World Chambers Federation

Address By The President Of The Republic Of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki

  • 21 June 2005

Durban on the Occasion of the 4th Congress Of the World Chambers Federation, at the International Convention Centre Your Majesty, King Goodwill Zwelithini, Host of Durban 2005 and President of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, Prince Sifiso Zulu, Honourable Minister of Trade and Industry, Mandisa Mpahlwa, Ho

Your Majesty, King Goodwill Zwelithini,
Host of Durban 2005 and President of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, Prince Sifiso Zulu,
Honourable Minister of Trade and Industry, Mandisa Mpahlwa,
Honourable Premier of KwaZulu Natal, S’bu Ndebele,
President of the World Chambers Federation, Avijit Mazunder,
Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, Yong Sung Park,
Your Worship, Mayor Obed Mlaba,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished delegates,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you for affording me the opportunity to address the luminaries of chambers of commerce from around the world at your 4th Congress of the World Chambers Federation. On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, I extend the warmest and sunniest Durban welcome to all of you.
When we speak of renewal, re-birth or renaissance, we could not have chosen a more auspicious day, 21 June, to reflect on new beginnings and re-building old and forging new partnerships – the day of the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere and the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.
From wherever in the globe the distinguished delegates may hail, it is surely a time, on the day of the solstice, of celebration, reflection and deliberation, according to ancient traditional wisdom – indeed, aligned to our modern objectives in this millennium of hope and prosp erity.
I am very pleased that, at your 4th Congress here in Durban, the delegates will debate wide-ranging issues such as international trade regulations, good governance, public-private partnerships, reform of and support for national chambers of commerce, leadership, gender and health issues.
In a book, The World is Flat. A Brief History of the Globalized World in the 21st Century, Thomas Friedman makes some observations some of which we may not entirely agree with. He says:
“What if regions of the world were like the neighbourhoods of a city? What would the world look like? I’d describe it like this: Western Europe would be an assisted-living facility with an ageing population lavishly attended to by Turkish nurses. The United States would be a gated community, with a metal detector at the gate and a lot of people sitting in their front yards complaining about how lazy everyone else was, even though out back there was a small opening in the fence for Mexican labour and other energetic immigrants who helped to make the gated community function. Latin America would be the fun part of town, the club district, where the workday doesn’t begin until ten p.m. and everyone sleeps until midmorning.The Arab street would be a dark alley where outsiders fear to tread, except for a few side streets called Dubai, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and Morocco. Many people on the Arab street have their curtains closed, their shutters drawn, and signs on their front lawn that say ‘No Trespassing. Beware of Dog’. India, China and East Asia would be ‘the other side of the tracks’. Their neighbourhood is a big teeming market, made up of small shops and one-room factories, interspersed with Stanley Kaplan SAT prep schools and engineering colleges. Nobody ever sleeps in this neighbourhood, everyone lives in extended families, and everyone is working and saving to get to ‘the other side of the tracks’. On the Chinese streets, there is no rule of law, but the roads are well paved, there are no potholes and the streetlights all work. On the Indian streets, by contrast, no one ever repairs the streetlights, the roads are full of ruts, but the police are sticklers for the rules. You need a licence to open a lemonade stand on the Indian streets. Luckily, the local cops can be bribed.Africa, sadly, is that part of town where the businesses are boarded up, life expectancy is declining, and the only new buildings are health-care clinics.”
(PP316-317, Penguin Books, London, 2005)
I said that some of the observations we may not agree with. Before I comment on Africa, both the reality and the challenges, I would like to say that Friedman is pointing to the fact that we live in an interdependent world. We live in a world that has some strengths and weaknesses. Clearly, in this neighbourhood, we have no choice but to collaborate for the common good.
It is true, as Friedman points out, that Africa faces numerous challenges such as the need to create vibrant diversified economies, with a strong industrial base and a modern infrastructure, as well as the need to deal comprehensively with a variety of human resource development challenges, including health.
At the same time, those who are familiar with the continent would know that Africa offers many opportunities for business and investment. Many countries on the continent have continued to register impressive economic growth in the past few years and multi-party democracy has been a reality again in many countries, at least for the past 15 years.
We have seen emerging, in the last decade or so, a leadership on the continent that is impatient with the debilitating effects of poverty and underdevelopment. This leadership, from politics, business, women, academia, workers and youth, is daily grappling with implementation mechanisms, systems and programmes that would take our countries, individually and collectively, to higher levels of development. Clearly, most of Africa today is defined by positive developments than negatives, deviations from what has now become the norm.
