Opening address by Jacob Zuma, Deputy President of the African National Congress

JOHANNESBURG COUNCIL- The Progressive Agenda, 15-16 November 2004

The President of the Socialist International,
Antonio Guterres,

Members of the Executive and delegates from all

Continents of the World,

Comrades and Friends,

It is a great honour and privilege for the African National Congress, and the people of South Africa, to welcome you to our country for this Council meeting of the Socialist International.

It is an honour that you have chosen to bring this important event to our shores in this, the 10th year of our democracy. This year we celebrate 10 years of the triumph of human freedom and solidarity over apartheid tyranny, colonialism and oppression.

In celebrating the First Decade of Democracy and Freedom, we salute the Socialist International for the solidarity and friendship that it provided during our struggle. It was your support in the broader anti-apartheid movement, that played an important part in internationally isolating South Africa by putting continuous pressure to countries that supported apartheid South Africa, and mobilising more forces to join the campaign against apartheid South Africa.

When we recall our hard and complex struggle, and our historic victory over apartheid, we always remember and know that we succeeded because of your concrete support.

For this, the African National Congress and the overwhelming majority of the South African people would like to take this opportunity of this meeting, to thank you, as our victory over apartheid was your victory.

We also acknowledge the fact that your support and solidarity did not end in 1994 when we obtained our freedom, but continue to this day, as we work to reconstruct and rebuild our country.

The Socialist International was founded to champion the cause of the poor and marginalised.

The quest for sustainable development, world peace and stability, the transformation of the global economic and political order and the eradication of hunger and poverty continue to feature prominently on our agenda.

This is because we have a responsibility to improve the lives of the poor and to fight for a peaceful, just and equitable world order.

The challenges which face the world require the maximum unity of social democrats and the progressive forces of the left throughout the world. This meeting provides an opportunity for us not only to share views on these pressing matters, but also to agree on a programme through which, individually and collectively, we will work to meet these challenges.

We meet just a few days after the passing of President Yasser Arafat, a great human being and an outstanding and dedicated leader of the people of Palestine.

The history of Palestine cannot be written without the mention of Yasser Arafat, and the record of the struggle for freedom in the world cannot be complete without the acknowledgement of his role in the trenches, fighting for the liberation of his people.

His passing is a reminder to democrats and all freedom loving people in the world that the struggle for freedom in the world is not over yet.

We owe it to the people of Palestine, and to the memory of the late President Arafat, to galvanise all progressive forces to work even harder for the achievement of peace in the Middle East.

Efforts must be intensified to put the Road Map back on track in order to achieve their statehood, in a sovereign land existing side-by-side with a peaceful and secure state of Israel.

In the same vein, the achievement of peace and stability, as well as sovereignty for Iraq is also paramount, and is a matter that this Council cannot avoid deliberating on.

Mr President,

Let me say that we are also proud to welcome delegates of the Socialist International to the mother continent, Africa, a continent which though a cradle of humankind, has suffered untold oppression and exploitation.

We are proud to welcome you to an Africa which has refused to succumb to the legacy of colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism and apartheid; an Africa which has set itself firmly on the path of renewal.

The leadership of the continent seeks to extricate Africa from poverty and underdevelopment, and create the kind of Africa envisaged by our forebears who fought against slavery and colonialism.

In the year 2002 the African Union replaced the Organisation for African Unity, with a clear mandate to address the political and socio-economic problems of the continent.

A number of AU structures have been established, including the Pan African Parliament and the African Peace and Security Council. The countries of Africa, through the AU, have adopted the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the programme for the socio-economic renewal of the continent.

The African Peer Review Mechanism, within the NEPAD programme, is an innovative programme which clearly demonstrates the seriousness of Africans with regards to doing things in a new way. The Mechanism will enable African governments to measure their performance against established criteria on good governance, sound financial management, democratic elections and adherence to human rights and the rule of law, among other things.

The action against conflict is another indicator of the seriousness of the African leadership with regards to building a new continent. Active peace processes are underway in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan and others. We urge the support of the Socialist International in ensuring these initiatives are successful so that lasting peace can be attained in these countries. Thus we shall reinforce the confident march of Africa’s people, now under way, to construct political systems and implement socio-economic programmes that benefit Africa’s peoples.

Brothers and sisters, the world is currently facing numerous challenges, such as poverty and underdevelopment, war and instability, political insecurity and the threat of terrorism.

The manner in which we respond to these challenges, and our behaviour, as nations of the world, will determine whether or not we succeed, as well as the rate and extent of success.

We have noted, with concern, the tendency to elevate the fight against global terrorism above other challenges facing the world, such as the quest for sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.

There is also, in this new paradigm, the danger of promoting unilateral ambitions of powerful states, and to undermine multilateralism, especially the United Nations, the only institution authorised by the peoples of the world to manage global disputes. This new way of doing things also alienates potential partners in the global fight against terrorism.

