Closing address by President Nelson Mandela at the 19th meeting of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom), St Lucia

4 July 1998

Prime Minister Anthony;
Distinguished Heads of Government;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

May I first thank you most sincerely for this opportunity - too long delayed - to meet with the leaders of the peoples of the Caribbean.

It has been delayed in recent years by the tumult of South Africa's entry into the international community of free nations.

It was delayed for decades before that, by South Africa's oppression under the yoke of apartheid.

But inasmuch as our freedom completed the liberation of our continent, we can say in truth that this encounter has had to wait upon centuries of colonialism and bondage. It has been made possible by our shared African heritage of resistance and renewal.

For all these reasons, I feel especially honoured and privileged to stand before you at this your last conference before my own retirement from public life.

It provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the profound contribution to our freedom from these parts.

Special homage must be paid to persons like Sir John Compton and Michael Manley, for their tireless efforts in pursuit of that goal, at the head of a legion of freedom fighters, prominent personalities as well as ordinary people who played a vital role in helping rid our shores of apartheid.

In expressing our appreciation, we acknowledged this contribution not as the solidarity of strangers or the product of some abstract and recent identification with a distant struggle.

This region has, in song and verse, in political philosophy and action, long been a source for the articulation of both the lamentations and aspirations of black people everywhere.

We are bound by our common African heritage. When Africans were wrenched from their continent, they carried Africa with them and made the Caribbean a part of Africa.

On this occasion I can think of no better way of evoking what we share than the lines of a Caribbean poet, Grace Nicholls.

I have crossed an ocean I have lost my tongue from the root of the old one a new once has sprung

Our people too crossed the ocean of dispossession and displacement to become rightless labourers in the land of their birth.

It is therefore no accident that the vision of an African continent reborn through the unity of its peoples has long drawn deeply from thinkers with their roots in the Caribbean. It is not surprising that our own Solomon Plaatje, a founding father of the African National Congress, should have drawn from that well.

It is that resilient ability of which the poet speaks, the capacity for renewal and redemption out of the starkest adversities that have made us, the people of the South, able to survive centuries of domination and attempts to eradicate the roots of our being, and the equip us to enter the new millennium confident that it will herald the dawn of a century that belongs to us.

As we dream of and work for the regeneration of our continent, we remain conscious that the African Renaissance can only succeed as part of the development of a new and equitable world order in which all the formerly colonised and marginalised take their rightful place, makers of history rather than the possessions of others.

The 25th anniversary of the signing of the treaty which established CARICOM is therefore also a cause for African joy, as well as celebration by all who wish to see those whom history placed on the peripheries of world economies and power blocs succeed in organising themselves so as to take responsibility for their own destinies.

The membership of CARICOM represent a particularly striking example of marginalisation through the natural and social forces which pose a singular challenge to us to recognise our collective responsibility to mankind. As mostly Small Island developing states they feel with force the difficulties that globalisation and liberalisation put in the way of developing states seeking to remain competitive and achieve economic development. They underline the importance of multilateral fora for the economic integration and balanced development of such states.

The environmental vulnerability of this area also reminds us of our common responsibility for a sustainable environment for future generations to live in. The way in which the Small Island developing States have stood together to articulate their plight in this regard, is an example and an inspiration.

At the heart of such concerns, and of the objectives of CARICOM, stands the goal of poverty eradication.

There are amongst the member states of CARICOM several of the world's least developed countries. As most of the world's least developed countries are found in Africa, this forms another powerful bond between us, providing the foundation for common interests and points of departure.

Your 25th anniversary is therefore an occasion for us jointly to draw strength as we face the challenges to the countries of the South into the 21st century.

As South Africa defines its place in an international community that is feeling the impact of the re-alignment of global forces, South-South co-operation is of direct and central importance to our own national and international priorities.

As a small country, the defence of our independence and sovereignty, and the achievement of the development which must give content to our freedom, can only succeed in a broader setting that contributes to the defence of the independence of particularly the countries of the South, and to their development.

The co-operation, which we seek, is one that is political as well as economic and social.

It includes the matter of the democratisation of international relations. It can no longer be accepted that the affairs of the United Nations or the development of the world trade and investment systems should give disproportionate weight to a few powerful nations.

We need to develop our relations in a strategic way, acting as bridges for each other, talking in the first instance in economic terms.

For example, South Africa is strategically placed to act as a bridge between the Caribbean and Latin America on the one hand, and Asia on the other. To seize the opportunities that this brings for the supply of goods and services amongst ourselves could enormously reduce our dependence on the developed world. It would in turn help us continue to transform our relationship with the developed world into one of a true partnership to the benefit of both parties.

At the same time as we seek to build these concrete economic relationships, we need to join forces in making the needs of development felt in the evolution of the world's trade and financial systems. None of us, as individual countries or even as regional associations, can decide tariff policies on our own. Such is the nature of the world's financial system, as South Africa is presently experiencing, that countries can be subjected to unwelcome turbulence that is not of their own making.

In the conduct of our foreign relations, are we doing enough to ensure that the erosion of the sovereignty of states by these powerful forces is countered by improvements in the systems of international governance that take account of the needs of developing countries?

Ladies and gentlemen;

South Africa is committed to seizing the many opportunities that await us to pursue these objectives with the countries of the CARICOM.

We eagerly await the chance to welcome you at the 12th Summit of the Heads of State or Government of the Non-Aligned Countries in September this year. We regard this as an important opportunity to put the needs of development high on the international agenda.

There are many areas in which SADC and CARICOM can co-operate as regional associations, for mutual benefit.

As negotiations begin for the restructuring of the Lome Convention there is wide scope for us to co-operate as regions and within the ACP.

The rapid development of relations between South Africa and the Caribbean in the few years of our freedom, stems from the commonalties not only in the international and political challenges before us, but also in those of economic development and the upliftment of our people.

We look forward to working closely with you. Our shared vision for the redemption of Africa is founded on aspirations that extend beyond Africa and the people and countries of the African Diaspora. As we enter the new millennium, let us join hands with all those everywhere working for human dignity and upliftment.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website