Opening address by President Nelson Mandela of the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Blantyre - Malawi

8 September 1997

Your Majesty King Mswati III;
Your Excellencies Heads of State or Government;
Honourable Ministers;
Your Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

May I, on behalf of all of us, most sincerely thank my dear friend and colleague President Bakili Muluzi for his warm words of welcome. In his typical wisdom President Muluzi has lightened my task by articulating with such eloquence the challenges before us as we meet in this beautiful city of Blantyre.

Our Summit comes at a time when both our region and our organisation are entering a difficult but exciting period of transformation and critical self-appraisal. We have to ask frank questions and give honest answers about the state we are in and where we intend to go. We have to assess our capacities and review our strategies if we are to achieve the noble ideals that SADC stands for.

The task of transforming SADC into a dynamic development community is an urgent one. It is therefore encouraging that the Council of Ministers will be tabling before us recommendations on the Review and Rationalisation of the SADC Programme of Action. To assess the impact of SADC's policies and strategies, its structures and practices, and to review their relevance for regional integration, is of fundamental importance. That is because it is only when they are seen by the majority of our people to have an effect on their own every day life that SADC will continue to have a legitimate reason to exist. All of us have an obligation to show the courage, vision and determination to transform SADC into a major role player in continental and global affairs.

On of the imperatives we face is to involve civil society in the affairs of SADC. And indeed remarkable progress has been made in engaging key stakeholders such as the private sector and civic associations in the development of the sectoral protocols that will guide regional integration. As we consider today, amongst other things, the approval of protocols in areas like education, mining and cross-border movement of people, it is a source of great satisfaction to known that our signatures will be coming at the tail-end of long consultation with stakeholders who helped determine the priorities.

This Summit is expected to pronounce itself on a number of issues of great concern to the people of Southern Africa: gender equality; productivity; and the ban on production, use and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines in our region.

I have no doubt that all of us will take a firm stand on matters so critical to the socio-economic advancement of our people. SADC will want to give concrete content to its unequivocal recognition that gender equality is a fundamental human right to be realised through equitable representation of women and men in decision making structures as well as equal access to resources. We do understand that productivity and competitiveness are indispensable weapons in our war against poverty, deprivation and marginalisation. And we cannot rest until Southern Africa is safe for our children to play with innocent abandon, free from the savage threat of millions of explosive weapons recklessly scattered across the region.

It is also our task today to review recent political developments in the region and elsewhere and to raise our collective voice of concern where necessary.

Our dream of Africa's rebirth as we enter the new millennium, depends as much as anything on each country and each regional grouping in the continent, committing it self to the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and the basic tenets of good governance.

SADC as a regional grouping largely owes its origin precisely to a commitment to those principles, values and ideals. Indeed they are embodied in the Treaty which binds us together. SADC was forged in the furnace of courageous resistance to Apartheid's racist minority rule and destabilisation; to its gross violations of the human rights of most of its citizens as well as those of the people in the entire sub-region; and to its massive corruption of the organs of government. This heroic aspect of our legacy, if nothing else, obliges us to a principled defence and promotion of these principles in our own midst and on our continent. Amongst the Heads of State here today are persons who, because of their commitment to the overthrow of dictatorial regimes, were forced into exile; who spent long years in the prisons of their oppressors; who hazarded their lives to wage underground struggles; and who, with the multitude of their people, suffered great hardship and danger.

Amongst SADC's basic principles are respect for the sovereignty of member states and non-interference in one another's internal affairs. This is the basis of good governance on the inter-state level. But these considerations cannot blunt or totally override our common concern for democracy, human rights and good governance in all of our constitutent states. Our Treaty obligations bind us to undertake measures to promote the achievement of the SADC's objectives and to refrain from any measures likely to jeopardise the sustenance of these principles.

It is alien to SADC to tolerate the domination of society by any part of it. The right of citizens to participate unhindered in political activities in the country of their birthright is a non-negotiable basic principle to which we all subscribe. The creation of structures within public opinion can be mobilised and given public expression is undeniably part of the democratic process.

This democratic process is denied when political leaders, representing a legitimate body of opinion, are prevented from participating in political activity. We, collectively, cannot remain silent when political or civil movements are harassed and suppressed through harsh state action. We all support, and strive for, the creation of a society in which all stakeholders: labour, business and other elements of civil society can play a meaningful role for the betterment of all.

It is also contrary to the spirit of the Treaty binding us that absolute power be exercised by a state institution. While we respect traditional authority and provide for its expression in government and legislative structures, constitutional evolution and reform is incumbent on each member state. Nor can nominal but ineffective commitment to such reform be acceptable without the whole region ultimately being destabilised.

At some point therefore, we, as a regional organisation, must reflect on how far we support the democratic process and respect for human rights. Can we continue to give comfort to member states whose actions go so diametrically against the values and principles we hold so dear and for which we struggled so long and so hard? Where we have, as we sadly do, instances of member states denying their citizens these basic rights, what should we as an organisation do or say?

These are difficult questions. But we have to ponder them seriously if we wish to retain credibility as an organisation genuinely committed to democracy, human rights and good governance - and, perhaps even more importantly, if we are to have as our supreme mission the eradication of the suffering - social, economic and political - of the people of our region and its constituent countries.

Your excellencies;

SADC has a noble history of struggle; it has been indispensable to the liberation of the people of our region; and in the few years since our region freed itself from apartheid SADC has moved at a speed beyond all expectations to realise its vision of development through co-operation. I have no doubt that it will prove equal to the still greater challenges we now face. This Summit offers us an opportunity to take yet another giant step toward the realisation of our ideals. We dare not and should not let this opportunity go by.

May I once again express my sincere gratitude to His Excellency President Muluzi the Government and people of the warm heart of Africa, the Republic of Malawi, for sharing with us the warmth and humanity for which Malawi is renowned the world over.

I thank you

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website