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Mbeki: National Assembly of Sudan (01/01/2005)

1st January 2005


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Date: 01/01/2005
Source: The Presidency
Title: Mbeki: National Assembly of Sudan

Address by the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, to the National Assembly, Omdurman, Sudan

Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly,
Your Excellency, President Field Marshall, Omer Hassan Ahmed al Bashir,
Honourable Ministers,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
People of Sudan:

My delegation and I are honoured to have the possibility to join you and the rest of the Sudanese people as you celebrate your 49th Day of Independence. We rejoice in this because necessarily, the freedom of any African nation is ours as well.

We thank you most sincerely for the singular privilege you have granted us to address the National Assembly on this most important day in the Sudanese national calendar.

I am pleased to convey to you Mr President, to the members of your Government, the Speaker, the members of the National Assembly, the other guests present here today, and the Sudanese people as a whole the warmest greetings and birthday congratulations of the government and people of South Africa. Indeed, a very happy birthday to you all, our Sudanese brothers and sisters!

This being the beginning of the New Year, 2005, we are also fortunate to have the possibility directly to wish you a happy and successful New Year. And, dear friends, we have every reason to believe that for Sudan, and therefore for our Continent, this 49th year of your independence, will indeed prove to be a very happy and successful year, laying a firm basis for what should truly be joyful celebrations next year as you mark your Jubilee Anniversary.

I believe there is a particular poignancy that attaches to the fact that it is we, South Africans, rather than any other Africans, who have the privilege to stand here today to wish you a happy birthday!

You were the first among the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence from colonialism, opening the way towards the total liquidation of colonialism and apartheid on our continent. We were the last to achieve liberation from white minority rule and apartheid, marking the conclusion of the work you had started, of the final abolition of colonialism in Africa.

I mention this for two reasons. One of these is that I would like to take this opportunity once again to convey our sincere thanks to you, the Sudanese people, for everything you did to ensure that we gain our freedom.

You were not satisfied that you were free, but saw the new Sudan as being nothing more than liberated African territory that had to be used to free the whole continent, including ourselves. Thank you for standing with us during our greatest hour of need.

I also mentioned the fact that you were the first to be emancipated, and we, the last, to say that perhaps this accident of history imposes an obligation on both of us to join hands and work together to answer the question – what next for both Sudan and South Africa, as well as our continent as a whole!

But perhaps before we attempt an answer to that question – what next! – we should step backwards briefly to look into our shared colonial past, once again to make the point that there are many factors that should propel us towards common action.

I am certain that even the school learners of this country will be familiar with certain names drawn from and representative of Sudan’s colonial past.

I refer here to such a name as the British General Gordon, whose colonial war ended when he perished here in Khartoum at the hands of Sudanese patriots.

I refer to the British Field Marshall Viscount Wolseley, described in his country as “a gallant man, an earnest soldier…one of the greatest military products of the Nineteenth Century”, who, however earnest he may have been, arrived too late to save his compatriot, who, strangely, became known as Gordon of Khartoum.

I refer also to another British soldier, Lord Kitchener, who led the colonial army that defeated the patriotic Mahdist forces at Omdurman in 1898, and occupied Khartoum, which Wolseley could not capture and in which Gordon died.

The last British personality I would like to mention is Winston Churchill, who served under Lord Kitchener, and wrote the famous account of the colonising exploits of Kitchener in Sudan in the book entitled “The River War”.

Let me quote a short paragraph from this book, which quotation tells the whole story about what our colonial masters thought of us. Churchill wrote:

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and in insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.”

What Churchill said about Mohammedans was of course precisely what our colonisers thought about all Africans, whether Muslim or not. And this attitude conditioned what they did as part of their colonial project, including what their soldiers, such as Gordon, Wolseley and Kitchener did to those they sought to colonise.

Perhaps you are wondering why I make this brief excursion into Sudanese colonial history. In reality, it was also an excursion into our own, South African, colonial history. The same British names I have mentioned also appear in our own colonial history.

To some extent we can say that when these eminent representatives of British colonialism were not in Sudan, they were in South Africa, and vice versa, doing terrible things wherever they went, justifying what they did by defining the native peoples of Africa as savages that had to be civilised even against their will.

