Mbeki: Opening of civil society forum of the WSSD (25/08/2002)

25th August 2002

Date: 23/08/2002
Source: The Presidency
Title: Mbeki: Opening of WSSD Civil Society Forum


Master of Ceremonies,
Our international guests,
Leaders and members of organisations of civil society,
Distinguished delegates to the World Summit for Sustainable Development:

On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, I am honoured to welcome you to our country. We are very pleased and inspired that you have come from all corners of the globe to the city of Johannesburg to discuss the important issues on our common agenda, of People, the Planet and Prosperity.

We are especially moved that you are in this country, because in the past you stood side by side with us as we struggled together to defeat the evil system of apartheid. In good measure, we owe the freedom and democracy we enjoy today to the sustained act of solidarity in which you and the peoples you represent engaged to liberate us from racist oppression.

Our common victory made it possible for the World Summit for Sustainable Development to convene in South Africa and Johannesburg. Accordingly, when we welcome you to South Africa, we welcome you to your home, a house of freedom, which you yourselves built.

This is also your home in a second and most important sense. A few kilometres from where we sit today is the World Heritage Site, Sterkfontein, and the Cradle of Humankind. This is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world where some of the oldest fossilised remains of our ancestors have been found, the birthplace of all humanity, regardless of race or colour.

We are indeed happy that because of the World Summit for Sustainable Development, humanity has come back to its ancestral home to deliberate on vital issues that face all humanity and the common planet which made the birth of human beings possible, after millions of years of evolution.

The decisions that must be taken at the World Summit must answer the question concretely whether we, the present generations of the common humanity that emerged from the Cradle of Humankind, have the will to ensure that, after us, humanity will live on for millions more years.

We have to answer the question whether we have the will and the common sense to ensure that we treat the planet as a common renewable resource, a friend and partner whose health is a necessary condition for the health of humanity itself. We have to answer the question whether we have the wisdom so to organise human society that we ensure that the billions across the globe live in conditions of peace, freedom, equality and a decent life, free from poverty and want and ignorance.

All these questions require urgent and practical answers. It is vitally important that you, the members of global civil society are here as participants at the World Summit. Together with the governments of the world, you have to participate in the process of defining the problems and challenges that humanity faces. You have to participate in the process of deciding what all of us should do to solve these problems and to meet these challenges. Accordingly, billions across the globe count on the Civil Society Forum to produce positive results. They have invested hope in the work you will do over the next few days, that it will point a realistic and concrete way forward towards the achievement of the common goals of sustainable development.

Thirty years ago, delegates from across the world met in Stockholm, Sweden, and placed the important issues of the environment at the centre of the international agenda. Ten years ago, Agenda 21 was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil, as a global plan for sustainable development.

As we meet here in Johannesburg, we have to answer the question whether we have done what needed to be done to advance the objectives contained in Agenda 21. We have to answer this question openly and honestly so that we have the possibility to do what has not been done, and to renew and restore the enthusiasm and momentum towards sustainable development.

We must ensure that there is a common understanding and a unified voice about what we mean by sustainable development, avoiding any equivocation amongst all of us - governments and civil society.

I am also certain that we all agree that the Summit must agree on a practical programme to improve the quality of life of all humanity through economic growth and development and an equitable distribution of wealth and income, social development and conversation of natural resources. Clearly, the challenge is to meet the needs of humanity today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Since the international community adopted the Agenda 21 ten years ago, we have seen millions of people drawn into the ranks of billions others who are very poor. We have seen less and less capital committed to sustainable development, especially in the poor countries of the South. We have seen lack of technology transfers and the trade doors being shut on the face of the peoples from developing countries.

Indeed, since the Rio Summit we have witnessed growing global inequalities as well as more migrations, epidemics, conflicts and instabilities.

In this situation, we cannot and will not be satisfied merely with the fact that we gathered in Johannesburg, enjoyed one another's company and merely decried the debilitating and unacceptable conditions of the poor and the marginalised and the immediate and long-term threats to the environment.

The programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21 states that: "Democracy, respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, transparent and accountable governance in all sectors of society, as well as effective participation by civil society, are also necessary foundations for the realization of social and people-centred development."

We have a responsibility, as governments and civil society to come up with concrete decisions about:

* The best possible ways of strengthening the interface between government and civil society on the development and implementation of policies and programmes that are responsive to the needs of poor people;
* Collaborating to involve communities in their own development;
* Working together to enhance possibilities of equitable global distribution of resources for the benefit of all;
* Joining hands to preserve the environment and ensure sustainable development.

Guided by the objectives of the Agenda 21 as well as those contained in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, we can mount a major offensive against global poverty, underdevelopment and environmental degradation.

As an African, I must also say that it is also important that the World Summit is being held in Africa just as we are celebrating the launch of the African Union, which reflects a new determination on the part of the African people to build a brighter future for this great continent of ours.

The AU and the New Partnership for Africa's Development together provide a framework for action by governments, the private sector, the labour movement, civil society and the international community, to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development in Africa.

I trust that Johannesburg will provide the right climate for the world's peoples to advance their common aspirations. Once again, something new must come out of Africa.

The eyes of the billions of poor people of the world are looking to all of us to emerge from Johannesburg with actions that will radically change their lives. Let us do our best to live up to that great expectation. Together we can and must be the architects of a positive legacy of hope.

We wish the Civil Society Forum success in the important work it has to do.

We depend on you, members of civil society, to continue to be the torch-bearers for sustainable development, combatants for a better life for the peoples of the world, fighters for the preservation of our planet.

I thank you.

Issued by The Presidency
23 August 2002