Is peace in the Middle East possible? A Tale of Two Cities

Is peace in the Middle East possible. Everytime we hear of a new initiative for talks we collectively hold our breath! Could this be the one time that we see a breakthrough? I wonder! The much vaunted meeting between Isreal’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Magmoud Abbas held so much promise, but alas, it was not to be.
Immediate comments attributed to the Palestinians after the meeting indicate that “the meeting achieved noting”
This does not surprise me at all, the old adage “the more things change the more they remain the same” is certainly true here.
In 2002 I wrote a speech for my son that he was going to recite at school for a speech contest. He won the school contest and won again at the combined school level. We knew that the speech was good, but the events that followed surprised us. A local newspaper carried an article about the contest and run a copy of the speech. My son was really excited about seeing his name in the paper, the excitmentd lasted a few days and thereafter we thought noting of the speech again. But a few weeks later my wife got a call from a local radio station asking us if we would allow my son to recite his speech on the radio. The show’s host had read the article in the paper the previous month and was doing a show that week on the Middle East. We agreed. The host asked that I sit in on the show with my son.Needless to say the speech was well received and we were asked to remain on air for another hour to answer questions on a phone- in show. We learnt from the host that the show was broadcast on the World Space satelite to a number of countries. I summit the speech here for your consideration in the hope that the dialogue will continue.

I greet you all in the name of peace.

Charles Dickens once started a famous book by writing:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of amazement, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Well, in the context of my speech, let me take some literary license and say, it is the worst of times, it is the worst of times. It is the age of ignorance and foolishness; it is the epoch of disbelief and insanity. It is the season of darkness and a winter of hopelessness and despair.

What one event or situation can bring such hopelessness and such despair? In the age of opportunity and enlightenment, why should I a mere student speak with so much fear about anything?

I speak so fearfully because of a specific conflict, a conflict so dangerous that no one can ignore it. I speak of a tale of two cities.
Two cities where all hope is gone, where insanity reins and where blood flows. What are we to do , when children die in their mothers arms, where guns and tanks are normal, when laughing children are considered dangerous and teenagers are listed” as enemies of the state.A walk in the park is no longer just that, it is a dance with death.

I speak of the cities of Jerusalem and Ramallah, in Israel and Palestine, cities at war. Each is struggling to survive in a sea of uncertainty. Each having a moral right to existence, each wanting to do so at the exclusion of the other. Fear rules the day, everyday activities become minefields. Morning greetings that normally mean noting more see you later take on a new meaning, because goodbye might be just that, goodbye, forever, final. The future seems so far away, peace seems so impossible.

What is the solution? What will we do to make sure that this is the last generation that has to witness this struggle? Who amongst us remembers a time when the conflict was not before us? Will we let history continue to judge this generation by our failure to find a solution? It is a tragedy that in a land that claims to be so important to three of the world’s important religions, that hatred, death and intolerance have so much hold.

The solution is not a peace plan by America, nor is it a UN conference on peace, it is a solution driven and carried out by Israelis and Palestinians. What the people of this region needs, is not our condemnation, but our support. No amount of military force, suicide bombers or occupations can solve this problem.

I cannot be so bold as to suggest that this is not a complex problem, but let me appeal to your sensitivities, are you not appalled by the killing, the maiming, the blood and the death. How much more reports do we need to hear, how much more bodies do we need to see. I believe that we have had enough, we need to reflect and then we need to act. We need to speak out in out churches, mosques and our synagogues, so that we can make a difference. We have to begin talking.

We South Africans have a unique perspective on this issue. We too have fought a long and hard battle for freedom. We too were robbed for decades of our basic human rights. We too fought in the streets, in our schools, and in our factories. In the end however, we sat down and talked. We engaged each other in dialogue and in the end we won. Surely this must be the message to Ariel Sharon, to Yasser Arafat and to the people of Israel and Palestine.

