Lecture by President Nelson Mandela at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore

6 March 1997

Master of Ceremonies
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Long years ago, trade and other relations existed between Asia and Southern Africa - relations that we are only now starting to fully appreciate.

In our own country, recent excavations have attested to the existence of Kingdoms with advanced mining, smelting and other skills, as part of the highway from the coast to Southern Africa's great settlements in the hinterland. Some of the pottery and other artefacts discovered here had their origins in the Dynasties of Asia, as evidence to the trade and exchange of skills that existed at the turn of the last millennium.

Our people are proud to uncover a history all along concealed. They are proud to establish that, contrary to conventional wisdom, they were a full and active part of Africa's relations with the world, long before European settlers set their foot on the continent.

And thus came the interregnum of colonial plunder which not only brought untold suffering to the African peoples; but also destroyed international relations across the wide frontiers of seas and oceans.

And so came the interregnum, where Africa found itself tied to Europe's colonial apron strings: its trade, diplomatic relations, education and culture systematically remade in the image of the colonial victors.

But an interregnum, too, of colonisers who, as unwitting tools of history, brought new technological and communication skills that have redefined the world.

Now as we stand at the threshold of a new millennium, we are fortunate witnesses to the rebirth of natural relations between Africa and Asia, relations which colonialism sought to mediate in its own interest. We are happy victims to that famous Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times!

It is in this spirit, ladies and gentlemen, that we have come to your shores and to Southeast Asia. We are driven by a deep desire to rekindle old relationships. We yearn to rebuild what was destroyed. We seek to forge strong multilateral ties among our nations under the new and more favourable conditions of freedom, technological advance and peace.

I wish therefore to thank the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies for the invitation to share ideas with you, to contribute to intellectual discourse in a changing world.

I am aware that, in speaking to such an august gathering, I am treading in the footsteps of giants. Ours is therefore only a drop in the ocean of ideas and wisdom that your Institute is renowned for. We have, above everything else, come to learn.

We have come to learn about a country that has risen from the mire of poverty and dependence; a country once considered an irredeemable port city of traders; a country that has become a modern and sophisticated financial and manufacturing centre, standing tall among the best in the world.

Your products in electronics, plastics, industrial chemicals and other manufactures are well-known. Many across the world marvel at the quality of your education and the high standard of life which continues to improve.

We have come to learn about a region of 500-million people that shines in the world as a prime economic growth area. We have come to learn about how the bonds that you forged among countries of Southeast Asia served as a spur to this economic miracle of our times. Over the years, you were able to bring your countries closer as nations with a common destiny.

We have come to learn about the plodding industry that it took to develop your human resources and advance your technological base. And we are also inspired by the ongoing efforts in your region to remove the legacy of past inter-ethnic tensions.

We have come to learn about all these things and more because they are the foundation of the renaissance abroad in our land, in our sub-continent and in Africa as a whole.

We are encouraged by the fact that, in the few years since our democratic elections, relations between South Africa and Southeast Asia have grown in leaps and bounds. In a period of only three years, trade between South Africa and Singapore has doubled, and it now reflects a healthy balance for both of us. Investments have also increased significantly.

Given the history we referred to earlier, it is natural that this should be the case. And precisely because such relations are natural, we can honestly say that they are still insufficient. They do not reflect the potential that exists.

In our discussions with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong who was in our country a few days ago, and in the wide-ranging talks that we have held with President Ong Teng Cheong and others here, we were left in no doubt that both sides are determined to improve these relations at the diplomatic, trade and investment levels. Many new and exciting ideas are being explored.

We refer to these relations between South Africa and Singapore, between the Southern African Development Community and ASEAN, not merely out of historical sentiment nor narrow selfish interests.

Our enthusiasm derives from the reality of a changing world.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

How then do we define this world and what role should we play in this on-going transformation? These are questions that I suppose are engaging your minds as much as ours in the Southern African sub-continent.

There is no doubt that the last decade of the 20th century has turned upon their head the old paradigms on international and societal relations. Humanity has moved beyond the old narrow ideological mind-sets.

Gaining in prominence over all continents is the challenge of how to better the quality of life of all.

