Your Excellency, The Mayor of Pontarlier
Representatives of the Sous-Prefect
Excellencies, Ambassadors and Permanent Delegates
Elected Officials
Delegates from Haiti and Switzerland
Distinguished Guests
Members of the Organising Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is again my great pleasure to be here today to share in the memory of one who gave his life for our freedom. The South African Embassy in Paris, and in particular Ambassador Nomasonto Sibanda-Thusi, is greatly honoured to be associated with this event. We extend to all who are part of this event, even if they are not here today, our sincere appreciation and support during this 205th commemoration of the death of a hero history will never, and must never, forget: Toussaint Louverture.

The significance of this event grows every year: as we become conscious of the enormity of what he did, and more so, for the importance of what he did for those have freedom today.  

I am told that when he was alive, Toussaint Louverture took the letter concerning the Declaration on Human Rights to show, and to declare to all people, that there is no race that is a Pariah, that there is no country that is unimportant and no people that are by definition exceptional over others. He took disorganised groups and united them into an army. These were slaves and peasants, and he turned them into a revolution, a people with pride and identity – he helped create a nation state. 

The South African Embassy is honoured to deliver an address at this historic occasion in 2008. We have the opportunity to reflect on and honour the life of a remarkable man who was faced with great challenges but who rose above these challenges so that the ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity and freedom live forever.

As we pay tribute to this courageous man today, I think it is also important to honour those great men and women in history who shared his ideals and who contributed to the freedoms we can enjoy today. It is the moment when we can pause to also reflect on the milestones we have reached in our quest to abolish slavery and to entrench basic human rights in our societies.

More than a hundred years after the death of Toussaint Louverture, Marcus Garvey, the renowned Jamaican publisher, journalist, entrepreneur and human rights activist, described Toussaint Louverture as: “our leader then, at the time when we were only half-men”.

Based on the example set by the courageous Toussaint Louverture who lead a successful slave revolt in his quest for liberty, freedom and life, Marcus Garvey was able to inspire his followers when he said:

“Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God's grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life”.

One of history’s great men who was inspired by the words of Garvey and his tributes to Toussaint Louverture was Dr Martin Luther King, whose assassination on 4 April 1968, exactly 40 years ago, robbed the world of one of its most heroic and remarkable civil and human rights leaders. In his short life of 39 years he reached extraordinary achievements. At the age of 33, he mercilessly pursued the case of civil rights. At 34, he inspired the world with his "I Have a Dream" speech. At 35, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. At 39, sadly, he was assassinated - but he too left the same legacy of hope and inspiration that continues today.

Dr King’s dream that one day "the nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'" …also resounded on the African continent, with African countries fighting for independence from colonial rule. We would like to recognise the independence Guinea-Conakry who will, on 2 October this year, celebrate the 50th anniversary of their independence. We congratulate them on this achievement, and convey our greetings and best wishes to the people of Guinea-Conakry.

In South Africa, with the support of our friends throughout the world, freedom came only 14 years ago. It was a long struggle to achieve the ideals that Toussaint Louverture, Marcus Garvey, Matin Luther King and others have advocated. It was a struggle that witnessed many sacrifices.

I want to mention one very significant event that has many parallels with our commemoration here today. I am referring to a great South African and freedom fighter - Dulcie September, Chief Representative of the African National Congress (ANC) in France, Switzerland and Luxembourg. She was the victim of an act of cowardice and of vile – she was assassinated exactly 20 years ago, on 29 March 1988, in the town of Arcueil, just outside Paris.

She too shared the values and spirit of Toussaint Louverture, and she too suffered an untimely death – and she too left the same legacy of hope and inspiration that continues today.

Ladies and Gentlemen

2008 is a very special year for South Africa and the world. On 18 July, we will join hands in the 90th birthday celebrations of one of history’s most admired men: Nelson Mandela. He led South Africa from apartheid to democracy, taught the nation, like the great conciliator Toussaint Louverture did on the Island of San Domingo, that without forgiveness and reconciliation, no progress can ever be made. We pay tribute to him as well today: for his heroic efforts, for the many years he spent in prison, for the nobility of his character, for the everlasting values that he espoused, for the lessons he continues to teach us, and for the freedom and peace we enjoy today in our beloved country.

We are privileged today to also celebrate the anniversaries of two important milestones on the road to attaining liberty and respect for life: the 160th anniversary of the abolishment of slavery and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is safe to say that some of the ideals of Toussaint Louverture were achieved 45 years after his death, when the French Government of the time, on 27 April 1848, finally abolished slavery in all the French colonies and possessions.

A hundred years later in Paris, on 10 December 1948, men and women from all parts of the world, from diverse backgrounds and cultures, came together to give all of human kind new hope and a new vision for the future through the acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The language of human rights is indeed becoming a universal language and it is increasingly becoming the standard against which we evaluate our own actions, those of our fellow citizens and those of our leaders.

It is our collective responsibility to be vigilant and to ensure that those ideals for which people such as Toussaint Louverture, Matin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Dulcie September and Nelson Mandela had fought for, be preserved forever.

In his address on 16 December 2006 on the occasion of the ceremony to hand over to the South African nation, Isikhumbuto, our Freedom Park, President Mbeki said it was to honour not only South Africans and other Africans, but also heroes and heroines from further afield, including, and I quote:

“Toussaint Louverture who led the heroic revolutionary struggle of African slaves that resulted in the birth of the first Black Republic in Haiti, in 1804.”

He also said that:

 “These extraordinary human beings are among the many acclaimed leaders, as well as the unsung heroes and heroines to whom we owe our gratitude for the gift of freedom - freedom to eradicate the humiliation and anguish of being human cargo treated disdainfully as commodities on the iniquitous global stock exchange of times past, as slaves on plantations or in reservoirs of labour or as the battered footballs of the 20th century Cold War.”

I want to end with a very beautiful message from President Mandela in his book “Long Walk to Freedom”. It is a message for all of us, a lesson for living, a lesson borne out of a deep concern for humanity and one worth listening to everyday. He said, after having spent 27 years in prison:

“When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.”

I thank you.