STATEMENT OF THE PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA, THABO MBEKI, AT THE UN MILLENNIUM SUMMIT, New York, 7 September 2000.
President of the Millennium Summit,
We have gathered at this important place to discuss what we might do together to address the problems that confront our common world.
The billions of people we represent expect that a strong, clear, unequivocal and understandable message of hope will come out of this historic Millennium Summit.
It must be that we will have to jostle with various pagan gods at whose feet we prostrate ourselves, over all of whom tower the gods of inertia, the market and globalisation.
Scattered throughout the second millennium are terrible human-made moments of anti-human actions that brought great pain and misery to millions of people.
Slavery was one of these. Colonialism was another. The world wars were such other moments. The Holocaust carried out by Nazi Germany was such a human-made moment, as was the more recent genocide that visited the people of Rwanda, only six years ago.
For many of us all this deliberate and savage violence against human beings represents history, things that have come and gone. We choose to forget them, allowing the dead to bury the dead.
However, none of us can forget the living, whose mandates have given us the privileged possibility to speak from this podium.
Billions among the living struggle to survive in conditions of poverty, deprivation and underdevelopment, as offensive to everything humane as anything we decry about the second millennium.
The poor of the world stand at the gates of the comfortable mansions occupied by each and every King and Queen, President, Prime Minister and Minister privileged to attend this unique meeting.
The question these billions ask is - what are you doing, you in whom we have placed our trust, what are you doing to end the deliberate and savage violence against us that, everyday, sentences many of us to a degrading and unnecessary death!
Those who stand at the gates are desperately hungry for food, for no fault of their own. They die from preventable diseases for no fault of their own.
They have to suffer a humiliating loss of human dignity they do not wish on anybody, including the rich.
These are the victims of the systemic violence against human beings that we accept as normal, but for which we judge the second millennium adversely.
And yet, that millennium created the conditions for us to end this modern tragedy.
Part of the naked truth is that the second millennium provided humanity with the capital, the technology and the human skills to end poverty and underdevelopment throughout the world.
Another part of that truth is that we have refused to use this enormous capacity to end the contemporary, deliberate and savage violence of poverty and underdevelopment.
Our collective rhetoric conveys promise. The offence is that our actions communicate the message that, in reality, we do not care. We are indifferent. Our actions say the poor must bury the poor.
The fundamental challenge that faces this Millennium Summit is that, credibly, we must demonstrate the will to end poverty and underdevelopment. We must demonstrate the will to succeed, such as those who died in the titanic struggle to defeat Nazism and fascism.
If we took this epoch-making decision, it would not be difficult to arrive at the practical decisions about what we need to do to make the United Nations an effective, 21st century organisation.
Thus would we end its slide into somewhat of a debased coinage that becomes a source of problems rather than a critical contributor to the urgent solutions we must find.
In this regard we will have to ensure that the poor play their role not as recipients of largesse and goodwill, but as co-determinants of what happens to the common universe of which they are an important part.
The essential question we have to answer at this Millennium Summit is whether we have the courage and the conscience to demonstrate that we have the will to ensure that we permit of no situation that will deny any human community its dignity.
I, like the poor at our gates, ask the question - will we, at last, respond to this appeal!
All of us, including the rich, will pay a terrible price if we do not, practically, answer - yes, we do!
Issued by the Presidency, 7 September 2000