This past Sunday, African leaders charged with the responsibility to drive the development programme of the African continent, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), met in Abuja, Nigeria, to discuss, among others, the report of the African Peer Review Mechanism on Ghana and Rwanda.
I am sure that the distinguished delegates are aware that this Peer Review Mechanism is a voluntary tool with which we African leaders have agreed to evaluate a totality of systems, mechanisms and institutions in our countries, to ensure that we comply with the best practices on critical matters of democracy, good governance, economic development as well as the important issues of human and people rights.
This Peer Review Mechanism is meant to assist our countries as we engage in the challenge of the development and renaissance of our continent. I mention this matter because this important gathering of the World Chambers Federation should partner us, as Africans, as we deal with these challenges facing our countries.
These challenges include the need to consolidate our multi-party democracies, entrench good governance and respect for human rights and ensure higher rates of economic growth.
I am aware that every year the International Chamber of Commerce, the parent body of the World Chambers Federation, which is represented here, delivers a statement of behalf of world business to the heads of state and government attending the annual Group of Eight Summit. As we know, the leaders of the African continent will also attend this year’s summit at Gleneagles.
Accordingly, the partnership that I am referring to also relates to the need for us to use the occasion such as the Gleneagles Summit, to communicate a similar message to the leaders of the powerful economies in the world, for them to act decisively to assist the development processes taking place in Africa so that together we can erase the ugly scar of poverty and underdevelopment from the face of the earth.
We should also communicate a common message that, it is in the interest of international business to ensure market access for developing countries because this will accelerate the necessary growth of entrepreneurship and business in these developing countries.
Indeed, economic growth of developing countries will invariably increase and open new markets for goods and services from companies that are the back-bone to this important Federation. Undoubtedly, many of these developing countries are willing and ready to trade and do business in equitable and fair partnerships.
In addition, one of the greatest gifts chambers such as yours can give our countries is the consolidation and further strengthening of local organizations. In this way, our economies greatly benefit from your role as leaders, setting examples for good business practices and helping to create positive conditions for doing business.
As partners, I am confident that we will continue to find ways of assisting one another to ensure increased investment in our economies, enhancing local enterprise and acting together successfully to conclude the Doha Development Round.
As you continue to deliberate on many of the important matters, I trust you will also reflect on the best ways of ensuring that we eliminate some of the obstacles to better business and economic growth, such as reducing time-consuming and costly bureaucratic barriers.
Distinguished delegates will be aware that South Africa, because of her unfortunate past of apartheid, is faced with a big challenge to reverse the many and varied negative consequences of centuries of exclusion and discrimination.
Necessarily, this means, among other things, the need to attend to the challenge of proper and equal education and training for all the citizens so as to provide our economy with the requisite skills. In this regard, we need partnerships with the World Chambers Federation, especially on entrepreneurial and business development. Government has also embarked on various training and learnership programmes to bring into the business fold those marginalised by our economy including youth, women and persons with disabilities.
Part of the challenge to build a new South Africa that is united, non-racial and non-sexist, is to bring together people, institutions and organisations that were divided by apartheid. Accordingly, we have, for instance, made good progress in bringing together a previously divided business community into one as the Business Unity South Africa (BUSA).
As you deliberate on the many important issues in your panel discussions, I trust that you will come up with more ideas to share with all of us as to how we can accelerate the pace of change in this country as well as the process of development on our continent; how we can achieve better and sustained rates of economic growth so that in time, our country and our continent can experience high levels of prosperity, which should, in reality, characterise all of humanity.
Today, as the sun turns in its tracks and begins its tropical journey southwards, towards the Equator, bringing warmth to the countries of the South, may you all return to your respective chambers of commerce inspired by the vision of the renewal of the Earth, committed to forging equal partnerships with businesses across our metaphorical global village.
In so doing, we may achieve the better world Chinua Achebe spoke about in his poem, Flying:
“A sudden brightness over the world,
A rare winter’s smile it was, and printed
On my cloud carpet a black cross
Set in an orb of rainbows. To which
Splendid nativity came”
(P89, Achebe, C. and Lyons, R., Another Africa, Lund Humphries Pub., London: 1998)
I wish you great success in your endeavours and I am confident that you will continue to have a good conference.
Thank you.