Address by President Nelson Mandela at Organisation for African Unity (OAU) Summit

8 July 1996

Mr Chairman
Distinguished heads of State and Government;
Heads of Delegation;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

In the two short years that South Africa has been truly part of the African continent; in the two short years that we have been a full member of the Organisation of African Unity, we have, as a nation been profoundly enriched in the conduct of our own affairs and in our relations with nations further afield.

We have at last attained the pedestal from which to celebrate the successes of the continent and to share in her pain as an equal; all in the joy that Africa is at last unshackled from foreign domination. We are indebted to you for struggling on our side as brothers and sisters to reclaim our common dignity.

As was to be expected, the crowning glory of Africa's freedom has brought out in even bolder relief her challenges to herself: what future she decrees for the progeny to whom she gives birth!

Will they, like children elsewhere, play with gay abandon in the confidence of a secure future? Will they acquire the knowledge and skills to gain as well contribute to world wisdom and the wonder of new technology? Will they enjoy a fulsome meal and not live a tenuous existence balanced between life and death, wasting away in the mire of disease, ignorance and conflict?

Such are the challenges to the leaders as we gather to chart the path into the new year and the new millennium. For, in the final analysis, we assemble not merely as ourselves nor for ourselves; but as leaders expected by dint of continental mandate, to give leadership and reclaim to her, Africa's deserved position in world affairs.

No doubt Africa's renaissance is at hand - and our challenge is to steer the continent through the tide of history. It should not be, that, because of its leaders' own behaviour, anyone should discern any tendency on our part to wallow in the marshes of self-satisfaction with the transient trappings of power.

Because of our past, victim to the greed and power of nations from across the oceans, we are justified in demanding a fair share of economic and scientific benefits accrued in large measure at our expense.

But because of this past too, we need to exert ourselves that much more and break out of the vicious cycle of dependence imposed on us by the financially powerful; those in command of immense market power; and those who dare to fashion the world in their own image.

Mr Chairman;

The people of the continent are eager and willing to be among the very best in all areas of endeavour. They are right to pour scorn at any suggestion that they should be judged by lower standards as if they were sub-human. They deserve and are striving for a condition that can be adjudged a better life: In the conduct of politics, in the freedoms they enjoy, in the social conditions under which they live, in the environment which they inhabit.

And so, we come from the southern tip of liberated Africa to join you in congratulating the OAU in its various committees and mechanisms, the Secretary-General, my brother Salim Ahmed Salim; and the outgoing Chairman, His Excellency President Meles of Ethiopia, for the manner in which they have, with single-minded application, paid attention to the matters that will afford the continent the conditions necessary for her advance.

In our own country, the wise counsel and the assistance accorded us as we became a full participant in continental and world affairs, have ensured that we rise from the depths of division and conflict to the building of a truly African nation, grappling with improving its quality of life, and with our brothers and sisters, together building a better continent.

We are proud to report that our elected institutions have adopted the new constitution pledging democratic majority rule: and that, steadily, we are transforming institutions of state and defining the economic parameters within which we can improve the conditions of life of especially the poor. We have made great strides in mobilising society behind this programme of change, to build a prosperous nation at peace with itself and its neighbours.

We are keenly aware that, because we are plagued by the same local problems, and because we endure the same unjust system of international relations, we form part of a collective struggle for better access to markets; for better handling of the debt burden; for better commitment to invest in the continent and for better conditions of trade.

Indeed, the point needs to be made, that most countries on our continent have taken deliberate measures to bring their economies and trade regimes in line with the market imperatives prevalent in the world today; and in accordance with the advice of multilateral financial institutions. But the question has been rightly posed: has there been reciprocal action by those who control particularly the resources required for sustainable development, such as investments and markets for exports!

We have also become painfully aware of the interdependence of development and sustainable use of the environment. In many instances it becomes a matter of life and death, touching on our striving to banish hunger and our ability to cope with drought. Modern environmental challenges extend far beyond the capacity of individual countries and we need, as a continent, to find ways of working together to preserve Africa's heritage.

Long years ago, the founding fathers asserted the interconnectedness of the elements that make up a better life: freedom, human rights and social justice.

It is a matter of proud record that among the most successful of this august body's campaigns in the past year has been the contribution to the holding of elections in a number of countries where the will of the people was asserted. On the agenda of this and future sessions, the question of appropriate mechanism to guarantee human and people's rights on the continent will come under scrutiny. And so will the successes and failures in preventing, managing and resolving conflict.

South Africa supports all these programmes; and we are immensely proud and enriched to have been an integral part of their implementation. To the limit of our capacity, we pledge not to shirk our responsibility in contributing our fair share, for we know from our own experience the priceless value of joint efforts, solidarity and sacrifice.

Such joint efforts should find expression no less in the commitment with which all of us respond to the call by the Secretary-General to ensure that the OAU is resourced to conduct its work for the benefit of the continent's people.

Once more, we pledge our solidarity with the people of the Saharawi Democratic Republic in their efforts to achieve the freedom and self-determination that are rightfully theirs. We shall continue to assist in the programme towards lasting peace in Angola and Rwanda and in the efforts to resolve the conflicts in Burundi, Liberia, Somalia and Sierra Leone. Particularly in Angola and Burundi, our government has endeavoured to undertake such practical actions as requested by the OAU and UN agencies, and within the limit of resources at our disposal.

In these efforts, we are motivated by the desire to save lives and afford ordinary people their basic rights. And we are aware that it is our success or otherwise in resolving all these conflicts, which will determine whether the African renewal we strive for will in fact succeed.

By taking up these cudgels, under the leadership of the OAU, our individual countries shall be giving expression to the essence of our responsibility as leaders: to put the people first.

Thus the continent's people and leaders can be judged by the same standards as everyone else, and as an equal contributor to the building of a new just world order.

Thus can Africa's progeny experience her renaissance in the material conditions of their lives, in the spiritual fulfillment of their endeavours and in the bonds of friendship across borders and oceans.

We are confident Mr Chairman, that under your leadership in the next year, this shall become an objective nearer fruition. We congratulate you on your election and thank the people and government of Cameroon for the wonderful hospitality they have accorded us.

Thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation