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Africa and Asia Civil Society Workshop on UN High-Level Political Forum

28 March 2019

Programme Director;

Professor Ebenezer Durojaye, Head at the Socio Economic Rights Project at the Dullah Omar Institute;

Distinguished Guests from Asia and on the Continent;

Ladies and Gentlemen.


I wish to express our gratitude and profound honour for having received the invitation to this important gathering.  It is significant that the event is hosted by two very important human rights and civil society partners on our continent that is the African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice and the Dullah Omar Institute.


The Institute is named after one of our own freedom fighters for justice. After having defended thousands of other Freedom Fighters, who contributed to shaping our democracy, initially as a member of the Committee on Constitutional Principles and eventually as an NEC Member of the African National Congress and a Minister in the Justice and Transport portfolios.  Comrade Dullah in these various roles served with a level head and distinction with other seasoned cadres such as Bridgette Mabandla, Manto Tshabalala Msimang, Zola Skweyiya, Pius Langa, and Kader Asmal. 


Sadly, most of them, including comrade Dullah have passed on. 

Nonetheless, they remain guiding stars to us as we continue with the pursuit of a better quality life and a just world for all.


We therefore welcome this dialogue as yet another opportunity to utilize the lives of the likes of comrade Dullah Omar as colossal scripts by which we can construct the canvass of a better world. 


Programme Director; It is also significant that you convene this dialogue, almost 64 years after Africa and Asia's liberation and founding forbearers met in Bandung with the aim of restoring the dignity of our peoples as well as to promote world peace and cooperation.  Contextually, the leaders that met represented twenty nine free nations and various liberation movements representing about 1.5 billion people who constituted 54% of the world's population at the time[1]. Even at that time our nations represented the majority of the world's poor, most excluded, downtrodden and unemployed.


Today, we meet with the Afro-Asia civil society and academia at a time when our populations constitute over 76% of the 7.5 billion citizens of the world[2].  It therefore goes without saying that in order to solve most of the world's problems in relation to people—planet--prosperity and peace, we must work in partnership to solve the challenges confronting Africa and Asia.


This workshop, is therefore an important contributor towards our nations' realising our goals long before the year 2030.  Although we convene to consider progress as it relates to SDG 16, we must from the onset appreciate the interrelated and mutually reinforcing nature of all 17 goals.


Unfortunately, the SDG Index and Dashboard informs us that no single nation developing or developed is on track to meet the SDGs by 2030.[3] For instance, whereas Sweden, Denmark and Finland topped the global SDG Indices Rankings, they need to accelerate implementation in some key areas such as sustainable consumption and production and climate action. That Dashboard further notes that “high income countries generate significant environmental, economic and security spillover effects that undermine other countries' efforts to achieve the SDGs".


Distinguished guests; we must also be conscious that at the core of the SDGs are human development and the eradication of global poverty.  These are important precursors to shared growth, development and lasting peace and security. 


With regards to the eradication of poverty and inequality whereas there were 49 countries falling within the low Human Development Index (HDI) group in 2010 there are only 38 such countries[4].  Indeed whereas the world has generally recorded progress the lowest HDI ranking countries remain in Africa, the Caribbean and South East Asia.  

This has resulted in these countries also generally recording lower life expectancy, lower mean years of schooling and very low Gross National Income Rates per Capita. 


Therefore, in seeking solutions to address poverty we must explore the causes of poverty, because in them lies the cure.


In this regard, we believe that by viewing and addressing key human development areas we can make significant progress in addressing poverty and all the other SDGs, including SDG 16.


We have made the point that the majority of the people in the world who live in poverty are resident in our nations.  In our part of the world the face of poverty is female.  Even when taken at a global level, according to the UNFPA:

  • 6 out of 10 of the world's poorest people are women. 
  • Two thirds of the world's most illiterate adults are women. 
  • On an average day, women spend about three times as many hours in unpaid work.
  • Women constitute less than 38% of senior and middle management[5] and only 24 percent of parliamentarians.

This despite the fact that women constitute half of the world's population.  Of significance also is the fact that the lowest women management and leadership participation rates were recorded in North Africa as well as Western, Central and Southern Asia.

Distinguished guests, gender equality is a human right.  Women are entitled to live in dignity -- free from want and fear.  We therefore see gender equality as a necessary precondition to advancing development and reducing poverty.  By addressing women's equal rights to property, credit, land, natural resources, decent work and basic services, SDG 1 to end poverty will be addressed.  We will also simultaneously tackle other SDGs including health and wellbeing (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG5), decent work and economic growth (SDG8), reduced inequalities (SDG10) and the promotion of peace and inclusive societies (SDG16).


Access to quality education from childhood up to tertiary education can be a determinant on whether one succeeds in life or is trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.  For instance South Africa's National Income Dynamics Survey (NIDS) shows that access to tertiary education reduces the risk of falling into poverty by at least 14.8percent[6].  Conversely, close to 65% of those who are classified as poor have acquired between no schooling and less than the final year of high school.  The UN Secretary General notes that although there has been significant improvement in access to early childhood and primary education which is at 70% certain regions are lagging far behind this includes sub-Saharan Africa (41%), and Western Asia (52%).


Studies the world over have also shown how education can address poverty and also become an equalizer, with some of them showing that an individual's income potential can increase by around 10% with every year of schooling.  Others studies have shown that by targeting and educating women, infant mortality and the general health of children and families can be improved, leading to more productive societies.  Additionally, educated women tend to educate their children, thus addressing intergenerational poverty.