Our view is that the war on terror should not overshadow or detract from the war against poverty. The world would be failing the poor and marginalised if we allowed that to happen. That is why some countries must not be allowed to divert from the UN processes which have taken all these factors into account.

Secondly, the United Nations Security Council must play a leading role in the resolution of international disputes. The Socialist International pronounced on this issue in February this year when it stated that global security must be sustained by a fundamental commitment to respect for international law, and that it was essential to reinforce the United Nations and to defend multilateralism.

Mr President,

As we said earlier, our political and ideological base in the Socialist Movement is rooted in working to improve conditions of the working class and the poor and rooting out marginalisation and underdevelopment.

In this regard, the question of narrowing the gap between rich and poor, and between the North and South, remains uppermost on our agenda.

The track record of the world in the fight against poverty is so far not impressive. When the Cold War ended, the developing world expected boundless horizons for growth and development, which, we were promised, would to occur with the support and solidarity of the developed North. With the dawn of the new millennium, we believed that the fight against poverty and underdevelopment would be accelerated.

You will recall that the UN Millennium Declaration Goals committed 191 states to achieve the following among others, by the year 2015:



  • To reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, and those without drinking water. It also undertook to halve the proportion of world’s people whose income is less than $1 a day.
  • To ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling, and to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education.
  • To reduce by two thirds child mortality rates, and halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

As we enter the fifth year of the Declaration, it is very clear that we are far from making any real progress in meeting these goals. In fact, some development experts estimate that it may take Africa even more than 100 years to meet these objectives.

Colonialism and oppression left a legacy that Africa is still trying to address to this day. The wars of decolonisation drained the continent’s resources. After independence, when Africa sought to rebuild itself, the Cold War added to her woes.

Powerful states sought allies on the continent, and turned a blind eye to corruption and dictatorships, and created or supported the rise of elites that plundered resources, and the establishment of political systems based on patronage.

The Cold War led to destabilisation, and the Southern African region, for example, was wrecked by conflicts that were in part a proxy for Cold War rivalries, and in part a manifestation of the systematic denial of the right to full sovereignty by peoples of the region. Loans and aid were used to purchase Cold War loyalties that added to the cycle of debt burdens.

Inequality in global economic relations has also adversely affected African economies. In the post-colonial era, Africa continued to be an exporter of raw materials at depressed prices determined by the developed countries. It continued to import finished products and to pay for these imports.

Large credits were given and aid flowed in, and made many countries dependent and tied up in huge foreign debts.

The statistics speak for themselves. Sub-Saharan Africa is straddled with more than 200 billion US Dollars in debt to multilateral financial institutions and foreign creditors. Nearly all Sub-Saharan African countries receive debt relief under the World Bank and IMF’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Program.

Recently published research of the IMF found that even if the African HIPC received all the relief after completing the required reforms, the existing debt levels would still be unsustainable.

Therefore it should not be surprising that we call for debt cancellation, and not debt relief, so that the highly indebted nations can focus on dealing with socio-economic challenges.

Globalisation had been presented as a solution to economic and development problems, but the gains have been uneven, benefiting the North more than the South. For example, as global trade expands, Africa’s share of this continues to decline. African exporters face a number of barriers to selling their products in the Northern markets.

Key amongst these are the agricultural subsidies granted to the farmers in the developed countries. African progress will depend on the extent to which richer nations are prepared to lower their barriers and end their agricultural subsidies.

I use Africa as an example given its status as the most marginalised continent, but some of these challenges affect most of the developing world. The status quo makes it clear that it is in the interest of humanity to address the North-South divide without further delay.

As social democrats it is important that we are meeting to share views on these matters, so as to reach a common understanding of the nature of the challenges facing the world, and the solutions we can advance.

In our deliberations in this meeting, we also need to apply our minds to the question of the emancipation of women. We committed ourselves to this goal in Beijing in 1995, and in our respective ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

We should reflect on the progress made since Beijing, and the challenges we still face, with regard to mainstreaming the participation of women in public life, and also to improve the lives of marginalised women such as those in rural areas, who are directly affected by poverty.

Mr President and Members of Council,

We have worked together over many decades to bring about freedom and liberation in many parts of the world. We are now engaged in the second form of struggle, of working for an equitable and just world order.

It is a struggle that can only be won if we work together and promote progressive ideas and progressive solutions, and if we are united and focused in our action.

Billions across the globe rely on movements such as ours to articulate their aspirations and take active steps to build a world in which they can experience improving conditions of life. We in South Africa and Africa believe that this confidence is not misplaced – because, through its actions, the Socialist International can chart a path that guarantees all-round security to all, especially the working people and the poor.

We are confident that this Council will play its part in translating the hopes of these masses into concrete programmes for the betterment of the human condition.