I wish to end my speech by remembering the expression that says:

“Evil triumphs when good men say noting”

Thank you all

Golf- Goosen glides whilst Els slides

South African world champion golfers Retief Goosen and Ernie Els are both playing in the US Open this weekend. Their fortunes, though, could not be more different. Defending champion Retief Goosen is again leading the pack, with 2 under par for the champiomship on the second day. Ernie Els on the other hand is on 9 over par. This I think his worst showing in months. He is not alone though, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh are also struggling.
International hopefuls from Korea, Australia and Europe are all hoping that the third and last day of play on Sunday will make them heroes, for my part, I am just working on my swing…

South African President Thabo Mbeki’s speech

14 June 2005

Madame Speaker; Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces;Honourable Members;
Fellow South Africans:

Five days ago we assembled in this Chamber to pay tribute to Justice Arthur Chaskalson and the new leaders of our judiciary, Chief Justice Pius Langa and Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

I wish to thank Madame Speaker, the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, leaders of all parties in Parliament and Honourable Members for the opportunity we all had to give expression to the profound esteem in which we hold our judiciary, as an important arm of our system of government and a central pillar of our statehood.

I am therefore greatly obliged to our Presiding Officers and the Honourable Members for giving me this opportunity to address another Joint Sitting of the Houses of Parliament so soon after we met in this form.

It was my view that we should once more assemble in this manner because of a matter that relates to the common sentiment we all articulated during the unique and pioneering occasion last Friday.

As Honourable Members would know, the primary function of the President of the Republic and the Executive is to regulate the nation’s affairs in a manner that promotes the realisation of the ideals enshrined in our Constitution. Among others these include:

· building a society based on democratic values, social justice and human rights;
· ensuring that government is based on the will of the people and that every citizen is equally protected by law;
· improving the quality of life of all citizens; and
· building a united and democratic society enjoying its rightful place among nations of the world.

I believe that the Executive should at all times position itself diligently to discharge these responsibilities unencumbered by major distractions and deficiencies that might diminish this focus. It was for this reason that during the Debate on the Vote of the Presidency, I paid particular attention to the work we are doing to improve the capacity of government to meet its obligations to the people.

The Constitution enjoins the President in particular to “uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic; and promote the unity of the nation and that which will advance the Republic”. It further prescribes that all spheres of government and all organs of state should “respect the constitutional status, institutions, powers and functions of government in the other spheres.”

Among others, and relevant to the reason I requested this Joint Sitting, the Executive must discharge its responsibilities within the context of the rule of law, which includes respect for the integrity and independence of the judiciary and presumption of innocence of any person, pending findings of the courts. Similarly, we also have to respect decisions of our Parliament.

These obligations are expressly reflected as personal undertakings and are immanent in the Oath of Office for those taking up executive positions in government. They are especially important with regard to the President of the Republic, who, in terms of our Constitution, is the head of the National Executive and on whom the executive authority of the Republic is vested.

Shortly before I left for Chile last week on a state visit, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) announced that on my return I would study the judgement handed down by the Hon Mr Justice Squires of the Durban High Court at the end of the case of The State vs Schabir Shaik and Others, and announce such decisions as may be necessary arising from this Judgement.

I have since carefully studied the Judgement. I did this fully to inform myself about Justice Squires’ findings, given the fact that the issue of the relationship between the Deputy President, the Honourable Jacob Zuma, and the accused had been canvassed during the trial.

In this regard, I must emphasise that I studied this Judgement not to make any determination whatsoever about its merits or demerits, about whether it was wholly or partially right or wrong. Indeed, such conduct does not fall within our constitutional mandate as the Executive. This task belongs to the higher courts, the organs of state that would hear any appeal that might be lodged.

Accordingly, any actions we may take arising out of Justice Squires’ Judgement would arise merely from the fact that a court judgement exists, which our Constitution enjoins us to respect.

As Honourable Members would know, the judgement contains detailed matters of fact and inference against which penalties have been meted out. At the same time, proceedings pertaining to a possible appeal to higher courts are still pending. However, the Judgement contains some categorical outcomes.

