The Presidential Years

If direct relationships and negotiations were the principal mode of Mandela’s involvement in international relations, that was, as noted above, emphatically within the quest for a more equitable and multilateral world.

In the closing months of his presidency, events and international calendars conspired to fashion a sequence of multilateral meetings into what was both an extended leave-taking for Mandela and a moment of retrospect on what had been achieved. Coming as it did in the throes of a global financial crisis and the persistence of conflict in several parts of the world, the tone was more sombre than celebratory.

By the time he attended the Mercosur Summit, in July 1998 he had already been for the last time as President of South Africa to meetings of the Organisation of African Unity; the European Union; Caribbean Community and Common Market

With each step on this journey of leave-taking, one has been able to glimpse some of the far-reaching consequences of the determination of free nations, in the closing years of the twentieth century, to pool their sovereignty in order to achieve together what cannot be achieved separately.

It has helped confirm that the reasons for doing so are more compelling today than when our regional associations first established themselves, only a few years ago. ...

And yet we must ask ourselves if we always succeed in avoiding uncoordinated actions, as we must do if we are successfully to tackle issues that can profoundly affect the future of the developing world. We need continuously to encourage co-operation when addressing issues in the WTO, UNCTAD, the IL0, UNDP and the Bretton Woods Institutions, so that the needs of developing countries are addressed in the evolution of these institutions and the systems that they regulate.

Nothing illustrates the need for reforms of the international economic system more graphically than the turmoil currently being experienced in the international financial markets, and its impact on developing countries.

Is it not an anachronism that the actions of countries to put their economies on a sound basis in order to improve the lives of their peoples, should be undermined by the international movement of vast volumes of financial wealth which produce poverty as they wash across the face of the globe in search of quick profits!

This situation needs urgent discussion. It should be located within the broader context of the imbalances of the world economy already identified in 1990 by the South Commission, and such challenges as: the debt burden; foreign direct investment flows; market access; and the multilateral trading system.

It should be located within the context of a widening gap between rich and poor, and problems of development that were only dimly perceived, if understood at all, when the present international trade, financial and development institutions were established.

The contemporary world economy is producing enough wealth to enable us decisively to address the continuing blight of poverty that afflicts hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

One of the historic challenges facing today's cadre of political, economic and intellectual leaders is to find the means by which the wealth of nations can be mobilised to achieve this result.

The question that arises is whether these leaders have the daring and vision to break out of the mould of all inherited wisdom and respond to the emergence of an unprecedented objective situation which must surely push to the forefront bold new thinking which, while respecting old wisdom, refuses to be enslaved by old certainties!. .

The greatest challenge that faces the world as we enter the new millennium is the challenge posed by the widening poverty gap.

Failure to address that challenge will undermine the security of millions as well as the political rights whose advance has been one of the achievements of this century.

As long as our world, which has the resources to end poverty everywhere, is divided into those addressing the problems of plenty and those confronted by the problems of scarcity, peace and freedom will remain fragile-

As we were our own liberators, in Africa, in Latin America and in all the regions of the world which knew colonisation and oppression, it is now our responsibility, as nations still burdened by the legacy of that past, to join hands in shaping a new world order, one in which North and South, in partnership, can eradicate the poverty, disease and insecurity which still blight the lives of much of humankind.731

When Mandela took leave of the United Nations General Assembly in 1998, on an occasion that marked the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he put the challenge of global leadership in the context of the declaration, noting that the five decades had seen some of the most extraordinary developments in the evolution of human society.

These include the collapse of the colonial system, the passing of a bipolar world, breath-taking advances in science and technology and the entrenchment of the complex process of globalisation.

And yet, at the end of it all, the human beings who are the subject of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights continue to be afflicted by wars and violent conflicts.

They have, as yet, not attained their freedom from fear of death that would be brought about by the use of weapons of mass destruction as well as conventional arms.

Many are still unable to exercise the fundamental and inalienable democratic rights that would enable them to participate in the determination of the destiny of their countries, nations, families and children and to protect themselves from tyranny and dictatorship.

The very right to be human is denied every day to hundreds of millions of people as a result of poverty, the unavailability of basic necessities such as food, jobs, water and shelter, education, health care and a healthy environment.

The failure to achieve the vision contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights finds dramatic expression in the contrast between wealth and poverty which characterises the divide between the countries of the North and the countries of the South and within individual countries in all hemispheres.

It is made especially poignant and challenging by the fact that this coexistence of wealth and poverty, the perpetuation of the practice of the resolution of inter and intra-state conflicts by war and the denial of the democratic right of many across the world, all result from the acts of commission and omission particularly by those who occupy positions of leadership in politics, in the economy and in other spheres of human activity. …

The challenge posed by the next 50 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the next century whose character it must help to fashion, consists in whether humanity, and especially those who will occupy positions of leadership, will have the courage to ensure that, at last, we build a human world consistent with the provisions of that historic Declaration and other human rights instruments that have been adopted since 1948.732

The very last step in taking leave of the international community was a visit to China, and in his last speech, at Beijing University, Mandela again dwelt on the imperative of a multilateral approach to development, peace and security, his last word as president on the international stage sounding a note of doubt about the state of international organisations in an unequal world.

Sustained growth for national economies, he said, defined

a set of challenges that we share with many nations, indeed with the world as a whole. They arise from the interdependence of our economies, and a global economic system which sees a widening gap between the richer and poorer parts of humanity.

We must ensure that globalisation benefits not only the powerful but also the men, women and children whose lives are ravaged by poverty.

Solutions to these problems cannot be achieved by any nation or region on its own. Rather we must ensure that the multilateral institutions which regulate international trade and investment, are redirected so that they better reflect the needs of developing countries. South Africa as the current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement and your own country in the ‘G77 + China’ are able to make a special contribution.

There is a second set of important global challenges and they concern peace and security.

Here too a multilateral approach is required. In the wake of a devastating conflict that inflicted enormous economic damage and cost millions of lives the United Nations was established as a world body responsible for collective action for the resolution of conflict.

What is happening in relation to Kosovo, in these final years of the twentieth century, is deeply disturbing. On the one hand human rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Rights are being violated in ethnic cleansing. On the other hand the United Nations Security Council is being ignored by the unilateral and destructive action of some of its permanent members. Both actions must be condemned in the strongest terms.

This is a matter that troubles us not only because of its immediate impact. Like the challenge of development, it raises questions about our international institutions. Can the world afford, at the end of a century that has seen so much pain and suffering, to risk damaging the authority of the world body that has the task of maintaining international peace and security on the basis of respect for the sovereignty of nations!733

Returning to South Africa from China he was asked why he had not raised the issue of human rights in China during his visit. The gravity of his concern for the authority of international organisations was underlined by his response.

Experience in history has shown that it’s not individuals who change the policies of countries; it is organisations. South Africa shifted from its apartheid policy because of the intense pressure exerted by the liberation movement and other democrats inside and outside the country, especially the liberation movement supported by the international community. That is what changed the policy of South Africa. You can’t expect an individual to be poking his nose into the domestic affairs of countries. … If you want to do something in regard to the domestic policy of a country then you use international bodies or regional bodies. It’s a misconception to think that an individual can be a factor in changing the policy of a country.734