooted in our colonial and slavery past.

We want to argue that Conference should speak out on the linkage between past injustices and the causes of poverty, underdevelopment and marginalisation.

Honoured delegates, we meet here mindful of the untold damage caused by slavery and colonialism in the developing world. The social and economic inequalities and the poverty, which ravages the developing world today, are deeply rooted in the history of slavery and colonialism. These inequalities in turn exacerbate racial divisions, discrimination and related intolerance.

In addition to this, the developing world has to contend with globalisation which brings with it both opportunities and threats. Unfortunately, the threats are more pronounced as they operate from a position of economic weakness. The huge gap between rich and poor, a by-product of the fast globalising world, continues to pose serious problems for the South.

The realization has dawned that these multi-lateral institutions need to be reconfigured as they were established at a time when most of us still enjoyed the status of colonies. Our interests were therefore not represented then.

We concur with the sentiment expressed by the Secretary General of the ILO when he said recently that "we must have the will to make a difference to the path of globalisation. We must contribute to fair rules of the game and level paying field for both people and countries."

Our position therefore is that this conference should champion the cause of the marginalized and emphasise poverty alleviation, social and economic development, social justice, equity, human rights and democratic values, both at national and international levels.

The World Conference Against Racism should also address other negative tendencies and intolerances such as the rise in child labour, slave labour and gender discrimination, including the caste system.

Included in this is the discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. The rise in xenophobia in most parts of the world, including South Africa, is also cause for concern. In our country, apartheid isolation inculcated suspicions of people from outside of our national borders.

Again, we expect this conference to frankly discuss this issue and come up with concrete recommendations about how to deal with negative perceptions about immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Ladies and gentlemen, the ultimate challenge will be how to make the outcome of the conference bring about meaningful change. The final conference document should lay a firm basis for a practical, forward looking and action-oriented approach in the implementation of our programme of action against the scourge of racism.

The document should be used as a living instrument within the United Nations system. The quality and nature of the outcome document should unite the world community to take concerted action. It is also important to ensure a sense of ownership and commitment to the outcome.

We also believe that in the implementation of the Programme of Action, the focus should also be on the development of sustainable remedial programmes, to reverse the effects of the legacy of colonialism and slavery. In this regard the New African Initiative can serve as an innovative mechanism to achieve concrete actions and results.

The programme is aimed at ensuring among other things:

  • The eradication of poverty;
  • Ensuring sustainable growth and development;
  • Promotion of peace, democracy, human rights and sound economic management.

Through the programme, we are attempting to deal with the legacy left by centuries of oppression and exploitation, and to provide an African response to globalisation. Similar programmes addressing special needs of other regions could form the basis for remedial measures.

The task before us, therefore, is to ensure that meaningful progress is made in order to lay the foundation for a breakthrough in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Brothers and sisters, by implementing the programme of action and declaration that will emerge from this Conference, we will be ensuring that this new Millennium becomes one in which we place value on people not because of their race, colour, creed or status in life, but because of their status as human beings.

Madame President the preamble to our constitution captures the values of our country which we have fought to achieve and I quote;

"We the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity."

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to -

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law.

I thank you!


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Updated on 02 September 2001 14:06:34 South Africa Standard Time