On the eve of the new millennium, with our own freedom signalling the end of decolonisation, what point can there be to such a multicoloured beast lumbering across the global landscape for another 50 years? The importance of the Commonwealth, and the necessity of its continuance, lies in the realisation of the very dream which we in South Africa now hold so dear: strength through diversity.
It is because the Commonwealth is such a disparate group of nations that it can focus resources and speak with authority on conflict resolution, international co-operation and poverty relief. It is a role that few other multilateral bodies, including the United Nations, are capable of fulfilling. The Commonwealth has played a key role in South Africa's own history over the past three decades, culminating in the Harare Declaration - which set out the conditions for democracy in South Africa. In a world fraught with division and violence, the Commonwealth seeks peace and upliftment, mutual support and democracy. Long may it continue.
A new era of international renewal has dawned with the dismantling of the former Soviet Union and the democratisation of numerous former dictatorships, many in Africa. The time for change is ripe. For this reason alone, President Thabo Mbeki, having already expounded his philosophy of an African renaissance to the United Nations and others, is certain to woo his Commonwealth counterparts to his cause.
And there could be no better forum. Colonial Britain and other industrialised Commonwealth countries reaped obscene profits by exploiting (in the very harshest sense of the word) the resources of Africa - from slaves and cheap labour to gold and ivory. And all in the name of the Empire. If the Commonwealth, born from the decay of that faded Empire, is to continue to have relevance for all its members on its 50th anniversary, these iniquities of the past must be confronted and expunged. If Durban and KwaZulu-Natal (frequently whimsically referred to as the Last Outpost of the British Empire) can be instrumental in revitalising the Commonwealth, it will be a moment of sublime historic irony. May the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting deliver the goods.
Even before she arrived, we knew that Britain's head of state was about to "express regret" over the loss of life in the Anglo-South African War.
What a new world this is. To some people - and it is a sadness that Robert van Tonder is no longer with us to give punchy personification to the dissident view - "regret" is hardly the word to compensate for the imperialist aggrandisement of her forebears.
Technically, the dissidents have a pretty good case. [The Anglo-South- African] war was deeply inexcusable even in the context of the invariable banality of war. Nonetheless, "regret" is a sentiment that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.
At the time of the war, indeed at all times in history with the sole exception of our own time, it has been simply taken for granted that this was a planet of tribes and frontiers; that if your bunch had the strength to donder some other bunch, and a halfway reasonable excuse, why then, you went ahead and dondered.
Things have changed and continue to change. A school of thought assumes that the current mode of sensitivity is no more than politically correct shamming. That is wrong. The world moves into a century where liberty and decency are for all. That's progress.Reuse content