UN marks 10 years of postapartheid democracy in South Africa

Video of commemorative meeting [1hr 34mins] The United Nations today marked the 10th anniversary of South Africa’s battle to make the transition from apartheid racism to democracy in what Secretary General Kofi Annan called “a struggle that galvanized the entire world community.” The fight against apartheid was “one that rallied people and Governments behind a common objective: the objective of reaffirming the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of all peoples,” he said. The transformation was seen as little short of miracle, but “what made it possible was the South African people’s determination to work together to heal the deep scars caused by racial discrimination, oppression, humiliations, denial and exploitation and to transform their bitter experiences into the binding glue of a rainbow nation,” he said. The international community was rejoicing to see South Africans of all colours, ethnic groups and creeds, working together to forge a common future, as civil society organizations, the Government and the private sector addressed the harsh legacies of the apartheid regime – crime, poverty and HIV/AIDS, Mr. Annan said. Today South Africans have played key roles in trying to bring peace to countries in Africa, including Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and in 2001 their country became one of five countries that launched the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), he said. “They are working with their brothers and sisters in the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other organizations to advance the cause of development, justice and African unity,” he said. “Today the entire United Nations family joins with the heroic people of South Africa as they dedicate themselves to working even harder for a bright future. We pledge our support in the struggle to further consolidate democratic institutions, to promote human rights and to build an ever more successful South Africa,” he said. South African President Thabo Mbeki, in a message read by his Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, noted that a few years after South Africa took part in the 1945 founding of the UN, the General Assembly began to discuss the country’s racial discrimination policies, which violated the UN Charter.In 1973 the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid declared apartheid a crime against humanity. In 1974 South Africa was barred from participating in the General Assembly and the African National Congress and other liberation movements were invited to participate in its stead, Mr. Mbeki said. When a changed South Africa was welcomed at the UN, its delegation immediately began to work with other delegations to strengthen the multilateral system so that it could effectively deal with similar challenges in the future.The chairpersons of regional groups, the Presidents of the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council and high-level Secretariat staff paid tribute to the UN and South Africa, including South African leaders Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.”The people of South Africa have demonstrated an exceptional ability to forgive the architects and perpetrators of apartheid, which has earned them respect and admiration worldwide,” General Assembly President Julian Hunte of St. Lucia said. Noting that for over four decades, the United Nations gave international leadership to the anti-apartheid struggle, he said, “Notwithstanding the different perspectives some took on this issue, the organization shared the vision of the majority of South Africans for a country free from racism, racial discrimination, violence, despair and violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”A succession of Nigerian permanent representatives, including the present adviser to the Secretary-General on African Affairs, Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari, chaired the UN Special Committee against Apartheid, Mr. Hunte said.The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) fought apartheid both at the United Nations and in the Commonwealth, he said. Notable contributions were made by former Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica, who spearheaded the sports boycott, the late Governor-General of Barbados, Dame Nita Barrow, named to an Eminent Persons Group, and UN Assistant Secretary-General Angela King, the former head of the UN Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA), Mr. Hunte said. read more