There is growing recognition of the communion of all sectors: workers, the rural masses, business, professionals and others - for all to work in partnership to reap the full benefits of modern technology, in terms of education, information, health, industry, trade and other areas of endeavour.

It would be presumptuous in the extreme to claim that this realisation has infused all sectors of society. It would be inaccurate to assume that all social conflict has thus been subsumed.

Yet steadily, societies are coming to the common realisation that, without the all-round development of the individual, without ensuring that everyone feels a sense of belonging to the political and economic endeavours of society, there cannot be technological advance, let alone economic growth.

Conflict among various sectors of society there will always be. The challenge is how to mediate it in such a way that the energies of all can be channelled towards building better nations and a better world; and mediate it primarily by ensuring that those without employment and in the lowest rungs of industry are not relegated to grinding poverty in the midst of plenty.

We live in a world in which democratic systems of government are becoming the norm in all continents, affording societies the right to freely elect governments of their choice.

Beyond this, there is a realisation that civil society has a central role to play in governance. Gradually, a redefinition of government is under way, with various social sectors claiming their right to directly influence policy determination and implementation.

Transparency and openness are gradually becoming the norm, spurred on not only by political factors, but also by the communications revolution. Government as an institution is gradually becoming a facilitator of people governing themselves.

New forms of social organisation are starting to take root in line with the challenges of the new age. Indeed, without individuals at work, in institutions of learning, in industry and elsewhere becoming a full part of policy determination and implementation, technological advance and a better life cannot be attained.

Another defining character of the world in which we live is the shrinking of relative space and time, occasioned by the gigantic changes in communications technology. Trade and capital flows have compressed the globe into one market place.

In this context, a number of questions arise, impacting especially on developing countries like ours in Southern Africa.

Firstly, how do we hitch onto the communications highway in a manner that benefits ordinary people and not just an elite; through rural telecommunication, and tele-links in education, health and other social services? While technology transfer and training are critical, the fact is that the application and adaptation of such technology to our own needs and conditions depend on us.

Secondly, trade barriers are becoming a thing of the past, imposing heavy obligations on developing countries to speed up processes towards productivity and competitiveness. In many respects, this is to the advantage of these countries. Yet can we say with confidence that the pace of such programmes and the exclusions that exist are determined on the basis of the collective interest or merely the interest of those with international economic power?

Thirdly, capital flows have become more dynamic. Yet real investments are woefully inadequate, compared with short-term flows that contain very little social benefit. In addition, competition among the powerless for the little that is available holds the danger of unbridled mutual beggaring.

Lastly, all these developments have put in bold relief the concept of sovereignty in the new age. The institution of nation-states is under increasing pressure as the world becomes a common market place. What may happen is that smaller states may be forced to defer their sovereignty to those with economic power; rather than a well-considered and systematic process of the pooling of sovereignty among all nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Emerging from this, nations throughout the world have individually and collectively started to engage two challenges, among others.

The first challenge pertains to the restructuring of the United Nations. There is no gainsaying that no other body can give leadership to the evolution of the new world order than the UN. Yet it is structured on the basis of an old paradigm, according authority and power on the basis of definitions of security that are, to say the least, incongruent to current challenges.

We in South Africa, along with the Organisation of African Unity and the Non-Aligned Movement are calling for a rapid restructuring of this world body to ensure that continents and regions of the world can play an effective role in the restructuring of international relations.

As we redefine security to encompass, as its primary component, the socio-economic well-being of nations, representation in the most important decision-making bodies should take this factor into account.

And in order to ensure the pooling of sovereignty rather than the submergence of other nations by the most powerful, the UN must be accorded its central place in the conduct of world affairs.

The second challenge pertains to regional integration. ASEAN in this sub-continent and the Southern African Development Community in our part of the globe are good examples of this. Among developing countries, in particular, much progress has been made in consolidating such regional blocs.

Yet our fast-changing world and its anomalous balance of forces dictate that we look beyond definitions based on geographic proximity.

The concept of the Indian Ocean Rim starts to address this challenge. Indeed, the pre-colonial history we referred to earlier, the current potential for trade and investments, as well as collective security, dictate that the idea of the Rim should be pursued with vigour.

