Address by Nelson Mandela at Mercosur Heads of State Summit, Ushuaia - Argentina

24 July 1998

President Menem;
Your Excellencies;
Ladies and gentlemen,

For too long geography has kept us apart despite the many similarities of our histories.

For too long those histories have denied us the possibility of building on the affinities between the peoples of this continent and Africa.

We are conscious of how, whenever circumstances allowed, the peoples of Latin America affirmed their solidarity with our struggle for freedom. We take this opportunity to repeat our heartfelt thanks to you all. Today, new conditions allow us to reach out as neighbours across the Atlantic, and indeed they require of us that we do so. It is therefore a great honour, in the last months of my public life, to join with such distinguished leaders of this great continent which also knows what it is to be dispossessed and colonised; what it is to fight for freedom and social justice; what it is to confront a painful past in order to reconcile former foes; and what it is to embark on the path of reconstruction and development.

This occasion has special significance for us as we take stock of what has been achieved through regional and multilateral organisations as instruments of peace and development, and as we acknowledge how far short humanity still is of realising all our hopes for a better world.

It has been my privilege over recent weeks to visit several regional or continental associations - the Organisation of African Unity; the European Union; Caribbean Community and Common Market, and today Mercosur.

With each step on this journey of leave-taking, one has been able to glimpse some of the far-reaching consequences of the determination of free nations, in the closing years of the twentieth century, to pool their sovereignty in order to achieve together what cannot be achieved separately.

It has helped confirm that the reasons for doing so are more compelling today than when our regional associations first established themselves, only a few years ago.

It has confirmed the unity of experience of the developing world and the great potential for strengthening the South through co-operation and building relations amongst ourselves - and at the same time how this could be the basis for advancing a mutually beneficial partnership with the countries of the North.

Your will, I hope, allow an old man to use your hospitality to reflect a little on where we have come from and where we might be going.

South Africa gained its freedom at a time when the international community itself was undergoing profound change. In our era of global economic integration and liberalisation the economic interdependence of nations is such that none of us can achieve our goals unless others, and in particular those in our regions and our continents, also achieve those same goals for themselves. The challenges of development and peace are beyond the capacity of any one nation to solve.

The reconstruction and development of a free South Africa therefore also brought the challenge of defining a place in the world for ourselves that is consistent with the ideals of democracy and social justice which informed our struggle and which motivated the solidarity of the international community.

As an African country at the cross-roads of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, South Africa regards itself in every way as a part of the South. Our strategic location brings us the potential to be a bridgehead between South American, the Asian East and our own continent of Africa.

No longer should the vast oceans among us be an obstacle to closer links between people, enterprises, countries or regions. Today, as Africa is reborn and old links with the countries both to our East and our West are renewed under modern conditions, South and Southern Africa are looking to realise the potential for co-operation with their neighbours across the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean as a vital component of our economic growth and the growth of Africa.

Common contexts led us both - in the Southern part of Africa and in the Southern cone of Latin America to establish and build regional associations informed by a commitment to democracy; by the imperatives of development in a rapidly globalizing world economy; and by the recognition that peace and security are dependent on development, social equity and proper environmental management in the context of the goal of sustainable development.

The same logic that led us to regional association demands that we extend this to links between emerging regional groupings, continents, and amongst nations of the South in general.

There is already a clear commitment and initial progress in forging such linkages between SADC and MERCOSUR. At the bilateral level, relations have grown rapidly in the few years since the defeat of apartheid.

I am certain that if we engage in a detailed, determined and sustained effort to build economic, scientific, educational, cultural, sporting and other relations among ourselves, we will achieve results that will benefit all our countries and peoples enormously and contribute to the narrowing of the gap between ourselves and richer countries of the North.

We believe that this should be part of a more general effort to strengthen and diversify South-South co-operation by giving it substantive content through increased linkages and the development of a specific pro-South bias in investment, trade and technology exchange and transfer.

The more we acquire the goods and services we need from each other, engage in joint business and infrastructure ventures; and share research and information, the stronger we shall become. And at the same time, the more we will be in a position to achieve a mutually beneficial partnership with the nations of the North.

Amongst the greatest opportunities for fruitful co-operation lies in co-ordinated interventions in multilateral organisations in order to promote policy and action that is in the interest of developing countries.