We will therefore have to act in unison to ensure improved access to quality education, especially for the girl child and women.  We can also share lessons on improving the quality of our education by amongst others facilitating for joint research and exchanges in key related areas such as technology, innovation and teacher training.


Distinguished Guests, Perhaps the strongest predictor of household poverty is whether a member of the household has a job. Employment is determined not only by education but also by race, location (rural or urban), gender and or age.  The South Africa NIDS study shows that only 27% of Africans are always employed, 15% of rural adults are consistently employed, men are twice more likely than women to be employed and 45% of young people have never been employed.


We must therefore explore new ways of creating work, in a context of an ever changing world, in the face of the fourth industrial revolution. 


Our interactions must therefore take into consideration the future of work. Such discussions ought to deepen our talent pools through a consolidated skills revolution which must further strengthen our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math's (STEM) capacities, whilst also training innovators and entrepreneurs through initiatives such as exchanges and harmonized curricula, across our regions.


Programme Director, it is also significant that you convene this session when the call of SDG 13 to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its effects" is visibly clear in our sub region with the ravaging effects of Cyclone Idai.  Allow me to pause in memory of the counted and uncounted lost lives, in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the vast majority of whom are children.  It is abundantly clear that climate change and natural calamities most affect the poor and marginalized.  The damage caused by Idai will take some years for those communities and societies to recover. 


Let me also take this opportunity to recognise the sterling rescue work being undertaken by team South Africa, the Gift of the Givers, as well as the millions who have donated to the efforts.  I also wish to recognise the efforts of our international partners, who have also stepped in to address the short and longer term challenges our neighbours are facing.


Such disasters point to the fact that we must ensure that our development is inclusive, be it related to disaster management, infrastructure and beliefs. Thus our firm commitment to SDG 16 to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development" whilst also providing “access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels". 


Having recently emerged from a divided history and in pursuit of healing the divisions of the past, SDG 16 is one of the commitments we have jealously guarded as a nation.  It is therefore concerning to us that the UN Secretary General has reported that more than 40 percent of the 197 member states have no national human rights institutions and that only 75 of the 116 that have such institutions are fully complaint.  In our view such institutions are critical in ensuring the rule of law and guarding against its abuses.  We do believe that the civil society here gathered has an important role to play in lobbying for such institutions. 


We have also noted with dismay that globally at least one human rights defender, journalist and trade unionist has been killed whilst at work, since 2015.  For us freedom of association and information are important tenants of any democratic expression of the will of the people.  Thus we note with keenness, that the despite global consistency in the proportion of prisoners held in detention without being sentenced, parts of Asia and Sub Saharan Africa have recorded significant progress.


We must however do more to curb the phenomenon of human trafficking which has affected women and children in the main.  In the end, we must ensure that there is sustainable development in our regions, so that migration becomes a matter of choice and not crime or necessity.  Beyond economic and criminal reasons migration and indeed conflict can be as a result of many of our citizens not feeling included in the mainstream of the economy, culture, fair justice system, and/or governance processes.


Again, civil society has an important role to play in curbing such discrimination and raising the where such exclusion and discrimination occurs.  You are most often well placed to speak truth to power, without fear or favour.


Ladies and gentlemen, with the substantive equity and equality between all races, men and women, young and old, as well as rural and urban communities we will be well on the way to addressing lasting peace and more inclusive societies.  In general terms this implies the core value of accommodating and understanding peculiarities with the aim to levelling the playing fields so that there is equality in opportunity and outcome[7].


For far too long we have paid attention to external inputs, and have paid to little regard to our circumstances and contexts.  The New Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership (NAASP), whose 14th Anniversary we celebrate this year offers us a framework by which we can place into context our own peculiarities.  

This gathering also comes at the opportune midpoint of the implementation of the first ten year implementation plan of Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.  We must also use this time to consider mechanisms by which we can contribute to the refinement and implementation of the Agenda.  As we advance the implementation of Agenda 2063 and our international commitments, South Africa has for some time subjected itself to the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) processes, which we have found rewarding and informative as they have also brought about much transparency and placed us closer to our civil and academic societies. 


We also believe that our participation in the SDG Voluntary National Review Process will strengthen our positions at a multilateral level and in the United Nations in particular, we therefore stand to also gain much from the outcomes of this gathering.


We also look forward to the outcomes of your deliberations since your intentions are aligned with the objectives of the Bandung Conference to “effectively contribute to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security, [whilst cooperating] in the economic, social and cultural fields [to secure a] common prosperity and wellbeing for all".[8]


It is through effective partnerships that are rooted in people to people dialogues and exchanges that we can ensure that a better Africa, Asia and world remains within our reach.

I thank you


[1] Matt Rosenberg. "Current World Population and Future Projections". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 25 March 2019.

[2] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision



[5] [5] Report of the UN Secretary General, to the High Level Segment of EcoSoc, 10 May 2018

[6] Wave 5 Overview of the National Income Dynamic Survey 2008 – 2019, Department of Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation and the University of Cape Town

[7] Ebenezer Durojaye, Between rhetoric and reality: the relevance of substantive equality approach to addressing gender inequality in Mozambique, Dullah Omar Institute, Africa Focus Vol 30 (1) 2017, pp.31-52

[8] Outcomes Statement of the Bandung 1955 Summit

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