Address by Nelson Mandela at Summit of Co-operation Council for Arabian Gulf States, Abu Dhabi

7 December 1998

Your Royal Highness, Chair of the Gulf Co-operation Council;
Your Royal Highness, Host of this Summit;
Your Majesty;
Your Royal Highnesses;
Secretary-General of the Gulf Co-operation Council;
Secretary-General of the United Nations;

It is a great honour to have been invited to address this Summit meeting. I appreciate that this is the first time that a Head of State from outside your community has been afforded this privilege, and I thank you most sincerely for that. My frequent assertion that an old man is respected for his grey hairs more than for any real achievements, is more and more being proved right. This old man, however, remains greatly honoured by your gracious gesture.

It brings an opportunity to say again what we cannot say too often. If there was something unique about our freedom struggle, it was in the fact that it enjoyed support from virtually all political parties in all parts of the world. Therefore, the freedom of South Africa's people was the outcome of a struggle that the members of this Council also shared with us. Our victory was yours too; and the people of South Africa will always remember your support with gratitude.

It is also a great joy, as an African, to be present in a council of leaders that for nearly two decades has promoted co-operation for development, peace and stability in a region that has played an indispensable part in the history, culture and economy of Africa.

Indeed, there are historians who have asked why the map of Africa draws the continent's boundary at the Red Sea rather than the Gulf! I refer to this, not to advocate any revision of the maps! Rather it is to recall how deep and ancient are the affinities on which we can build today.

South Africa's own Islamic heritage has been a vital part of our history. It would be appropriate on an occasion such as this, to pay tribute to those Muslims who sacrificed in resistance to apartheid. We think in particular of those who died in detention: Babla Saloojee; Ahmed Timol; Imam Haroun; and Dr. Hussein Hafferjee.

They represent the involvement of the Muslim community in the fight for freedom. Today, it takes its place in the even greater challenge of creating a just and prosperous society - as Ministers in our Cabinet; in the highest judicial office in the land; in business and the professions.

Now that we are free, South Africa is forging a proud new identity in which all our diverse religions, cultures and languages are accorded equal rights. Unlike before, free South Africa accords equal constitutional status to Islam along with other religions. Muslim marriages are being recognised, in contrast to what was previously the case.

The things that were once used to divide us are today a source of unity and strength. In the same way the religious and cultural ties that nourished solidarity in struggle, are today strengthening partnerships for peace and prosperity with the Gulf.

In this spirit, our visit allows us to affirm our determination to consolidate and extend across the broadest range possible, the rapid growth of relations between our countries and regions that has been made possible by the ending of apartheid.

The members of the GCC have emerged as strategic trade partners of South Africa. Mutual knowledge of each other is helping to create a climate of confidence in which our relations can develop to the full. This can only benefit the whole Southern African Development Community as well as the GCC region.

These burgeoning relations are a part of the reconstruction of our country; the development of our region; and the rebirth of our continent. In a rapidly changing world, they are helping to define a new world order in which the needs of development are more adequately reflected.

In the modern world no country can conduct its affairs in isolation. The problems we face are beyond the capacity of any one nation to solve on its own. What happens in any one country impacts on its neighbours and further afield.

We know that we do not need to stress these facts in this forum, or before our host today, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whose role in the creation of the United Arab Emirates, in support of international justice and in regional and international affairs exemplifies a practical commitment to progress through co-operation and integration.

We are aware of the dispute regarding the three islands in the Arabian Gulf. Though we are not well-versed in the details, we have every confidence that the leadership of the Gulf Co-operation Members and Iran have sufficient experience to resolve this matter through negotiation and thereby make a critical contribution to stability in the region. Negotiation and discussion are the greatest weapons we have for promoting peace and development.

These facts are only too evident to a region that has lived the history of the Middle East Peace Process. It is our earnest wish that the spirit which at Wye River broke the long deadlock will sustain progress towards a comprehensive and just peace. After the revival of hope that these negotiations brought, it would be nothing short of tragic if failure to abide by agreements, including the release of political prisoners, again frustrated the aspirations of the Palestinian people for justice and the yearning of the whole region and the world for peace in the Middle East.