Gordon came to South Africa to advise the British colonial power on its wars against our people. Wolseley came to lead the British forces to crush the Zulu people. Kitchener came to introduce the scorched earth policy during the Anglo-Boer or South African War, that resulted in the first emergence of concentration camps, and the conduct of open warfare against women, children and the elderly, to force their armed husbands, fathers, sons and brothers to sue for peace, as did the Boers in 1902.

And Churchill came to South Africa, as he did to Sudan, to serve under Kitchener, and write for the British press.

In the end the point I am making is that our shared colonial past left both of us with a common and terrible legacy of countries deeply divided on the basis of race, colour, culture and religion. But surely, that shared colonial past must also tell us that we probably need to work together to share the burden of building the post-colonial future.

In any case, whether in 1956, when you gained your independence, or in 1994, when we achieved our emancipation, we had to answer the same question – what kind of societies should we build, given not only the fact of their diversity, but also the tensions and antagonisms that existed among its diverse parts!

You have spent fully half-a-century searching for an answer to this question, if we take into account that the war in the South first broke out in 1955. We have spent a mere decade striving, like you, to find sustainable answers to the same question.

You have had to deal with the challenge of a protracted military conflict in the South, a new conflict in the West and tensions in the East and North and elsewhere in this great and major country of Africa.

Whatever the immediate origin of these actual and potential conflicts, the fact they exist or are threatening tells the common story that we still have not found the answer to the question - what kind of Sudanese society should we build, given not only the fact of its diversity, but also the tensions and antagonisms that have existed among its diverse parts!

We have been fortunate in the South African case in that we have had no serious experience of violent social conflict, but perhaps what we might describe as a cold rather than a hot war, conducted by those who are unwilling to accept the end of white minority rule.

Nevertheless, even these, who might be ready to engage in a cold war, have been unwilling to support those who decided that they should take up arms against the democratic order. We can safely say that no social base exists in South Africa to support anybody who might think it necessary to resort to force to solve any of the problems we face.

However, this we must say, that the very fact that we can speak here of a cold war among our people means that, like you, we too have not quite fully answered the question to the satisfaction of all - what kind of South African society should we build, given not only the fact of its diversity, but also the tensions and antagonisms that have existed among its diverse parts!

Yesterday, on the eve of your Independence Anniversary, and the eve of the New Year, thanks to the invitation and arrangements made by President Omar al-Bashir, I, together with some members of our delegation, had the privilege to attend the moving ceremony at Naivasha in Kenya, which successfully concluded the inevitably long drawn-out negotiations between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army.

As of yesterday, Sudan has a Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The protracted and destructive war in the South has come to an end, never to return. It is also our firm view that that Peace Agreement and the new Sudan that will be born as a result of its implementation, provide a firm basis for the solution of other conflicts in Sudan, including the conflict in Darfur.

Today, I visited El Fasher in the Darfur region and have witnessed the challenges facing the government and people of Sudan in the area. I am confident that working together with the AU the leadership of this country will fully resolve the situation.

We would like to thank President al Bashir, Vice President Taha and Dr. John Garang de Mabior for the important work they are doing to move this country away from the conflict and divisions of the past to a lasting solution of peace and reconciliation.

Indeed, we are confident that this process will succeed because the basis for a lasting solution exists in the form of the constitution of this country which, states that Sudan is a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious country in which all these cultures, races and religions are equal.

Unity in diversity also informs our own approach to the challenge of ensuring that we bury the legacy of apartheid.

I think we would agree that many of the internal conflicts on the continent derive from the failure to apply this noble concept of unity in diversity.

In this regard, the task facing our two countries is to make a success of this approach of ensuring unity in diversity, both for the sake of our countries as well as giving additional impetus to the continental efforts to attain peace and stability as a central condition for sustainable development.

Many of us have this vision of a Sudan that is a united country, a country that is developed and has become a major player in the processes of development on the continent.

Clearly, we are looking forward to this partnership that would help develop our countries and ensure a better life for all our peoples.

We are also looking for a partnership that would help us discharge our responsibilities in the development and renewal of the African continent.

As you are aware, Honourable Members, we chair the AU committee for post-conflict reconstruction of Sudan. We are confident that we will work closely with you so that we are able to help bring to an end the suffering of many of brothers and sisters in all parts of Sudan and afford them an opportunity to lead a normal and fulfilling lives.

Happy birthday to all the people of Sudan. May peace and prosperity be among you all.

I thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency
1 January 2005


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