President Thabo Mbeki and the People of South Africa

President Thabo Mbeki and the people of South Africa’s commitment to cultural and environmental diversity and their efforts towards achieving the goals encapsulated in the Millennium Declaration of 2000 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation adopted at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002 are noteworthy.

The people of South Africa have not just made substantial progress in the sustainable development of their own country, they have provided leadership and support for the continent as a whole. President Mbeki is well known as one of the architects of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which has a strong environmental component. South Africa also provided the perfect stage for WSSD, which it hosted under the slogan “People, Planet, and Prosperity”. Holding WSSD in South Africa gave delegates a valuable insight not only into the many formidable challenges that Africa faces, but also into how Africa can and will rise to those challenges.South Africa’s implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation is well on track to meet the Johannesburg targets on water and sanitation. It is also a world leader in conservation practices, through its innovative use of a wide variety of available management tools and its spearheading of the groundbreaking sponsorship of the Peace Parks concept to support cross-border conservation of critically important wild habitats.

With the declaration of four new Marine Protected Areas in 2004, it has also brought almost 19 per cent of its coastline under protection, already nearly achieving the 20 per cent target set at WSSD.As well as being a party to more than 43 multilateral environmental agreements, South Africa has enacted a wide range of domestic legislation, backed up by specialist environmental courts, to protect South Africa’s environment. Laws passed by President Mbeki’s government include instruments to safeguard biological diversity, improve air quality, promote environmental impact assessments in business and industry, implement waste management strategies, and curb the pollution of the environment by plastic bags. South Africa also deserves recognition for the unity with which it is pursuing its sustainable development goals. In the words of Martinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, speaking on World Environment Day 2004, there is a “groundswell of support with one shared central theme: the absolute imperative to protect, preserve and promote our natural environment.” Millions of South Africans are striving to make a positive difference. “In homes, businesses, factories, schools, churches and community centres we are experiencing a quiet greening revolution.”There is no doubt that this revolution is taking its lead from the top. As President Mbeki said at the opening session of the meeting of Heads of State and Government at WSSD, “we can and must act in unity to ensure that there is a practical and visible global development process that brings about poverty eradication and human advancement within the context of the protection of the ecology of the planet Earth.” President Mbeki and the people of South Africa are setting an example for the world to follow.

Excerpt from President Thabo Mbeki’s address at the welcome ceremony at WSSD:
“South Africans of many races, colours, cultures and religions are hard at work to achieve peace and national reconciliation.
Proud of the fact that they are Africans and moved by the fact that the peoples of Africa share a common burden of conflict, poverty and underdevelopment, they are determined to work hand in hand with their brothers and sisters throughout the continent, to end five hundred years of suffering and the treatment of Africans by others, as less than human.
These South Africans, who occupy the land that is the cradle of humanity, also know what has happened to the natural environment that enabled the evolution of all life on earth, and the emergence of humanity itself.
Around them they see the degradation of the soil. They know the central importance of water to the sustenance of life. They have seen how the natural forests were decimated.
They know of the depletion of the resources of the giant oceans that meet along our southern coast. They experience the pollution of the earth, the air, the rivers and the seas, caused by human activity. They know of droughts and floods. They experience the environmental suffering borne by slum-dwellers and others immersed in poverty.
Understanding the umbilical cord that ties us to the planet earth, they are determined to do everything possible to save the earth from ourselves, to save the earth for ourselves, to ensure that as it took millions of years for humanity to evolve and emerge, so must humanity survive and develop for millions more years on the basis of a healthy partnership between people and the planet, on the basis of a sustainable relationship between a prosperous world and a healthy environment.