25 May 2021
Programme Director, Professor Verene Shepherd,
Prime Minister of Jamaica, The Most Honourable Andrew Holness,
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports of Jamaica, Ms Olivia Grange,
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, Ms Kamina Johnson Smith,
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, Dr Naledi Pandor,
Her Excellency, High Commissioner Angela Comfort,
Her Excellency, High Commissioner Lumka Yengeni,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour and a singular privilege to join you in this conversation as we celebrate Africa Day.
Our thanks go to the people and government of Jamaica – and to you Prime Minister Holness – for hosting this engagement, and for reminding us of our shared heritage, our shared values, our shared aspirations and our shared future.
Today, we celebrate the unity of the African people, those who live on the continent and those in the Diaspora.
Today, we celebrate the ties that bind us together – ties that no ocean, no slave trader, no war and no pandemic can tear asunder.
This is the day on which we commemorate the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity nearly 60 years ago, in 1963.
The world was a vastly different place back then.
Jamaica had just gained independence the year before, joining a wave of movements that were sweeping across much of the Global South.
The people of South Africa were still suffering under a racist regime, and it would be a full 31 years before we attained our freedom.
The great luminaries and thinkers of the Caribbean were at the heart of the Pan-Africanist movements that inspired our own liberation struggle.
I speak here of CLR James and Henry Sylvester Williams of Trinidad, Frantz Fanon of Martinique, Walter Rodney of Guyana and Marcus Mosiah Garvey of Jamaica, among others.
I also speak of General Toussaint Louverture, who was the leader of the Haitian revolution, of the Cuban internationalists, and of the many men and women from the region who played a leading role in struggles against oppression, racism, fascism and colonialism.
I speak of Robert Nesta Marley, one of Jamaica’s most famous sons, whose music didn’t define just one generation, but continues to provide hope and inspiration to people around the world even today.
It was these sons and daughters of Africa whose ideas, proclamations and actions contributed so much to the drive for African unity, independence and self-reliance.
This conversation is particularly meaningful for us as South Africa.
We remember with the deepest of humility and gratitude, the invaluable support that Jamaica gave to our struggle for liberation.
Jamaica was one of the first countries to impose a trade embargo on apartheid South Africa, and supported successive UN resolutions aimed at the elimination of apartheid.
In 1987 the President of the African National Congress, Oliver Tambo, visited Jamaica and delivered an important speech in Kingston on the unity of the African diaspora.
We recall the joyous reception that Nelson Mandela received in Jamaica in 1991, following his release from prison.
It is a testament to the unwavering support of the Jamaican people for the struggle for our freedom that three Jamaican Prime Ministers – PJ Patterson, Edward Seaga and Michael Manley – have been bestowed with our National Order of the Companions of OR Tambo.
That cherished relationship continues into the present, driving our shared efforts to build a more just, peaceful and inclusive global community.
Our common African heritage provides the rich soil from which our common future will grow.
Since the countries of Africa gained their independence, as apartheid and minority rule was defeated, we have sought to cultivate the relationships between the peoples of Africa and the Caribbean Diaspora.
The inaugural Global African Diaspora Summit in Johannesburg in 2012 was the culmination of years of engagements and consultations, giving clear form and focus to our collective aspirations.
We must acknowledge the progress that we have made in forging unity within the Diaspora.
The Diaspora agenda is now fully integrated into the activities of the African Union.
For example, the Citizens and Diaspora Directorate of the AU is working on documenting the valuable work of Diasporas in providing humanitarian assistance in emergencies and pandemics.
The Diaspora has an important role to play in meeting the aspirations of the AU’s Agenda 2063 and in helping African countries to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.
At the 34th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union in February, the years 2021 to 2031 were declared as the Decade of African Roots and Diasporas.
This is an initiative aimed at strengthening the role and contribution of people from African Roots and Diasporas to the economic, social and cultural development of the African continent.
The Diaspora is the symbolic sixth region of the continent, signalling our desire to build ever-closer relations and our determination to deepen collaboration between bodies like the African Union and CARICOM.
Many people in the African Diaspora are actively engaged in the continent’s development.
This global African community represents a vast pool of knowledge, expertise, energy and commitment able to make a tremendous contribution to Africa’s growth and progress.
The African Union’s theme for 2021 is: “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want. “
This is part of our effort to enhance the contribution of art, culture and heritage as catalyst for social and economic development and integration.
