ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI OF SOUTH AFRICA AT THE OPENING OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN PAVILION AT EXPO 2000, HANNOVER, 2 June 2000
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Commissioner General of EXPO 2000, Ms. Breuel;
Minister-President of Lower Saxony, Mr. Gabriel;
Ambassador Asheeke of the Republic of Namibia and Chairman of the Africa Hall Committee;
Consul-General Mr. Molekane;
Regional Director Africa of Expo 2000, Mr. Sonnenberg;
Members of the South African National Stand;
Chairman of Private Sector Participation Group, Mr. Tyler
Ladies and Gentlemen
Anyone who stands today in South Africa on the eastern side of the Krugersdorp-Hekpoort Road, some 9-12 km north of Krugersdorp, near the summit of a low hill to the south of the Bloubank River Valley, on the farm Swartkrans at the Sterkfontein Caves, does so with the knowledge that, in the light of existing evidence and new hominid fossil finds, this is the site of among the most important discoveries concerning the evolution of humanity. On this South African soil there is abundant evidence that this has been the first dwelling place of humankind, that this is the cradle from which all humanity began.
The most recent find in 1998 of a complete hominid skeleton which may be a form of Australopithecus has been described in the following manner by Ron Clarke (in the South African Journal of Science, Volume 94, Number 10, October 1998) who, together with his assistants, made the discovery:
"No matter what kind of ape-man (this) StW 573 turns out to be, the discovery of this skull with its skeleton provides us with a wealth of potential information on the anatomy, locomotor behaviour and evolution of an early hominid. It offers a fascinating taphonomic puzzle coupled with insights into statigraphic problems in the dolomite caves. It demonstrates the important role that Sterkfontein and South Africa have to play in the understanding of human ancestry."
So we ask ourselves endless questions about who these early beings were who lived in a world very different to the one we know now; who were they who first walked this land and used stone tools that have also been found in Sterkfontein and how did they live and manage to survive with the leopard and the hyena as predators?
In this way, in these caves in South Africa, a world journey into our past begins, as the puzzle of human evolution unravels itself and the secrets of the first steps in the development of human culture reveal themselves, as we learn and find out more about the lives of our early human ancestors.
It is not only as a great excavation site - where discoveries are dug out of depths of dolomite rock - that our country has come to be known.
Indeed in the picturesque mountains of the Barberton area, South Africa is also home to 3500 million-year old rocks, which preserve evidence of the birth of our continents and teach us about the formation of our planet.
But it is not only because of what our landscape reveals to us about the past of our planet and the past of humanity that makes us proud to be South Africans.
In the last decades of the twentieth century, the people of this country have broken free of the shackles of the apartheid past by establishing a democracy and undertaking the long yet fruitful tasks of transformation and reconstruction, of bringing about an end to the inequalities and the poverty that most South Africans have had to live with and endure for so long.
It is this rich and resilient struggle of a people to free themselves that we also proudly showcase to the world; the humble achievements of our new nation in the face of great difficulties, the political, social, economic and cultural dynamics unique to our country through which we strive to build our national identity and simultaneously demonstrate our diversity as a people and our unity in action.
Under the theme of "Humankind, Nature and Technology", this Expo provides us with a suitable platform to present ourselves to the world.
The staging of this significant global event, the World Exposition 2000, here in Hannover, comes as all of us in the global community must engage as to how we manage our valuable resources, how we attain sustainable development, how economic prosperity can be attained for all and not simply the already advanced countries of the world.
As part of the world community of nations, we in South Africa are signaling our intent to contribute constructively to a new world order which will be responsive to the needs of all humankind.
The aim of our National Pavilion is to create a better understanding of our country by the mounting of this dynamic and contemporary exhibition.
I believe that our presence here in Hannover for the next five months will reflect not only this cultural complexity and uniqueness, but also our scientific, technological and economic achievements and serve to highlight all the important elements which we possess and through which we have positioned ourselves as a gateway to the Southern African region and the rest of our continent.
I began by making our vantage point the seemingly lowly summit of a low hill near Krugersdorp yet the site of such greatness and extraordinary finds that have shaped our understanding of our origins.
Now, in the small town of Sutherland in the semi-desert Karoo region of our country, we are building a gigantic African eye through which we can view the universe.
The construction of the single largest telescope in the southern hemisphere - SALT as it is called - will mean that in this humble home of our earliest humans, we are also building a vast gateway through which we can observe our earliest stars, learn about the formation of our galaxy and the lives of other worlds so as to give us insights into our future.
We are proud that SALT will not only enable Southern African scientists to undertake important research, but also provide significant opportunities for international collaboration and scientific partnerships with the rest of the world.
From Sterkfontein to Sutherland, through all the vast networks of roads connecting our country and through the mirrors we throw onto our universe for the benefit of the world, it should indeed be obvious to anyone who walks our land that this is the home of breath-taking natural beauty, of a resilient people, of eminent scientists, of many wondrous world discoveries.
It is in this context and in the light of the immense possibilities that lie ahead, that I open the South African National Pavilion here today.
May I congratulate especially Ambassador Bengu on his sterling efforts and express my thanks to each and everyone who has contributed to the building of this truly impressive South African pavilion and who has made the participation of our country in this major event possible.
Thank you very much.
Issued by the Office of the Presidency, 2 June 2000