These are that the court has made findings against the accused and at the same time pronounced on how these matters relate to our Deputy President, the Hon Jacob Zuma, raising questions of conduct that would be inconsistent with expectations that attend those who hold public office.

In this regard, I would like to emphasise two basic pillars of our jurisprudence, namely, equality before the law and the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

We are of the firm view that this principle applies to the Deputy President not merely as a matter of principle and common decency, but also in deference to the individual occupying such office and the service that he has rendered to the Republic and its people before and after the attainment of our liberation. Unambiguous as the judgement may be about an assumed unsavoury relationship, the Deputy President has yet to have his day in court.

Also, noting the fact that there are processes underway to lodge an appeal, we are obliged to allow the steady grind of the due process of law to run its course without let or hindrance, respecting the provisions of our Constitution in this regard.

Honourable Members:

As we reflect on these matters, we should also remind ourselves of the major issues, which were the original source of this trial.

Some three and half years ago, the Joint Investigation Team of the Auditor-General, the Public Protector and the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions completed its work and released to Parliament a report on the Defence Procurement Process. This Team came to the conclusion that:

“No evidence was found of any improper or unlawful conduct by the Government. The irregularities and improprieties … point to the conduct of certain officials of the government departments involved and cannot … be ascribed to the President or the Ministers involved in their capacity as members of the Ministers’ Committee or Cabinet. There are therefore no grounds to suggest that the Government’s contracting position is flawed”.

With regard to matters of the cost of the Procurement, the Investigation Team concluded that:

“What was achieved by the Affordability Team and the International Offers Negotiating Team … is unprecedented in the international credit market”.

On each of the allegations of impropriety with regard to the primary contracts, in which government played a pivotal role, the investigators found that there were cogent technical and/or strategic reasons behind the decisions taken.

The Team identified some weaknesses in the procurement process, and made recommendations which are being followed up, the better in this regard continually to improve our work as government.

It also called for investigations on matters pertaining to secondary contracts, in which, though government may have formally played a role to ensure reliability and cost-effectiveness, the arrangements were essentially between the companies chosen as primary contractors and third party corporate sub-contractors.

We refer to this matter in some detail because we believe that it behoves all of us to recognise that the investigations that resulted in the court case that has just been concluded were not only recommended in that Joint Investigation Team Report, but were also supported by the whole of government, including the Hon Deputy President.

These further investigations do not contradict the fundamental conclusion about the integrity of the decisions of the government with regard to the Defence Procurement.

No facts were adduced during the trial in question and no findings were made that are inconsistent with the Report that the Joint Investigation Team submitted to Parliament, a report whose recommendations the government accepted.

Madame Speaker;

Having said all this, it remains for us to answer the question as to how we should respond to some of the issues raised in the Judgement handed down by Justice Squires.

It seems self-evident that, arising out of the judgement in the Durban Trial, there will be continuing legal processes in the higher courts. These processes will have a bearing on normal enquiries that the law-enforcement agencies may wish to undertake and on follow up that Parliament may embark on in relation to any of its Members.

The Executive will therefore await the outcome of these processes.

Both the Deputy President and I are acutely sensitive to the responsibilities we bear as prescribed by our Constitution. We understand very well that we should at all times act in a manner that seeks to “uphold, defend and respect the Constitution”, as required by the same Constitution.

As I have already indicated, this includes, among other things, the need to “respect the constitutional status, institutions, powers and functions of government in the other spheres”, to quote the Constitution once again.

We have had no precedent to guide us as we considered our response to the Judgement by Justice Squires. We have therefore had to make our own original determination on this matter guided by what we believe is in the best interest of the Honourable Deputy President, the Government, our young democratic system, and our country.

I am fully conscious of the fact that the accused in the Schabir Schaik case have given notice of their intention to lodge an appeal. I am equally aware that a superior court may overturn the Judgement handed down by Justice Squires.

However, as President of the Republic I have come to the conclusion that the circumstances dictate that in the interest of the Honourable Deputy President, the Government, our young democratic system, and our country, it would be best to release the Hon Jacob Zuma from his responsibilities as Deputy President of the Republic and Member of the Cabinet.

