Norway and South Africa: Celebrating democracy and joint efforts for a safer world

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Oslo, 12 May 2014

"Freedom and democracy was not given to the people. It was won through a long struggle. Norway is proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with the people of South Africa during the struggle for freedom", said State Secretary Brattskar in his statement at the conference celebrating South Africa's 20 years with democracy, disarmament and cooperation with Norway.

Good afternoon,

It is a great pleasure for me to be addressing you here today. I am happy to see such a audience from both South Africa and Norway.

Two weeks ago South Africa formally marked 20 years of freedom. Last week the people of South Africa cast their votes in the fifth democratic election since the end of apartheid. Freedom and democracy was not given to the people. It was won through a long struggle. Norway is proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with the people of South Africa during the struggle for freedom.

It was the belief in the values of democracy, equality and freedom that formed the basis for the comprehensive popular support in Norway for the struggle to liberate South Africa from the evils of apartheid.

During the Norwegian state visit to South Africa in 1997 President Nelson Mandela told the King and Queen that Norway has a special place in South African hearts. He said: “You supported us when other nations looked away.”

Strong friendship
Maybe our most important contribution to the struggle was the financial support that Norway gave directly to anti-apartheid groups in South Africa. In the 1980s our support for the anti-apartheid movement amounted to nearly 100 million rand annually. Most of these funds were smuggled into South Africa. Among the recipients were church organizations, trade unions, anti-apartheid newspapers, political organizations like the UDF and former Robben Island prisoners.

A strong friendship was established, on which we build strong bilateral relations following the birth of democratic South Africa. Even though we are far apart geographically, we share the values and ideals of democracy, human rights, security and development.

We enjoy a wide range of strong relations between our two countries. The state visit of President Jacob Zuma in 2011 contributed substantially to further enhancing our partnership. During the visit of my South African colleague Deputy Minister Fransman to Oslo in November last year, Norway and South Africa formalised a mechanism for annual high-level political consultutions on research and economic relations. Both countries have expressed a desire for closer and more regular political contact.

While South Africa is celebrating the 20th anniversary of democracy, Norway is marking the Bicentenary of our Constitution.

A constitution is the foundation for a democracy. It defines how power should be implemented. And a constitution fortifies our democracies and our inalienable rights as citizens.

The Norwegian Constitution is the world’s second oldest still in force. It was extremely modern and radical for its time, based on ideals off the American and French revolutions. The South African constitution is admired as one of the most complete, radical and progressive constitutions of our time. Social and economic rights, the Bill of Rights and a ban against discrimination are features of the South African Constitution that I find particularly important and admirable.

In Norway, South Africa remains a powerful example of a country that underwent - against all odds - a peaceful transformation. This peaceful transformation should serve as an inspiration for other countries facing severe challenges. South Sudan comes to mind.

Democracy is not static. It requires constant hard work. We must work hard every day to secure democracy.

South Africa's leadership
Part of this responsibility is reflected in how we pursue and protect democratic values outside our borders. Human rights stand strong as a key pillar in our foreign policies. Norway and South Africa are working closely together on Human Rights issues in multilateral fora, mainly in the framework of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the brave international leadership of South Africa on The rights of Gays, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex persons (LGBTI). This is important, notably with a view to recent negative developments regarding the situation of sexual minorities in several countries.

Twice in the past twenty years South Africa has been elected to the United Nations Security Council. Leadership by South Africa is demonstrated in the BRICS and the G20.

Furthermore, South Africa has contributed significantly to the development of AU as a regional body and to strengthen its ability to deal with matters of peace and security.

The South African freedom is a product of it’s people’s struggles and international solidarity. After twenty years of democracy we are witnessing a South Africa that is promoting freedom and social and economic growth in other African countries and beyond.

The transition from apartheid to democracy is relevant for other countries in transition. These experiences are readily shared with parties in conflict. Valuable contributions have been made in finding sustainable solutions to conflict situations in Africa, but also several countries outside Africa - Sri Lanka – being a prominent example.

An important friend
South Africa is an important friend of Norway. The increased South Africa engagement on the international scene has strengthened our resolve to engage further with the South African Government to make our shared views and values carry additional weight.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

South Africa and Norway have a common interest in building and maintaining strong multilateral institutions and processes as instruments for addressing global challenges. A rules-based world order and international stability must be built on multilateralism.

Humanitarian disarmament is one area where Norway and South African have worked together and contributed towards achieving concrete results that has strengthened international legal frameworks, but most importantly, also had an impact on people’s lives.

From the very beginning, the new South Africa took an active role in multilateral efforts to ensure a peaceful and secure world. In particular, Norway and South Africa have worked closely together to make the world a little safer.

As early as in the mid-1990s, South Africa’s involvement in the process and negotiations to ban landmines made a significant and decisive difference. The diplomatic conference which negotiated the Mine Ban Convention in 1997 was held in Norway, but led by South Africa. And in the midst of high-level direct pressure from states that did not want a strong convention, President Nelson Mandela stood tall and resisted every attempt to weaken the Convention.

The Mine Ban Convention is a huge success. 161 states have joined the ban, and the number of new mine victims has been drastically reduced. And, building upon the lessons we learned from that work, a new process to ban cluster munitions was initiated in 2007 by Norway. The Convention on Cluster Munitions was successfully negotiated in 2008, and already, 113 states have signed or ratified this prohibition. South Africa has supported and promoted the Convention strongly, and together we have worked to uphold and defend the norms that have been established. We look forward to welcoming South Africa as a full State Party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in the near future.

Dear friends,

Our vision for a world without nuclear weapons remains firm.

We are encouraged by the active engagement of South Africa in the field of nuclear disarmament.

Norway is an active participant in the preparations for The Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Our primary task at The next Review Conference will be to achieve progress based on a broad-based understanding of how to address nuclear threats, and how to facilitate the peaceful application of nuclear technology in a more secure world.

The 2010 Review conference recognized catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and reaffirmed the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.

What has become clear is that no state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency that would follow a nuclear detonation in any meaningful way. No existing national or international emergency system would be able to provide adequate assistance to the victims.

While the number of nuclear weapons in the world has been significantly reduced since the end of the Cold War, some 17.000 weapons still remain. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the humanitarian perspective will remain relevant. This perspective has attracted renewed interest in the disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear disarmament depends on the full confidence that no one can circumvent the non-proliferation regime. It is therefore vital to resolve all outstanding proliferation concerns. The ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran on the Iranian nuclear programme are promising. In parallel, the IAEA and Iran have reached an agreement with a view to resolving all outstanding issues. The relevance of the IAEA is clear from its role in verifying that the intermediate agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is abided by. The IAEA will also play a key role in verifying a future long-term agreement.

A world without nuclear weapons
Verification is a crucial factor for the future arms reduction process. Norway will continue to actively support the development of sound and trustworthy verification systems. It is also essential to make real progress in securing the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Strengthened non-proliferation efforts must go hand-in-hand with the facilitation of peaceful use, and we must reaffirm the right to civilian applications, which are essential for economic and social development.

We need to move forward on all three pillars of the NPT, and, ultimately, create conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.

All countries have a responsibility do their part in solving present challenges. It is a common responsibility, where we all have to do our part. In doing so, we must also fully engage civil society. NGOs and academia are key partners in this endeavor. One the same way as social society was a crucial partner and proved a driving force in fighting apartheid and winning freedom for all South Africans.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nelson Mandela visited to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and the next year on – 27 April 1994 – he addressed his people and the world as the first president a free and liberated South Africa with the following words:

“We understand that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world. Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all.”

Let his ideas and principles continue to inspire and guide us all.

Thank you.