Address by Nelson Mandela at the World Economic Forum Annual Conference

31 January 1991

Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

The ANC and I personally, would like to thank the World Economic Forum most sincerely for inviting us to attend and address this important gathering. We would further like to express our profound appreciation for your decision to allocate time for discussion of the South African question. We do believe that your initiative in this regard is most timely.

The impending political transformation of South Africa is part of the truly phenomenal process of renewal which our planet is experiencing. The features of this process are clear enough.

They delineate a future in which the peoples in all countries will govern themselves under open and plural democratic systems.

In our own country this means the end of White minority dictatorship and the building of a new nation of many colours, languages and cultures, bound together by a common South African patriotism, a shared spirit of nationhood and bonds of mutual dependence.

As in other parts of the world, we too will establish a society based on respect for human rights, to ensure the freedom and dignity of every individual, as an inalienable condition of human existence.

The new world that is being born foresees the dawn of the age of peace, in which wars within nations, between countries and among peoples will be a thing of the past.

We need to reach the point when weapons of mass destruction will themselves have been destroyed and the trade in weapons of death will have been reduced to an absolute minimum.

And yet many of these masses who are freeing themselves from tyranny and expanding the frontiers of liberty. Exercising their right to self determination and committing their lives to the defence of peace and life itself, are themselves threatened by death from starvation.

The planet they inhabit faces the awesome menace of destruction as a rebuilt of a human-made ecological catastrophe.

I am certain it is a matter of common cause among us here that the continued impoverishment of millions of people throughout the world has become one of the great sources of global instability.

Those who are deprived will inevitably act to demand a better life. The gnawing pain of persistent hunger must, in the end, lead to food riots.

In response, governing authorities that will feel threatened by the rebellion of the masses will resort to repression, to a denial of political rights and a return to a world hostile to freedom. None of us want this.

The migration of people from Central and South American and The Caribbean into the United States; Similar movement of peoples from Africa, the Near East and Eastern Europe into Western Europe; The phenomenon of boat people in the Far East, all serve as safety valves helping to avert the threatening food riots in the countries from which the emigrants originate.

But the question has to be posed and answered as to whether this is the best way to address the issue of poverty which afflicts so many countries in the world.

Nor can the reality be ignored that in response to these population flows and to the pressure of poverty, there is, certainly in various parts of Europe, a growing tendency towards the proliferation of racist and neo-nazi ideas and the thuggery that goes with them.

I have no desire to overestimate the seriousness of this problem. But I would also like to submit that it is not one that can be ignored either. Certainly those who are immediately threatened, be they black, Arab or Jew, cannot think this a matter to be treated with being neglect.

The simple point we are trying to make is that the dire poverty of some is not an affliction which impacts only on those who are deprived. It reverberates across the globe and ineluctably impacts negatively on the whole of humanity, including those who live in conditions of comfort and plenty.

The inescapable conclusion from all this must surely be that our interdependence, bringing us together into a common equation, across the oceans and the continents, demands that we all combine to launch a global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival.

We are aware of, and respect the initiatives that have been undertaken in the past to address these issues. Including those of the United Nations, The EC-ACP countries, the non-aligned movement, the north-south and south-south commissions, the OAU, as well as others.

But I am certain that none of us here can assert that there does indeed exist a real and meaningful global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival, drawing into one concerted effort governments, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and the people themselves.

To come closer home and talk about the African continent, we cannot but take advantage of this occasion to reiterate the alarm that others have expressed at the continuing deterioration of conditions of life for millions people.

There is no need for me, in front of this knowledgeable audience, to dwell at any length on the specifics of the socio-economic situation on our continent.

Suffice it to remind the conference that ten years ago already, in its report entitled "Accelerate Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An agenda for Action", the World Bank had various things to say which should have sounded the alarm bells.

Here are two quotations from this report:

"When, in the mid-1970's, the world economy experienced inflation and recession, nowhere did the crisis hit with greater impact than in (the region of sub-Saharan Africa)".

And Again:

"For most African countries, and for a majority of the African population, the record is grim and it is no exaggeration to talk of crisis. Slow overall economic growth, sluggish agricultural performance coupled with rapid rates of population increase, and balance of payments and fiscal crises - these are dramatic indicators of economic trouble".

As can be expected, other issues are dealt with in the report, including deteriorating terms of trade, a continuous fall in foreign exchange reserves and the dracula of an external debt which many countries can neither avoid nor afford.

To come closer to the current situation, the Secretary General of the United Nations reported only last year that in the period up to 1990, "the average African continued to get poorer and to suffer a persistent fall in an already meagre standard of living".

In his report on the "UN Programme of action for African Economic Recovery and Development" the Secretary General speaks of the African continent sinking deeper into "an unrelenting crisis of tragic proportions".

He goes on to say that "overcoming this crisis represents the greatest development challenge of our time".

Therefore, perhaps more than any other part of the world, the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, which has worsened since the World Bank report we have cited was published, illustrates that importance of the global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival for which we have called.

Quite clearly, for this project to record success, it would be necessary that a massive transfer of resources takes place from north to south. Let me hasten to state it here that we are by no means suggesting that this is an easy objective to achieve.

Nor are we suggesting that the issue be approached either as an act of charity or as an attempt to improve the lives of the have-nots by impoverishing the haves. Rather we are suggesting that it is necessary that these transfers take place as a necessary condition to achieve development, prosperity and survival for humanity as a whole.

We say this fully aware of the general shortage of capital in the world, its sensitivity to economic imperatives and its mobility.

We also say this knowing that the underdeveloped countries themselves have to continue addressing such issues as better utilisation of resources and management of their economies, better governance, human resource development, including the upliftment and liberation of women, as well as the protection of the environment.

Among other things that the concerted global offensive would have to deal with are, of course, the debt problem. The issue of the continuous decline in the pries of commodities that the poorer countries export and access to markets for their manufactured goods.

My own country, South Africa, is marching on its own road to liberation and democracy. The specific processes in which we are engaged, epitomised by the convention for a democratic South Africa, may not themselves be irreversible.

Nevertheless, it is quite clear that there is no force that can permanently stop our advance towards the transformation of South Africa into a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist country.

We are determined to end apartheid and liberate ourselves as a matter of urgency. We are as equally determined that this transformation should bring with it real changes in the material conditions of life of the people.

This is dictated both by the fact of the widespread and endemic poverty that affects millions of black people in our country and the need to guarantee the success and permanence of democratic change.

(A section will follow dealing with the economic needs of a democratic South Africa and the positive impact of this on the rest of Africa. This will include a call on the international business community to play a role in this regard).

If the voices of millions have been freed to enunciate the political aspirations of the people, those voices will also surely speak loudly proclaiming an urgent desire for an end to poverty and a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth within and among the nations.

We believe that those voices must be listened to and the concerns they express addressed. If the political transformations taking place across the globe are anything to go by, it would seem clear that these masses will not allow themselves to be silenced.

They will not be fobbed off with polite and courteous but meaningless responses. Nor will they accept the promise of jam tomorrow if they see nothing being done today to deliver the promised jam tomorrow.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation