Address at the Opening of the World
Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia
and Related Intolerance, Durban, 31 August 2001
Your Excellency, Secretary General of the United Nations,
Mr Kofi Annan,
Your Excellencies Heads of State and Government, Ministers
and Heads of Delegation,
Esteemed leaders of the non-governmental organisations,
President of the World Conference, the Hon Nkosazana
Secretary General of the World Conference, the Hon Mary
Distinguished delegates and guests,
Members of the mass media,
Friends, ladies and gentlemen:
On behalf of the people of South Africa and our government,
I am privileged to join in welcoming you all to South
Africa and to this historic world conference that has
the potential and a responsibility to convey a message
of hope to billions of people across the globe.
We have gathered as we have, because we are united
in our resolve to ensure that every human being leads
a life of dignity. We meet here because we are determined
to ensure that nobody anywhere should be subjected to
the insult and offence of being despised by another
or others because of his or her race, colour, nationality
Together we are committed to the realisation of the
objective that every human being should enjoy human
rights as equals with other human beings, with every
right and possibility to determine both their future
and the destiny of their countries.
This surely means that nobody should be denied their
statehood on any basis whatsoever, or turned into permanent
refugees with neither the right nor the possibility
to build a national home they can truly call home.
I am certain we are determined to speak with one voice
to assert that no culture, language or tradition of
any people is inferior, deserving of being despised,
mocked and destroyed. By this means we want to make
the point firmly that all peoples and all nations are
mutually and each equally entitled to their identity
and their national pride.
We have gathered in Durban because we have understood
that poverty is not a natural human condition. Accordingly,
it constitutes a direct attack on the human dignity
of all those condemned to deprivation and are therefore
forced to beg, to steal, to prostitute themselves because
they are poor or those who resort to substance abuse
to take away the pain of hunger and despair.
Understanding all this, we are meeting here because
we have said to ourselves that since poverty is not
an act of nature but the product of human society, we
must as this human society, together fight and vanquish
poverty and underdevelopment.
We have come together, in what some believe is a new
age of reason, because we know that the knowledge and
the means exist in human society today in fact to overcome
this poverty and underdevelopment.
The question that remains to be answered is what is
to be done to deploy these powerful intellectual and
material resources so that poverty everywhere becomes
a thing of the past.
It became necessary that we convene in Durban because,
together, we recognised the fact there are many in our
common world who suffer indignity and humiliation because
they are not white.
Their cultures and traditions are despised as savage
and primitive and their identities denied. They are
not white and are deeply immersed in poverty. Of them
it is said that they are human but black, whereas others
are described as human and white.
To those who have to bear the pain of this real world,
it seems the blues singers were right when they decried
the world in which it was said - if you're white you're
alright; if you are brown, stick around; if you are
black, oh brother! get back, get back, get back!
I speak in these terms, which some may think are too
harsh and stark, because I come from a people that have
known the bitter experience of slavery, colonialism
These are a people who know what it means to be the
victim of rabid racism and racial discrimination. Among
us are the women who suffered most because they had
to carry the additional burden of gender oppression
Because of that experience, against whose results we
continue to struggle to this day, as we will do for
a considerable time to come, we also know what can be
achieved when the peoples of the world unite to say
no longer will they allow that another human being will
suffer at the hands of another because of their race,
colour, nationality and origin.
In welcoming you to South Africa, we welcome you as
fellow combatants who joined us in struggle to defeat
and suppress the apartheid crime against humanity.
Accordingly, I am privileged to have the opportunity
as you, who represent the nations of the world, meet
in this country, which not so long ago was the fountainhead
of racism, once more to convey to you the immense gratitude
of the millions of our people that you did not stand
aside when that crime against humanity was being committed.
These masses are convinced that when you waged that
protracted struggle, you did so because you were opposed
to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related
They welcomed the fact that you decided to convene
this World Conference here in the belief that you did
so because you have confidence that we too remain an
active part of the world movement determined to fight
on until racism ceases to define anybody's place in
society and the world.
