Chris Mullin – 2003 Speech on Britain and South Africa

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Foreign Office Minister, Chris Mullin, in Cape Town, South Africa, on 3rd November 2003.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends,

Last week in London a series of events was held to celebrate the tenth anniversary of your country’s freedom. I myself had the pleasure of hosting a reception to mark the occasion, which was attended by many members of the South African and British governments, including your Foreign Minister, Dr Dlamini Zuma. I will say to you what I said to them. Namely, that for many of us active in British politics, the release of Nelson Mandela and the subsequent peaceful transfer of power from the Apartheid regime to South Africa’s first democratically elected government was one of the seminal events of our political lives. What made a particular impression in the UK, where we sometimes tend to take democracy for granted, was the sight of long lines of impoverished people queuing patiently for hours in order, for the first time in their lives, to cast their vote.

South Africa has come a long way during the last ten years. It has assumed its rightful place as a major player, both of the continent of Africa and in the world as a whole. It plays an important part in the Commonwealth, in the Non-Aligned Movement, in the United Nations and in the African Union. It has contributed peacekeepers to war torn neighbours. It is playing a leading part in NEPAD, the New Partnership for African Development – of which we all have high hopes.

But what has impressed us most in the ten years since you won your freedom is the dignity with which you went about coming to terms with your past. How you did not allow yourselves to become consumed with bitterness or a desire for revenge which might so easily have poisoned the future. How instead you have built a coalition in which there is a place for everyone who wants to play a part in a multi-racial democracy. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission has become a model for other divided societies struggling to overcome their terrible past – only the other day a prominent Iraqi remarked to me that Iraqis could do with something similar in their own country.


Friends, I congratulate you on what has been achieved so far. We are proud to be your partners. But, as I am sure you will be the first to agree, it is not enough to celebrate what has been achieved so far. Other large challenges lie ahead. I want, if I may, to use this opportunity to set out some of those challenges and how we hope, in partnership with our friends in Africa, to tackle them.

First however, I want to assure you that we will not allow events in Iraq to distract us from our commitment to Africa. Prime Minister Tony Blair has long made clear his personal commitment to Africa and he has re-iterated this commitment on several occasions. DFID has reaffirmed 2 commitments; that it’s spending in Africa will continue to rise substantially (set to reach £1billion per year by 2006); and that the proportion of DFID programmes going to low income countries will rise to 90% by the same date. We had already planned to reduce our overall allocation to middle income countries (MICs) in order to increase spending in the poorest countries. In light of the needs in Iraq we will make reallocations within our overall MIC programmes. No decision has yet been taken on changed spending for individual countries. But Hilary Benn has made clear that he intends to maintain a substantial programme in South Africa. It is not my place to preach about Africa’s problems, indeed you are as well aware of them as I am, but the grim facts will not go away unless they are faced. Since 1960 over eight million Africans have died as a result of war and ninety percent of the casualties have been not soldiers, but civilians. Many millions more have become refugees, fleeing war and chaos. It is the responsibility of all of us to tackle poverty in Africa. We are committed to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to halve the proportion of the world population living in poverty. Africa requires annual growth of 7% to meet this goal.

Second, we should remember that there is much good news in Africa. Democratic governance is taking root. Ghana, Senegal and Kenya, which I have just visited, have all seen peaceful transfers of power in the last four years. Some countries have seen very strong economic performance. Uganda is among the ten fastest growing economies in the world. The recovery of the South African rand is a tribute to the strength and sound management of Africa’s largest economy.

There is also hope of an end to Africa’s most intractable conflicts. Angola is at peace for the first time in thirty years. Sierra Leone is rebuilding itself. The DRC and Burundi are all making fresh starts. The role which President Mbeki played personally in helping to broker agreements including the signing of the Pretoria Protocol yesterday, together with the commitment of South African troops to sustain them, reflect great credit to your country. I am encouraged by the prospect of a peace agreement in Sudan, and the success of ECOWAS in ensuring a peaceful transition in Liberia.

Africa’s leaders are leading this progress. They have made clear that they will not wait for the rest of the world to solve the continent’s problems. NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development demonstrates this approach. It is about Africa taking responsibility for African problems; and development partners accepting their role in supporting it. The G8 has responded by making clear commitments to reinforce the efforts of regional leaders.

Thirdly, good governance is critical to Africa’s development. As President Mbeki has said, democracy, good governance and respect for human rights are not alien conditions imposed by western donors. They are African values rooted in the councils of the chiefs for many generations. The African Peer Review Mechanism is a bold commitment, establishing a process for monitoring good governance that goes further than any other in the world. It will give business, African and foreign, the confidence to invest.


I am sure that you are expecting me to say a little about Zimbabwe in this context. I will disappoint some journalists when I point out that Britain and South Africa agree to a large extent about Zimbabwe. When Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited South Africa in May, he and Foreign Minister Dlamini-Zuma agreed a communiqué on a range of bilateral issues. Let me quote to you the section on Zimbabwe: ‘both countries agreed on the need to encourage the parties to commit themselves to removing the obstacles to the negotiations. They underlined that the longer the problems in Zimbabwe remain unresolved, the more entrenched poverty will become. They stressed their commitment to an outcome in which the people of Zimbabwe enjoy independence, freedom, peace, stability, democracy and prosperity. The Working Group noted, unequivocally, that no lasting solution to the challenges that face Zimbabwe can be found, unless that solution comes from the people of Zimbabwe themselves’.