It is an opportunity to explore, celebrate and develop all of Africa’s cultural treasures, both those that reside on this side of the Atlantic and those that reside on your side.
Our shared histories provide many opportunities to deliver a united message to the world about the vast potential of the African continent.
These are opportunities to influence policies that unlock trade, investment and development.
At the same time, our common histories and experiences must be harnessed in the cause of justice for the descendants of victims of the Transatlantic slave trade.
We commend the advocacy of the Government of Jamaica as part of the CARICOM Reparations Commission for reconciliation, truth and justice for victims of slavery and their descendants.
Just as the world must recognise the horrific crimes committed against people of African descent, so too must it acknowledge that the devastating social and economic legacy of slavery continues into the present.
This is about a struggle to recognise the inter-generational trauma that lingers still, and that has held back development of whole societies.
It is about the restoration of dignity, about justice and about building a better future for all.
Now more than ever, as the world confronts this grave pandemic, we are called upon to act in unity and solidarity.
As we stood together against colonialism, apartheid and injustice, now we must stand together to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
Our struggle, however, is not just against a virus.
It is a struggle against the deep inequalities that have so severely hampered global efforts to contain the pandemic, and have left so many societies vulnerable to hardship and despair.
It is therefore a priority that we must confront and overcome all forms of global injustice that favour the few at the expense of the many.
We must confront the vaccine apartheid that is allowing wealthy countries to buy up vaccines whilst less-resourced developing countries languish in the queue.
South Africa and India have sponsored a proposal at the World Trade Organisation for a temporary TRIPS waiver to allow countries in need to produce COVID-19 vaccines and medical products.
I want to use this opportunity to thank Jamaica for supporting the proposal from the floor. With your support, and the support of an ever-growing list of countries, I have no doubt we will prevail.
We also welcome your ongoing support for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator as it works to provide equitable access for all to vaccines, diagnostics and treatment.
This Africa Day, it is our ardent wish that we deepen our collaboration to overcome poverty, inequality, under-development, disease, illiteracy, gender-based violence and conflict.
In doing so, we are guided by the overarching objective of finding African solutions to African problems.
During our tenure as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2019, South Africa and other African members of the Council worked closely with the Caribbean nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
This organic cooperation was a practical demonstration of Africa-Caribbean partnership for peace and security.
We share a common commitment to building a continent that is stable, developed, prosperous and capable of delivering the better life that all its people yearn for.
Sustainable peace can only be achieved by building a just world and a rules-based international order that is inclusive and that addresses the root causes of conflict, such as poverty and under-development.
In January this year, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area came into operation.
It establishes a continental market of some 1.3 billion people.
This is a major milestone towards the economic integration of our continent.
This is the clearest affirmation that Africa is determined to take charge of its own destiny, and that its success is fundamentally tied to harnessing the potential and energies of its people, including in the Diaspora.
The African Continental Free Trade Area will improve the prospects of Africa as an attractive investment destination.
It will advance the empowerment of Africa’s women by improving women’s access to trade opportunities, which will in turn facilitate economic freedom for women and expand the productive capacity of countries.
As nations that have known oppression and the denial of rights, we remain forever on the side of justice for the oppressed, wherever they are.
We must all be concerned about the resurgence in many parts of the world of racism, ultra-nationalism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance.
We stand united behind the Black Lives Matter movement because it is black men, women and children who are more often than not on the receiving end of prejudice and violence.
Ours is a movement for respect for human rights and for the affirmation of our dignity.
In the words of Marcus Garvey:
“Our desire is for a place in the world; not to disturb the tranquillity of others, but to lay down our burden and rest our weary backs and feet by the banks of the Niger, and sing our songs and chant our hymns to the God of Ethiopia.
“Yes, we want rest from the toil of centuries, rest of political freedom, rest of economic and industrial liberty, rest to be socially free and unmolested, rest from lynching and burning, rest from discrimination of all kinds.”
As a people who have known centuries of oppression, we have a moral duty to stand with the Palestinian people and the people of the Western Sahara in their quests for nationhood and self-determination.
We know that freedom for only some is freedom for none.
We share a common position that reform of the UN system is urgently needed.
We need a fair system of global governance that allows for the voices of all countries to be heard regardless of their economic strength or militarily might.
It is my hope that this dialogue will serve as a catalyst for decisive action, and lead to the deepening of partnerships between Africa and the Diaspora in the Caribbean.
Let us unite, let us work together and let us continue the onward march to prosperity and progress.
I thank you.