Address by President Nelson Mandela at the opening of the 5th session of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans, Cape Town

11 November 1997

Dr Mario Soares;
Government Ministers;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour to have the Independent World Commission on the Oceans hold its Fifth Session here in South Africa.

We are proud to welcome so many distinguished visitors to our shores, in particular your Chairman, Dr Mario Soares. His leadership contributed to the efforts of the people of this region to end colonial rule and apartheid in southern Africa.

Today we welcome him as the architect of a body dedicated to ensuring that the world's oceans, once under the sway of seafarers imposing Europe's colonial rule upon the world, should be used for the benefit of all peoples: the South as well as the North; future generations as well those living today.

Your Commission touches on matters of great urgency for us all. It becomes clearer with each passing year that our destiny in the next century is linked with the availability and purity of water.

The Law of the Sea Treaty recognises that the wealth of the oceans is part of the common heritage of humanity. Yet without a regulatory authority or enforceable law, alarming threats to the oceans face us because of such practices as the dumping of toxic wastes, over-fishing or transnational crime like drug trafficking. The efforts to establish a workable legal order for the oceans must not fail.

Democratic South Africa is eager to make its humble contribution to this endeavour. Hence our recent ratification of the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty. And hence our support for the pledge, at the recent session of the Zone of Peace & Co-operation of the South Atlantic, to co-operate in dealing with drug-trafficking in the region.

We share the commitment, from that same session, to address the urgent threats of environmental deterioration and illegal fishing activities that, if left unregulated, could deprive us of a critically important source of protein-rich foods for all peoples.

We need too to address the continuing militarisation and nuclearisation of the seas by a few naval powers. The international effort to demilitarise and the oceans and make them nuclear-free, of which the Treaty of Pelindaba is part, must succeed. Action by the Commission to highlight this problem, and to offer directions for making the oceans peaceful as well as sustainable, will be of lasting benefit.

The protection of the oceans requires both knowledge and political effort, it demands an informed public and the involvement of all spheres of civil society in working with an putting pressure on the institutions of government and the private sector.

We look towards the Commission to give leadership in efforts to raise public awareness about the oceans, as well as giving advice and assistance to governments.

We do all know that there are no easy solutions. We have to strike some difficult balances in the use of the oceans.

It is, of course, helpful developing countries to have preferred access to the resources of the coastal waters in their Exclusive Economic Zones, in order to develop their economies and guarantee food security. The activities of distant fishing fleets must not impede the access to fisheries upon which local populations depend for their livelihoods. But individual nations must also respect the rights of others within the framework of international treaties.

We have to balance the exploitation of sources of much-needed energy on the continental shelf with the recreational pleasures of our beaches and seaside resorts.

Such competing interests, and many more, highlight the fact that nowhere is the concept of sustainable development more important that in relation to activities affecting the oceans. Our policy on the oceans must rest on the solid moral foundation of dedication to the primacy of people and their long-term well-being. We have to be on guard against temptations of short-term benefits and pressures from powerful forces at the expense of the long-term interests of all. We cannot afford to bargain away the birthright of future generations.

South Africa's achievement of democracy has allowed it to work with others for these shared goals by virtue of geographic gift we find ourselves strategically located between two great bodies of ocean waters, the Indian and the Atlantic, with immense potential for co-operation.

This potential is given concrete expression in regional organisations such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association; The Southern African Development Community and the Valdivia Group of Temperate Southern Hemisphere Countries on the Environment. These bodies all help us to use the oceans of the region in ways that promote sustainable development and great equity.

The oceans of the Southern Hemisphere provide exciting opportunities for linking Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, Latin America and Australasia in ever closer ties that promise many rewards. Ultimately this will enhance the contribution of the South, in partnership with the rest of the world, towards a more peaceful and prosperous future for humanity.

Our future as human beings depends upon our intelligent and prudent use of the oceans. And that in turn will depend on the determined efforts of dedicated women and men from all parts of our planet.

Your Commission carries a great responsibility on behalf of the international community to summon our energies to this great undertaking.

I am confident that with members of such calibre, it is equal to the task. I hope that this meeting in Cape Town provides you with the opportunity to take important steps along this path as you prepare to write your Lisbon Declaration on the Oceans.

May I in conclusion take this opportunity to thank the Government of India and the donors from the private sector whose generous financial support has made this session possible.

And may I once again extend a warm welcome to you all on behalf of the people of South Africa, and wish you well in the coming days of discussion and decision.

I do hope that you will also get time to enjoy the scenic beauty and cultural treasures of this Province and of South Africa as a whole.

I thank you

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website