Necessarily, we will continue to monitor and respond to all developments in relation to this and other relevant legal processes.

Personally, I continue to hold the Hon Jacob Zuma in high regard, and I am convinced that this applies to most Members of Parliament. We have worked together under difficult and challenging conditions for thirty years. In this regard, I wish to thank him for the service that he has rendered as part of the Executive, at national and provincial levels, sparing neither strength nor effort to ensure that, with each passing day, we build a better life for all South Africans.

I am certain that I speak on behalf of all who have served with him in Cabinet when I say that we shall remain friends, colleagues and comrades in the service of the people. And, as government, we shall continue to draw on his experience and expertise where the need arises.

In due course, I shall announce the necessary changes in the Executive to take account of the void that the departure of Deputy President Jacob Zuma has created.

I thank the Honourable Members for their presence at this Joint Sitting of the Houses of Parliament and for the attention they paid to what we had to say to address a difficult situation.

I trust that what we have done today, and will do in future, together, will continue to strengthen our democracy, reinforce the accountability of those who hold public office, and deepen the confidence of the masses of our people in their elected representatives and our organs of state.

I thank you.

Debt relief for Africa

I hope that the watershed event of this past week- end does not go by unnoticed. The write-off of the debt owed by a number of African nations to the World Bank, the IMF and rich western nations is a momentous event, the impact of which is enormous. The role of Gordon Brown, the “finance minister” of Britain cannot be under-estimated. In fact all of the finance ministers of the G8 nations can take a bow.
What Africa does with this windfall is the issue now. I have faith in my fellow Africans, I believe that they will spend the money on curbing AIDS, on education,on health, medicine and on housing.
I read that at first the United States President George Bush was not prepared to accede, but after intervention from British Prime Minister Tony Blair the US president eventually gave in. Judging from the reception that he gave to the African heads of state on Monday one would be forgiven for thinking that this whole program of debt relief was a American idea from the start.
I wonder if Bob Geldof, the singer and activist, will still go ahead with the call for one million poeple to march on Edinburgh during the G8 summit in July.

Music, withdrawal symptoms and thoughts of business

I wonder how long I can resist going out and buying the Sunday papers, I seem to be suffering from withdrawal symtoms. It must have somthing to do with the fact that in essence I am a news junkie. I read most news papers I can lay my hands on, I read almost all the news magazines , and I am addicted to the news channels, CNN, SKY, BBC and SABC Africa. What can I say, I enjoy knowing what is happening around me. I half expect that if I don’t know is going on, I will be lost. I think this fixation with the news started a long time ago, but was really hightened with the CNN coverage of the first Gulf War. By the time of the 9/11 incidents I was really hooked. I actually missed most of the first few hours of the 9/11 attacks because I was on a plane going away on business. I only learnt of the attacks once I phoned home to talk to my wife. I remember that day so clearly, early in the day there was an eclipse of some sort. Like most global events, I am certain that most people will remember the exact location they were when they first heard about the attacks, similarly, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Nelson Mandela was going to be released from prison. The moment not only lives with you for the rest of you life, but also shapes you in some ways. Do you remember where you were when you heard about the death of Princess Diana, or about the tsunami on 26 Dec 2004?
Instead of reading the papers, I am relaxing with a cup of coffee, and I am listening to a CD by Josh Groban. After that I think I will listen to some mellow jazz, maybe something by Gene Harris, (old stuff but really good).
I am trying not to think about my business today, but it is always there in the back of my mind. Maybe tomorrow I will make some headway with new business, I am really looking for a breakthrough here. I am an estate agent/property consultant, but what I really want to do is property development.

Sunday newspapers

I did not buy the newspapers today, just to see what I would miss out on if I did not read the papers for a day. My local shop will still have them tomorrow, so if I feel that indeed I missed out on anything than I can always go back and read on Monday. I suspect that I will not even miss out on anything. I expect that the papers will concern itself with the the Deputy President, the G8 debt relief program.