They were happy that you would come, because this would
give us an opportunity to reaffirm in front of you all
that to us slavery, colonialism and racism are fundamentally
It would give us the possibility to pledge to the peoples
of the world that we will not betray the friendship
and solidarity which drove you to act against apartheid
and will therefore join with you in the difficult struggle
to eradicate the legacy of slavery, colonialism and
Those on our common universe, who are defined by the
blues singers as brown and black, expect much of this
important World Conference. They believe that something
will come out of here that will signify a united and
sustained global drive within their countries and throughout
the world to help rid them of the suffering they bear
because they are brown and black.
They entertain this hope because their suffering is
real and immense. And yet they can also see that there
are others who are as human as they, who lead decent
lives and are certain of even better lives in future,
whatever other problems they experience.
Gripped by poverty, fearful of the future because they
know that tomorrow will be worse than today, forced
to behave towards others as though some are inferior
and others superior, simply to get something to eat,
many take to their feet to flee from their lands of
despair, at all costs trying to reach other countries
they believe have the possibility to introduce them
to a life of hope.
Our common humanity dictates that as we rose against
apartheid racism, so must we combine to defeat the consequences
of slavery, colonialism and racism which, to this day,
continue to define the lives of billions of people who
are brown and black, as lives of hopelessness.
Nobody ever chose to be a slave, to be colonised, to
be racially oppressed. The impulses of the time caused
these crimes to be committed by human beings against
Surely, the impulse of our own time says to all of
us that we must do everything we can to free those who
to this day suffer from racism, xenophobia and related
intolerance because their forebears were enslaved, colonised
and racially oppressed.
It surely must be that this World Conference will say
that, in all countries, both of the North and the South,
the brown and black ghettos of poverty, despair and
human degradation must no longer exist.
This World Conference will have to indicate what is
to be done practically so that this call results in
a changed and changing world in which all human beings
actually enjoy the inalienable right to human dignity.
An important part of our legitimacy as governments
derives from our commitment to serve the people. Our
own experience tells us that these people whom we serve
always feel pain when another, who might be a citizen
of other lands, feels pain.
To these masses, human solidarity is not a foreign
concept. To them, this World Conference must convey
the message that the peoples of the world are inspired
by a new internationalism that says that we are determined
to unite in action to repair the gross human damage
that was caused in the past.
It must inspire them with the knowledge that as governments,
as non-governmental organisations, as countries and
as peoples, we are ready now, to dedicate our minds,
our skills and our resources to the creation of a new
world free of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia
and related intolerance.
It must convey a message of hope to the peoples of
the world that, together, we are resolved to work hard
for peace everywhere on our universe, so that the doors
open everywhere for the fullest and all-round development
of all human beings in conditions of freedom, safety
The Middle East cries out for a just, stable and permanent
peace that is long overdue. The people of Palestine,
like those of Israel and everywhere else in the world,
are also entitled to pursue their fullest and all-round
development in conditions of freedom, safety and security.
Our own Continent of Africa also deserves peace like
any other, to rescue the peoples from death and destruction
and to open the doors for us too, to develop in conditions
of freedom, safety and security.
Thus will the conditions be created for us as Africans
to take to the long road towards the eradication of
the legacy, which is our daily companion, of slavery,
colonialism and racism.
Only recently we bade farewell to a century that has
visited terrible suffering to millions of people. It
inflicted a terrible Holocaust on the Jewish people.
It imposed a frightful genocide on the people of Rwanda.
It produced criminal regimes of people demented by adherence
to anti-human ideologies of racial superiority.
And yet this same century gave us a global compact
in the form of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It gave humanity as a whole the possibility to accumulate
the knowledge and the means to realise the noble vision
contained in that document.
We have gathered in Durban to make the commitment that
this we will do and, together, to decide what steps
we will take to ensure what has to be done, is done.
Once more, I welcome you to this country which you
helped to liberate from apartheid racism and hope that
the celebration of that victory will give this World
Conference the inspiration to produce the results that
will define the 21st century as the century that restored
to all, their human dignity.