Address at the opening of The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Durban – 1999/11/12

Durban 12 November 1999

Your Majesty,
Your Royal Highnesses,
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government,
Secretary General of the Commonwealth,
Leaders of Delegation and Ministers,
High Commissioners and members of the diplomatic corps;
Friends, ladies and gentlemen and members of the Secretariat of the Commonwealth:

I am privileged to welcome you to this important Meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government. We are pleased that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, are with us to participate in our proceedings.

The significance we all attach to this meeting is emphasised by the participation of the large numbers of heads of government who are present in this hall.

Our Government and people feel highly honoured and are deeply moved that you chose our country as the venue of the last CHOGM of this century and millennium, during the year when we mark the 50th anniversary of the modern Commonwealth.

Since this is the first time ever that CHOGM is held in South Africa, it is right and proper that, once again, we extend our sincere appreciation to the Commonwealth and to all its individual members, for the sustained struggle you waged to ensure that we end the apartheid crime against humanity.

That we are able to receive you here today is a direct result of that struggle, without which our emancipation would not have come when it did, without which our common victory would have cost many more lives, both here and throughout Southern Africa.

We trust that you will enjoy your stay in the free and democratic South Africa to which you helped to give birth.

Your struggle and ours, to which the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere contributed so much and to whom we pay tribute and repeat our fond farewell, was not only about ending the system of apartheid.

It was also aimed at creating the conditions for us to build a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society.

The millions of our people are engaged in a heroic effort to live up to this expectation, both in our own interest and as our contribution to the creation of a better world.

The democratic project is a matter that must remain at the centre of our focus, as recent negative developments in the member state of Pakistan have shown, and as recent very happy developments have demonstrated in the member state of Nigeria.

I am especially happy to see the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, HE President Olusegun Obasanjo, among us, truly an eminent person in the struggle for the defence of the freedom and dignity of all Africans, and all human beings within our universe.

Racism continues to deform human relations across the face of our common globe.

Constituted as it is, and having been among the leaders in the effort to end the cancerous racism represented by the apartheid system, the Commonwealth cannot but occupy the front trenches in the historic striving, practically to give effect to the concept that all of us are made in the image of one God.

Everywhere in the world, including our countries, the women remain victims of social systems that decree their subservience.

Our continuing failure genuinely to respond to the challenge to attain human equality, is demonstrated by the very composition of our meeting, according to which, clearly, maleness continues to be a critical criterion for accession to political leadership.

The Commonwealth contains a significant proportion of the women of the world. It cannot be that we pride ourselves as a Commonwealth when that special collective, a commonwealth, distinguishes itself by defining the women as beings alien to the commonwealth.

The majority of us have been elected to the positions we hold by poor people. Therefore, it would not be a mistake if we were to describe ourselves as a convocation of the elected representatives of the poor of the world.

The masses elected all of us because they were confident that we were the champions of the poor.

Because of that, they took it that we are champions against poverty and the human degradation that accompanies all life whose principal impulse derives from the passionate rumble of an empty stomach.

They made an assumption that they put us in positions of power so that they should thrive, and not so that we should seek to lighten the burden of our ponderous titles by transforming ourselves from elected and accountable politicians into self-serving tycoons.

It was because we are all concerned about these and other related issues that we decided that at this CHOGM, we would attend to the central matter of ensuring that the evolution of human society is not driven by obeisance to dogma and allegiance to particular power paradigms.

The theme we have all chosen constitutes our collective statement that our loyalty is to the only thing that matters – the continuous upliftment and fulfilment of the ordinary masses of our peoples.

To these masses, power is its own justification only to the extent that its exercise results in the continuous upliftment and fulfilment of the persons described as the man and woman in the street.

The drama of the birth of a new century and a new millennium suggests the birth of a new human reality.

As these leaders, who sit in this room, we know what the complex reality of the passing century and millennium was.

The question we must answer is whether we have sufficient imagination to define what should constitute the reality of the century and millennium which time and space decree must come to be.

We are privileged that our people have been given the honour to be host to you, our guests, as you do what has to be done and do what may never have been done, truly to give hope to the wretched of the earth.

I thank you all for being here and apologise for any mistakes we may make which may wrongly and unfortunately suggest that you are other than our highly honoured guests.

As South Africans, you have given us new strength as a result of our hope and conviction that you meet here in the port city of Durban to do what you have done in the past, in favour of freedom, justice and a better quality of life for the people.

We have no reason to doubt that you will fight like the lion, the leopard, the jaguar and the bear, in pursuit of a life for all that can truly be described as a life worth living.

So should it be that, at its end, CHOGM ’99 will say – ring out the old, ring in the new, ring in the thousand years of the good, which all humanity, from the beginning of its existence, has sought to achieve!

A warm welcome to you all and heartfelt thanks for your attention.

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