What the Middle East knows, applies to the world as a whole: that peace, stability and development are indivisible and inseparable.

I have been privileged during the past year, also as part of my saying farewell to those who had been invaluable partners in our freedom struggle and now in our process of rebuilding our country, to participate in the meetings of various regional, continental and international associations

What has for me personally been a journey of leave-taking, has also been an encouraging glimpse of a future which can be created as the nations of the world work together to achieve the ideals which they cannot realise separately or in conflict with each other.

In particular it has confirmed the potential for developing countries to strengthen each other through co-operation and by building relations amongst ourselves. Thereby we also promote the conditions for a mutually beneficial partnership with the countries of the North.

As the new chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, South Africa is committed to working for the realisation of these goals, so that the imbalances between the North and the South can be addressed.

The imperatives of interdependence are stronger today than ever before. In 1994 when South Africa achieved its freedom, the world itself was undergoing profound change.

Then, although we encountered doubts in various parts of the world as to our capacity to manage a modern economy, there were few who expressed doubts about the orthodoxy of the day, namely that the interdependence that came with globalisation and liberalisation could only bring benefits to all. Today the picture is very different. South Africa - like the Gulf countries -- has weathered a financial storm that has exposed the structural faults in an international financial system in urgent need of reform. But none have been unscathed, and none can remain complacent as long as vast sums of capital can sweep across the world to no social purpose, setting back the best efforts of nations to uplift themselves.

As crises far away diminish markets and reduce prices of raw materials and products, as they suddenly reduce the value of investments, the consequences are felt across the world. And though all are affected, it is the developing countries that bear a disproportionate burden.

It is therefore vital that we seek, as developing countries, continuously to co-operate when addressing issues in multilateral and international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation; UNCTAD; the ILO; the UNDP and the Bretton Woods Institutions. Only then can we ensure that the needs of the developing countries are addressed in the evolution of these institutions and the systems that they regulate.

The United Nations itself could play a critical role in promoting these objectives. That potential, however, will only be fully realised to the extent that the decision-making process of the United Nations come fully to reflect democratic principles.

The Non-Aligned Movement has also proved itself as a vehicle for the convergence of the South on the major global, economic, political and strategic issues of the day. South Africa looks forward to working with all the members of this Gulf Co-operation Council to strengthen NAM in order to promote the interests of developing countries. The high level participation of GCC members at the recent Non-Aligned Movement in Durban bore witness to your commitment to the organisation, and was much appreciated.

The impact of co-operation at the multilateral level will depend also on our success in building concrete relationships between ourselves as countries and regions. As Africa renews old links under new conditions, South and Southern Africa are looking to realise the potential for co-operation with those who share the Indian Ocean, as a vital component of economic growth.

We firmly believe that a detailed, sustained and determined effort to strengthen economic, scientific, sporting and other relations amongst ourselves will bring benefits to all our countries and peoples. That is exemplified in the support that South Africa received from the Gulf countries during the successful Sixth International Energy Conference in Cape Town recently. It is illustrated in the financial support for development in various SADC countries that has come from this region. It is given concrete reality in the joint ventures, the trade and investment, and the interchange of technology that is boosting growth and enhancing the productive capacity of our countries and regions.

Your Excellencies;

I have stressed the possibilities and benefits of co-operation amongst the developing countries and regions of the world, and in particular between the Gulf and Southern Africa, because there is no other path to sustained development and stability for our regions and for our world. There is no other way of meeting the challenge of the new millennium, to reverse the widening gap between the rich and poor parts of the world.

At the end of a century, which has seen so much suffering brought through conflict, can we afford to do otherwise!

As my public life draws to a close, I am filled with hope, having seen how far we have come in understanding that peace and co-operation are the most powerful weapons in meeting this challenge.

I would like, in conclusion, to take this opportunity to express the hope, that the co-ordinated efforts of your countries will help bring lasting peace and stability to a region of such strategic importance to the world.

It will be as the world approaches that peace and stability on which the prosperity of all can be built, that I and others across the world who gave our lives to a struggle for a better world for all, would be able to retire with contentment and personal peace.

I thank you.

Source: South African Government Information Website