We know that President Mbeki and others have been working hard to help the negotiations between ZANU (PF) and the MDC bear fruit. We applaud those efforts, and wish them every success. But for these talks to succeed there has to be a serious commitment to dialogue – in this context the recent closure of the Daily News and the locking up of trade union leaders sends the wrong signal, and these must be reversed.

The British position is often misrepresented. We support the people of Zimbabwe. We support their human rights. We recognise and have said clearly that the colonial inheritance on land was both unjust and unsustainable. We fully support land reform, but only if it is done transparently, sustainably and for the benefit of the poor. And we are helping keep Zimbabweans alive, by helping to finance the international humanitarian relief effort. Last winter the World Food Programme, to which we are major contributors, helped to feed more than five million Zimbabweans. How can it be that this beautiful country that was the bread basket of Southern Africa has been reduced to relying on foreign aid to keep its people alive? I should also make clear that, once there is a democratically accountable government in Zimbabwe, working for the interests of its own people, we are ready to help lead the international community’s efforts to rebuild the country. In the meantime, we will do all in our power to ensure that no Zimbabwean starves, and to help tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis.


But enough on Zimbabwe. Let me say a little about the role that Britain hopes to play more widely in Africa. Our aim is a relationship with African countries as equal partners. We recognise the moral obligation to support African efforts. But we also recognise that there are wider reasons. Terrorism and extremism thrive where there is oppression and poverty.

So what are we doing to help Africa to achieve the recovery is seeks? First, our bilateral commitment. We will commit £1bn a year in development assistance to Africa by 2005. The funds will be used in the countries that need them most – the poorest. We will focus development assistance on the areas that can best reduce poverty – health, education, and building accountable and effective governments.

Secondly, we recognise that trade is much more important than aid. The disappointment of Cancun should not discourage us from pursuing a fairer global trading system. We will build on alliances with developing countries, including South Africa, to get the Doha Development agenda back on track. We will not continue to tolerate a situation in which a cow in Europe is subsidised at $2 a day (twice the amount that half of all Africans live on). With our support the European Union has made substantial reforms to the Common Agricultural Policies Policy which when implemented will cut damaging European subsidies and open European markets. We want to go further.

Thirdly, we will continue to use our influence to ensure the developed world is prepared to give Africa a fairer chance. We are leading the effort to provide debt relief for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries. This is releasing up to $41.2 billion for the twenty countries in Africa that are participating. We have also proposed, with South Africa’s support, an International Financing Facility. Including debt relief this should lead to the release of up to $50 billion of development assistance in a reasonably short time frame, making the Millennium Development Goals more achievable. We will support African national, regional and continental institutions to build the capacity to absorb these levels of funding.

I highlighted Africa’s efforts to end its wars. We will support these. The UK is providing resources and expertise for conflict prevention, peacekeeping and conflict resolution missions as the AU Peace and Security Council establishes itself. We are closely involved in the process of peacebuilding in Sierra Leone, and we supported deployment of South African troops in the DRC. In Burundi, we have provided £3.9m to the cost of peacekeeping efforts led by South Africa, Mozambique and Ethiopia. In this context, I am happy to announce that South Africa and Britain will in the next few days conduct a bilateral command and control exercise in South Africa – Exercise African Shield. British and South African military and civilian personnel will share experience and techniques in regional peacekeeping. We hope this practical co-operation will help the AU and UN to meet the challenges ahead.

Like you, we will give increasing attention to HIV/AIDS. We are already engaged in battling TB and malaria throughout Africa, but tackling this new disease poses unique challenges. So far, Africa has borne the brunt of these, although HIV is now spreading fast in other parts of the world too. The world has had to learn fast, we now know that we need a comprehensive response – preventing the spread of infection; treatment and care of those infected; addressing the wider impact on society. Britain is working with African countries and with international organisations to promote this sort of response. Like many round the world, we welcome South Africa’s recent decision to expand access to anti retroviral treatment as part of a comprehensive approach.

Finally, we will continue to act as champions of NEPAD and the African Union. Tony Blair intends to make Africa a central focus of the UK’s Presidency of the G8 in 2005.


Our relationship with South Africa exemplifies this partnership. Tony Blair and President Mbeki have worked closely together on the progressive governance. South Africa and Britain have £6bn worth of two-way bilateral trade every year. We are working together in multilateral fora to combat crime, terrorism and money laundering. We also share goals in the pursuit of free trade, in the Renewable Energy Partnership that followed the Johannesburg summit, and in ethical business practise, in particular the efforts to promote transparency in the Extractives Industry.

Friends we regard South Africa as a role model for the rest of Africa. In 10 short years you have managed a peaceful transition from Apartheid to a modern democracy in which there is freedom of speech, the rule of law, a market economy and a real effort to improve the lives of your poorest people. We recognise that great challenges still lie ahead and we want to help you meet them. Success is important not only for you but for the whole of Africa.