Geneva, 1 May 2000

Madam Chairperson,

Congratulations on your election to the chair of this body. It is a great tribute to Africa that you, a sister from Senegal, have been elected to this important position. My delegation looks forward to working with you. To you, Madam High Commissioner, our congratulations for the important work you and your Office have initiated in preparing for the World Conference against Racism. We stand ready to work closely with you in your capacity as Secretary-General of the World Conference. I address you today, a mere four days after South Africa commemorated Freedom Day. For it was on 27 April that the first democratic elections were held in South Africa in 1994. On that day the pernicious system of apartheid finally ended and a new chapter in our history was born, It is a day when millions of South Africans achieved their freedom, dignity and basic human rights, irrespective of the colour of their skin. Up until 27 April 1994, under the doctrine of white supremacy, institutionalised racism and racial discrimination dominated every aspect of life in South Africa. That simple but eloquent phrase captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

"All human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms", was denied to the vast majority of my compatriots.Little wonder then that the international community declared Apartheid a crime against humanity; that 21 March - a day when 69 unarmed civilians were massacred in Sharpeville in 1960 - has come to be commemorated as the International Day for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. Indeed, the system of Apartheid in South Africa was recognised as being the most brutal system of racial superiority since the Nazi era in Europe. While apartheid has been consigned to the scrapheap of history, the scourge of racism continues to afflict us in South Africa and the world. Madam Chairperson, Democratic South Africa has taken important and far-reaching strides since 1994. We have established a constitutional democracy, underpinned by institutions geared to protect our newly- nurtured democracy. Despite courageous steps taken to promote reconciliation and equality of opportunities and treatment, racism continues to afflict South African society. Those who followed the South African Human Rights Commission's enquiry on racism in the media or read the Special Rapporteur on Racism's report on his mission to South Africa last year will know that we still have a long way to go to excise racism from our society. We believe that exposing racism can only be a first but crucial step; that there is a need to challenge the denial of human dignity that invariably accompanies racism and to adopt effective measures to eradicate it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is where the focus of the World Conference against Racism should be. Madam Chairperson, I would like to share with you our view of how this Prepcom and the World Conference could proceed. The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights regarded the elimination of racism and racial discrimination as a primary objective for the international community. However, despite this and many other developments, these scourges persist and even continue to increase, taking on not only more sophisticated and subtle forms but also, at times, more brutal forms. In today's world we are witnessing the phenomenon of intra-state conflict, whose foundation can often be traced to ethnicity, racial discrimination, social prejudice, religious intolerance, or xenophobia. Racial prejudice and intolerance are on the rise throughout the world. Religious intolerance, such as anti-Semitism and attacks against Islam, the treatment of migrants and refugees, the marginalisation of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, are all reminders of the challenges that confront us. While we must deal with current manifestations of the problem, we cannot forget the impact slavery and colonialism have made. The impact of economic globalisation, unequal wealth, marginalisation and social exclusion can contribute to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. These factors are exacerbated when public authorities fail to combat racial discrimination and xenophobia, and tolerate racism being used as a tool to gain and maintain power. The World Conference allows us to make a decisive and historic contribution to end them. At the very least, the World Conference must send a message to politicians and public figures that inciting racial discrimination and promoting socially divisive platforms must end.

Madam Chairperson,

Just as it is important to understand the nature of racism and intolerance, we shall all be seeking to achieve practical outcomes to the seven objectives laid down by the General Assembly. We shall be seeking the active co-operation and goodwill of all governments and civil society in achieving this. In the coming week, we hope to exchange ideas on how we can make the Conference a success. We see the World Conference as a healing process whereby countries and regions can share experiences so that we can reach a global consensus on not only the forms and manifestations of racism but also strategies to eradicate it. Madam Chairperson, Women, who constitute more than half of humanity, continue to suffer a double form of discrimination. We would strongly urge all concerned to adopt a gender-based approach during the preparations for and the outcome of the World Conference. To end racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, everyone at grassroots level needs to be mobilised, nationally and globally. Public awareness campaigns, and education on basic human rights, are just some of the things we can do to mobilise public opinion globally. At this Prepcom I note that we will be considering a positive, forward-looking slogan for the World Conference. In our view, the outcome of the preparatory process and the World Conference will be enhanced if they are more inclusive, especially regarding the participation of NGOs and civil society. The challenge for us this week, Madam Chairperson, is to elaborate and perhaps even reach a common understanding on what outcomes we would like to see from the World Conference. My Government believes it essential that the World Conference initiate an agenda for social transformation, an agenda that is measurable and action-oriented. This agenda must include action by states, both at the national and international levels. It would be especially important for the United Nations to act holistically and in a co-ordinated manner. In addition, we must deal with early-warning procedures, racial reconciliation, law enforcement and the justice system, national institutions, the media, education and civil society. And finally, no solution can be complete without recourse and redress of remedies for victims. Madam Chairperson, The regional preparatory meetings will make an important contribution to the World Conference, especially if they can propose concrete and pragmatic solutions aimed at combating racism. Broad-based participation at regional meetings, examining "best practices" and successful models for combating racism, will all help produce useful outcomes. For our part, we shall, during the course of this week, be working with other African countries to shape the format and structure of the regional meeting to be held in Senegal. An important precursor for us will be our own National Conference on Racism that will take place in Johannesburg at the end of August this year. Madam Chairperson, It is against this background and with a deep sense of history that South Africa accepted the High Commissioner's request to host the Third World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001. I would like to assure you of the commitment of my Government towards this World Conference and of our determination to cooperate with this Preparatory Committee to make it a successful conference. We have just over one year to prepare for, what will be for South Africa, one of the largest-ever international conferences. We are determined to make it a successful gathering. Towards this end, I should like to share with you some steps we have already taken. The Government has established two bodies to oversee preparations: a Cabinet Committee, which I have the honour to chair, and a National Preparatory Committee, chaired by the Director General of Foreign Affairs and which comprises senior Government officials, national institutions, civil society and NGOs. Together with the UN, we have established a Joint Management Committee that meets regularly in Geneva to review progress in the preparations for the World Conference. At the end of March, we arranged a visit from a UN exploratory team which visited three potential sites for the World Conference, two close to Johannesburg and one in Durban. This Prepcom too will help inform our decision as to the best site for the World Conference, and we hope to be able to make a recommendation to you shortly. Madam Chairperson, in conclusion let me reiterate what President Thabo Mbeki said earlier this year "We have not won the struggle against racism - a defining element of the problem of the colour line which the 20th century failed to solve. Thus does it become necessary and possible for us to say that the challenge facing the 21st century is the solution of the problem of the colour line". That is the collective challenge that humanity as a whole faces. But we must forever remain vigilant because the scourge of racism can raise its ugly head in all countries and at all imes. During this millenium, we need to search for unity of humankind, but the unity we seek is not one of uniformity, but one where the diversity of culture and experience will enrich world society as a whole. I am reminded of a quote from Abdu'l-Baha (in The Advent of Divine Justice): "Consider the flowers of a garden, though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, in as much as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and colour ! Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof."

I thank you.