Opening address by President Nelson Mandela at the Sub-Saharan Oil and Minerals Conference

27 March 1995

Honourable Ministers:
Your excellencies;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen.

I feel most honoured and deeply gratified to be with you at the opening of this Sub-Saharan Oil & Minerals Conference.

It is an event of the greatest importance for our continent. The challenge it addresses is that of how to best exploit Sub-Saharan Africa's abundant mineral and oil resources in order to promote development, and thereby to contribute to bettering the lives of its peoples.

South Africa's achievement of democracy has transformed the possibilities for co-operation towards this objective. It therefore gives the conference a special significance. For us, who have the honour to welcome you to the first such conference in a democratic South Africa, it is a part of our homecoming which is represented by the acceptance of South Africa into Africa and the world at large. For the conference itself it is an opportunity to set out new directions.

That potential is underwritten by the presence here today of Government Ministers and leaders of the international private sector, as well as representatives of the semi-public sector and international organisations.

More than diplomacy is at work here. It is the realisation that neither governments nor the private sector on their own can bring prosperity, either to a country or a continent.

The urgency of the task of alleviating poverty, and the possibility of doing so, needs no argument, all the more amongst those who know, as you do, the extent of Africa's resource base in minerals and oils.

Africa provides the bulk of the world's chrome, manganese, diamond, platinum, vanadium and gold, but it used only a fraction of those commodities itself.

The question of how best exploit these natural resources is being thoroughly examined by the Economic Commission for Africa, as well as governments, scientists and engineers all over the continent. But whatever the outcome of these investigations, certain broad directions are already clear.

Firstly, there will be a need for greater regional and even Pan-African co-operation and integration in the exploitation, use and processing of mineral and oil resources. Resources should be used and processed where it makes economic sense. This will sometimes require the subordination of short-term national interests to the longer-term mutual benefits arising from co-operation.

Secondly, real socio-economic gains will also come from the mining and production of everyday commodities, such as clay for bricks and ceramics, as they did during the Industrial Revolutions in Europe and North America. Local manufacture of these products will reduce imports, create jobs and cut prices.

Thirdly, the capacity to produce the materials needed to develop Africa's infrastructure must be built. For this we need steel, aluminium, copper, cement and other raw materials. Instead of importing these value-added products at a massive cost, using scarce foreign exchange, why not turn to our own indigenous resources, enourmous but still largely underdeveloped?

Lastly science and technology need to be exploited to the full, in pursuing these goals. We need to develop industrial processes and technologies which are appropriate to our local conditions, our climate, and our need to create employment. South Africa's capabilities add significantly to the continent's reservoir of scientific and technological assets which can be used to help develop its large mining resource base into a dynamic economic sector, serving the people of the continent. But this needs to be developed and augmented by the industrialised countries in a co-ordinated and appropriate way, and in a way which transfers skills and knowledge.

We need to ensure that the benefits of exploiting and processing our minerals and oil benefit Africa. Too often in the past Africa has derived little benefit from its resources. Africa needs to reclaim its minerals by way of indigenisation, by developing our own institutions, by enabling the African entrepreneur to come to the fore. Where necessary, financial instruments must be developed to make this possible, particularly for those in small or medium enterprises. It is our responsibility to relate to the existing game players in a way which ensures that we are at least equal partners.

Ladies and gentleman,

The present opportunities for making such changes are unique. The establishment and consolidation of democracy and the movement towards peace in our own country and elsewhere in our region combine with changes in the international order to create the necessary conditions.

What I have mentioned above are modest but practical steps which will surely contribute towards asserting Africa's determination to take into it's hands full responsibility for its own development. This in turn will impact on the larger transformation of our societies with one central objective, namely improving the quality of life of all our peoples.

Let me say in conclusion, that history has conferred on South Africa some substantial advantages in mineral affairs and the associated scientific and technological fields. We are committed to sharing these advantages with our neighbours and our continent on the basis of equality. No longer will they be used to benefit our country at the expense of others or to enforce relations of dependency. Partnerships of mutual benefit must become the norm of relations between all our countries.

Finally, may I say to our visitors: welcome to our country and I hope that your stay will be a pleasant one.

To the conference as a whole: you are faced with an enourmous responsibility, and I am confident that you will rise to the challenge.

May your deliberations be fruitful and lead us towards a better life for all.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation