Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan at the South African Pavillion, Madrid, Spain

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18 Jun 2008

Thank You, Programme Director,
Your Excelency, Ambassador B Koloane, South Africa’s Ambassador to Spain,
Representatives of the Government and People of Spain,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Delegations from Sister African Countries,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In welcoming you all to the South African Pavilion let me begin by recalling the words of a South African poet and musician:

“See the gathering rainclouds rise
from the steamig hope of loving hearts
too long the tongue has tried
nay dried
the patient desert

see the bodies fall
like raindrops
nurture deep
love dust
root intention

now unveil

the karoo blooms again
comes the golden flowers
purple shrubs and sunsets

what shall quench our burning thirst?

Let me drink
let me drink from thee
of beautiful Africa
his perpetual wisdom
succulent sustenance sustains
my song
water from an ancient well

oh beautiful Africa
that's where I'll always dwell

water from an ancient well.”

An ancient well clove the sands on the edge of the Sahara where an African mother, named Buktu, regularly reached into the bowels of the earth to draw up water for the desert-parched traveler to slake his thirst in the medieval African kingdom of Songhay. The site of Buktu’s well soon became an important stopover for the caravans that traveling north and south. Buktu’s place, or Tim-buktu, thus grew first into a town, then a city in which merchants, skilled craftsmen, money-lenders, and scholars settled.

For millennia a sacred river bore the smelt waters of the Himalayas down to the sea across the sub-continent that is India.

From the cloud covered hills of eastern Congo and the highlands of Ethiopia another great waterway bore rich silts down to the plains of Egypt where they fertilized planted fields and enriched the aquatic life forms.

The challenge of preserving this most precious element, water, that is responsible for the sustenance of life on earth, cannot be over-emphasized. Consistent access to and the management of water resources has been central to the development of all human civilizations. It was consequently inevitable that the great civilizations that mark humanity’s rise to gain greater control over our destiny in virtually every instance rose along the great river valleys – the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Ganges, the Yangtze, the Niger. This is underscored also by the location of our modern cities, close to reliable sources of water.

Despite all that humanity has achieved since our species emerged on this planet, the availability of water, its conservation and management remain the two most serious challenges facing humankind. In recognition of this, the decade 2005 – 2015 was declared the International Decade of Water. By collectively agreeing to give greater attention to this most vital resource, the international community was also accepting the hard reality that human actions and activities over the millennia have contributed in large measure to the pollution of the waterways and water-based ecosystems. The threat posed by rising sea levels as a result of global warming, the floods, destructive hurricanes and storms that have recently devastated many parts of the world might owe more to human action than to Mother Nature. Sustainable development is one of our most pressing challenges precisely because this resource can easily become a menace if the human race does not relate to its home, the earth, in a more intelligent manner.

For centuries water, in the shape of rain, rivers, streams and the oceans, has sculpted the earth’s surface. The power of water in motion carved out the impressive canyons and gorges that mark the face of our home planet. Frozen water, in the shape of glaciers, created some of the plains and deep lakes we find on the land masses of our earth. Water, slowly filtering through the earth’s crust, has given us the breathtaking caves with their stalactites and stalagmites. Water covers the greater part of the earth’s surface and sustains a myriad of species, some of which humanity is only leaning of now.

Humans have harnessed the power of water to drive our huge machines from mills to the steam engine. Water vapour, steam, made possible the first industrial revolution. Water drives the turbines in our hydro-electric power plants, and steam helps generate the electricity to light and heat our homes and to power virtually all our industrial plants.

The human race’s struggle to sustain itself and to create a more secure future for ourselves has tempted us to tamper with every river, stream and body of water we have encountered. In our haste, we have all too often given little thought to the long term consequences of our actions. These days, the earth, our mother, is giving us repeated warnings that we should be a more circumspect and measured in the actions we took so lightly in the past.

In every part of the world, in every culture amongst humans, water and its significance for life is celebrated and observed - in ritual, in religious observance, in poetry, in dance, in song, in our tales and in our writings. We honour rain, one of the sources of water, in the naming of our offspring, we celebrate its coming in rituals whose origins we have long forgotten, and its arrival in virtually every part of the world signals birth, rebirth and the renewal of life. All societies regard water as a purifying substance. More than any other animal species, human beings are reliant on water for the lifestyle we have created for ourselves.

In recognition of the cultural significance of water, its use and the role it has played in human existence the United Nations has adopted the following key messages on water and culture:

1. To promote the understanding that Water and Culture are inseparable elements of human life

2. To foster dialogue among cultures to find solutions for water-related problems.

3. To promote inclusive, solution-oriented water governance that takes into account all facets of cultural diversity and that seeks informed consensus.

4. To encourage artistic expression on water issues as an important means of fostering understanding and sharing information.

5. To encourage the creation, transmission and dissemination of information on water and culture in your community, involving schools, universities, those in your work-place and at home.

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are also here to commemorate the 32nd Anniversary of South African Youth Day, which marks June 16th 1976, a day on which the youth of South Africa took to the streets to demand political change. The people of South Africa, especially the youth of our country, are indeed honoured that so many important guests have taken the time from their busy schedules to mark this day with us.
The year 1976 was a watershed in our struggle for freedom and democracy. We can, with hindsight, say that from that fateful morning of June 16th, the struggle for freedom acquired an unstoppable momentum, culminating in the election of Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected president of South Africa in April 1994.
That generation of South African youth played an important role as the detonator of a well-nigh two decades of mass struggles which witnessed the strategic initiative pass from the apartheid racist regime to the democratic majority. It is true that many young people, women as well as men, lost their lives during those struggles. It is true that thousands of them were detained, imprisoned and subjected to unmentionable tortures. Hundreds left their homes in order to master the military skills necessary to confront the oppressive apartheid regime in the only language it understood - the language of armed force.

Those sacrifices were not in vain. They were ultimately crowned with success when the apartheid regime was compelled to release all political prisoners and embark on negotiations in earnest with the liberation movement.

The African Union has declared 2008 the Year of the Africa’s Youth. An African Youth Charter, setting out the aspirations of the young people of our continent, and committing African governments to embark on a comprehensive programme to provide the necessary infrastructure for youth development.

Youth, the world over, face numerous challenges. Many of us who are long passed our youth will recognize the similarities with our own day. But there are innumerable new challenges, specific to the 21st century which we did not have to confront. Ironically, many of these arise directly from the achievements of the human family between the 1960s and the present. Yet others are rooted in the millennia long quest by the human family to gain greater control of our environment and to emancipate ourselves from the impositions of nature. Both the old and the new challenges present themselves especially acutely on the African continent.

Casting our eyes back over the thirty two years since 1976, while we note a number of significant achievements, we must emphasis the challenges facing especially the youth of the African continent. Over the last 14 years, though African youth have registered important landmarks, we must underscore that as those who will determine the future of our continent among the issues they are called upon to address is how Africa manages her water resources and her waterways.

A cursory glance at the map of continent tells us that virtually all Africa’s great rivers are shared by a number of countries. Their sustainable management will require sensitivity not merely to the needs of other nations, but most importantly, sensitivity to Mother Nature herself. As we have seen, the life giving power of water can also be destructive when we disrespect nature. The sustainable development, utilization and management of all our natural resources is what humanity has to resolve today, but the continuity of such resolution lies squarely at the door of youth who will be called upon to lead their nations and the world tomorrow.

In marking South African National Youth Day, I make bold to call upon young people everywhere in the world to courageously grasp this nettle. In pursuing sustainable development today, they are creating a more secure future for themselves and our home, the planet earth.
I know the youth will rise to this new challenge.

I declare the South African Pavilion open.

Thank you.