May is Africa Month which not only commemorates the foundation of the African Union (AU) more than half a century ago but gives us a chance to reflect on our past, present and future.
African unity should be close to the heart of every South African because the greater our level of regional and continental integration, and the more aware we are of what can be achieved collectively, the brighter Africa’s future will be.
Therefore, revitalising South Africa’s international relations policy and regenerating important bilateral, continental and international relationships is high on government’s agenda.
I have enjoyed overwhelming receptions on my recent visits to Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, both as the new president of South Africa and the SADC chair. The countries visited are some of those that supported South Africa through the dark days of the liberation struggle.
Remember the triumph over apartheid was a joint effort. We were offered support, sanctuary and funding from our allies to allow our struggle to continue despite immense odds.
Apartheid was a period in South Africa that was marred with fear, pain, loss and disappointment. It left many wounded and scarred for life. To this day our society is still hurting, damaged by our past, numbed by our present and hesitant about our future.
Many of our brothers and sisters from the continent were on hand to wipe our tears, ease our pain and carry us through the difficult times.
And just as these countries once fought side-by-side with us to attain equality for all South Africans, today we must be equally united in our quest to help Africa fulfil its vast potential.
Of common interest are peace and stability, economic growth, food security, infrastructure development and environmental change and management. These can be better addressed through meaningful intercontinental partnerships that help realise our collective might.
The AU has adopted the theme: “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation” for 2018.
This resonates strongly with all of us and our still new government is committed to freeing South Africa from corruption, which takes a huge toll on a country’s government, economy and citizens.
If the AU’s Agenda 2063 is to be a catalyst for the continent’s socio-economic transformation, it needs the participation of governments that are committed to improving the lives of its people, rather than governments that jeopardise their citizens’ future by allowing corruption to take root.
Also urgently required is both an improvement in inter-Africa trade as well as business relations. The adoption by the AU of an agreement of free trade on the continent is therefore welcomed as a new beginning that will catapult African countries and companies to much higher levels of growth.
Free trade has the potential to significantly foster the development of all countries on the continent, as well as big business, small companies and micro-traders.
The Tripartite Free Trade Area agreement, which brings together SADC, COMESA and the East African Community, will combine the markets of 26 countries with a population of nearly 625 million.
It will open market access opportunities for South African export products, contribute to job creation and the growth of South Africa’s industrial sector. At the same time we are aware of the challenges to labour in these new opportunities and these will be taken into account before any final document is signed.
At some point we would like to see a single currency being introduced for AU countries instead of us relying on other people’s currency.
Just as African governments seek closer alliances, so too must Africans themselves be more willing to accept each other and embrace our different cultures, both on the continent and at home. We all have a lot to contribute and can learn from one another.
In South Africa, we are committed to building a country in which a person’s prospects are determined by their own initiative and hard work, and not by the colour of their skin, place of birth, gender, language or income of their parents. We should honour Madiba by putting behind us the era of discord, disunity and disillusionment.
I encourage South Africans to learn about each other’s cultures to better understand them and to contribute to nation-building and the healing of past wounds.
The return of land to the people from whom it was taken is an important step towards healing the divisions of the past.
We must focus on a process of broad consultation to see how land expropriation without compensation can proceed lawfully and without damaging the economy or food production.
We have lots of work to do both inside our borders and across the continent, but there can be no doubt that Africa’s time is now. Africa is the origin of humanity and it is vital that people respect their origins and that Africans, in particular, acknowledge their strengths.
Throughout history, we have used collaboration and partnership to overcome the greatest of difficulties and I believe it is through the same sense of unity that we will create the Africa of our dreams.