And yet we must ask ourselves if we always succeed in avoiding uncoordinated actions, as we must do if we are successfully to tackle issues that can profoundly affect the future of the developing world. We need continuously to encourage co-operation when addressing issues in the WTO, UNCTAD, the ILO, UNDP and the Bretton Woods Institutions, so that the needs of developing countries are addressed in the evolution of these institutions and the systems that they regulate.

Nothing illustrates the need for reforms of the international economic system more graphically than the turmoil currently being experienced in the international financial markets, and its impact on developing countries.

Is it not an anachronism that the actions of countries to put their economies on a sound basis in order to improve the lives of their peoples, should be undermined by the international movement of vast volumes of financial wealth which produce poverty as they wash across the face of the globe in search of quick profits!

This situation needs urgent discussion. It should be located within the broader context of the imbalances of the world economy already identified in 1990 by the South Commission, and such challenges as: the debt burden; foreign direct investment flow; market access; multilateral trading system.

It should be located within the context of a widening gap between rich and poor, and problems of development that were only dimly perceived, if understood at all, when the present international trade, financial and development institutions were established.

I firmly believe that the contemporary world economy is producing enough wealth to enable us decisively to address the continuing blight of poverty that afflicts hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

One of the historic challenges facing today's cadre of political, economic and intellectual leaders is to find the means by which the wealth of nations can be mobilised to achieve this result.

The question that arises is whether these leaders have the daring and vision to break out of the mould of all inherited wisdom and respond to the emergence of an unprecedented objective situation which must surely push to the forefront bold new thinking which, while respecting old wisdom, refuses to be enslaved by old certainties!.

In this context the United Nations could play an important role in expanding South-South and North-South co-operation as a crucial dimension of international development co-operation.

However that potential will only be realised to the extent that the UN itself is reformed in accordance with democratic principles, so that it's decision-making processes are not weighted in favour of a few powerful nations.

The United Nations is only one example, if the most important, of existing organisations which offer opportunities to foster convergence of the South on various global economic, political and strategic issues.

One thinks, as a striking example of the potential for such co-operation, of the initiative on nuclear matters of the Zone for Peace and Co-operation in the South Atlantic, which includes both Mercosur and SADC members.

In advancing the idea of linkages and co-operation between the world's four existing or prospective nuclear-weapon free zones the organisation has pointed a way towards consolidating the status of a Southern Hemisphere and adjacent areas free from the threat of nuclear weapons.

Such a development, built on the fact that the four zones and demilitarised Antarctica comprise more than half the earth's land mass, could promote non-proliferation and reinforce progress towards nuclear disarmament. The success in achieving consensus on such a complex matter indicates the potential of South-South co-operation for helping shape the emerging world order. The fora for such concerted action are numerous. Democracy has brought South Africa the opportunity to play its part in this process, and it is strongly committed to doing so to the full; whether as a new member of the African-Caribbean-Pacific group of countries; as a member of the Organisation of African Unity and SADC; as chair of UNCTAD; or a member of the newly established Indian Ocean Rim Association.

In a matter of weeks South Africa is to host the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. This movement - including some members from this continent - played a critical role in the decolonisation process. Today it confronts the challenges of development.

When we meet in Durban we will be discussing issues of concern to all developing countries, including those I have touched on today. Ladies and gentlemen;

If I have dwelt on the possibilities of meaningful co-operation amongst the developing countries of the world, it is because the greatest challenge that faces the world as we enter the new millennium is the challenge posed by the widening poverty gap.

Failure to address that challenge will undermine the security of millions as well as the political rights whose advance has been one of the achievements of this century.

As long as our world, which has the resources to end poverty everywhere, is divided into those addressing the problems of plenty and those confronted by the problems of scarcity, peace and freedom will remain fragile-

As we were our own liberators, in Africa, in Latin American and in all the regions of the world which knew colonisation and oppression, it is now our responsibility, as nations still burdened by the legacy of the past, to join hands in shaping a new world order, one in which North and South, in partnership, can eradicate the poverty, disease and insecurity which still blight the lives of much of humankind.

I thank you for your attention and wish you well in your work. Your achievements are an inspiration and a source of hope to all who seek upliftment and human dignity through mutually beneficial co-operation.

I thank you

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website