Our own sub-continent enjoys the unique position of being located midway between Asia and Latin America, countries with broadly the same level of development, and the same economic and social interests. In our interaction with states in Latin America, there is a conviction that the Indian Ocean Rim should be a precursor to similar relations between us and that part of the world.

There is a conviction too that such relations are important not only in terms of the mutual benefits that they will bring our peoples; but also because they should help redefine the world balance as we now know it.

All these are matters that I suppose the Institute is seized of, and we are confident that you will make a critical contribution to the ongoing discourse about how our countries become midwives of the new world order in gestation.

We in South Africa are fortunate to have emerged from the era of apartheid into such a vibrant world. We are proud that in many respects, our liberation to which the world so generously contributed, has helped unlock potential that has for centuries been lying dormant.

To the extent that our limited experience can contribute to these debates, we shall not hesitate to do so. This we shall do fully cognisant of the fact that, for us to deal with the disparities that racism created in our society - the backlogs in income distribution, education, health, housing and social services - we require the support and co-operation of all nations, particularly those who have gone through similar experiences.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

In the short three years of our young democracy, we have come to fully appreciate the mammoth challenges that South Africa faces.

Among the lessons that we have learnt is that nation-building and reconciliation depend on consistent thorough-going democracy. Openness and transparency in matters of governance are the best guarantee for the survival of the democratic process.

Our national parliament, the judiciary and other institutions such as the Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are firmly committed not only to exorcise the evils of the past. They are also actively promoting the new culture of human rights so all our people, irrespective of race, gender, religion and language can live as equals in a just society.

At the same time, we do recognise that change of the magnitude we are engaged in will result in uncertainties and apprehensions especially among those who were all along beneficiaries of the system of apartheid.

Our principled approach is to strive for as much accommodation as possible, to put in place mechanisms to protect the religious, cultural and language rights of communities, and to vigorously pursue integration in all affairs, including government, the workplace, sports and other areas.

However, most of South African society is keenly aware that nation-building and reconciliation can only succeed under conditions of a rising quality of life. Progress in our socio-economic programmes is the sure guarantee to the long-term security of all.

Thus, within the context of our Reconstruction and Development Programme, projects are under way to ensure nutrition and food security, to bring more children and women into the welfare safety net, to implement a comprehensive human resource development programme and so on.

At the same time, our government has embarked on massive restructuring of the state machinery to improve service delivery, including, in particular, the agencies delegated to deal with crime. Great progress has been made in these areas. And though our crime and violence statistics come from a very high base of the apartheid years, we are satisfied that we have contained and started to reverse past trends.

In the final analysis the success of these efforts depends on economic growth and development.

Since 1994, the economy has made a turn-around, from negative growth figures onto a path of sustainable growth, based on the improvement of manufacturing output, exports, gross domestic fixed investments and productivity.

However, the growth rate of about 3% that we registered in the past two years is not sufficient for us to attain our objectives of job-creation and a rising quality of life. Thus we introduced during the course of last year, a macro-economic strategy aimed at harnessing the many positive qualities that our country possesses.

Many great opportunities have opened up, including massive mega-projects in minerals processing, petro-chemical industries, telecommunications, car manufacturing, tourism, transportation and other infrastructure.

In all these areas, the contribution of Singaporean and other investors will be critical: with opportunities for large profit margins, the advantage of a sophisticated banking system, the availability of a developed communications network, the freedom to repatriate profits, and the advantage of tax holidays in certain designated areas.

Many of these initiatives are being pursued in partnership with our neighbours in Southern Africa, as we move towards regional integration.

Indeed, Southern Africa today constitutes one of the most exciting regions of the world: a region endowed with abundant mineral resources, a market of over 100-million people, great tourist potential, democracy and peace.

In this changed and changing world, this region has the potential to be the geographic anchor of new relations among Asian, African and Latin American countries. It has the capacity to become one of the centres of rapid economic development, given the potential that has yet to exploited. It has a people ready to learn and to exploit their talents and potential to the fullest.

Long years ago, the Kingdoms of our region and Dynasties of Asia shared their expertise, products and social experiences in a natural relationship among friends.

Today the possibilities are limitless. The will is there to achieve the best for our peoples. Technology has redefined the time and space that separate us.

Our task is to seize these opportunities with open arms.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation