“Unity in diversity,” a common challenge for Europe and South Africa

“Unity in diversity,” a common challenge for Europe and South Africa

I am now travelling from Johannesburg to Pretoria, in a land which inevitably brings to my generation’s mind the memory and example of Nelson Mandela. Today I chaired the European Union-South Africa ministerial dialogue, three years after its last meeting, together with Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. South Africa is the only “strategic partner” of the EU in the African continent: our cooperation spans from economy to research, to global issue such as climate change and the sustainable development goals. It has solid roots and is based on a long-lasting friendship, but it has become even more important today, in a momento of instability in different parts of the world.

We share the same values, starting from the centrality of human rights and of the fight against inequalities. But we also share the same difficulties, which often run in parallel, for instance on youth unemployment and fair opportunities. We share the need to foster and preserve the “unity in diversity” of our societies, fighting all kinds of racism and discrimination.

In fact, it has been only twenty years since South Africa emerged from the most hateful of racial segregation regimes. The last twenty years’ achievements must be cemented and cannot be taken for granted. I saw this with my eyes in Soweto, my first stop in South Africa: I visited the neighbourhood with Antoinette, the sister of Hector Pieterson who was killed in 1976 during the first revolt against apartheid.  Together we toured the museum that has been dedicated to Hector, who was 13 when he died. He wasn’t a hero but he became one – Antoinette told me – and he hasn’t died in vain.

40 years on, his memory needs to be kept alive, together with the memory of Madiba’s peaceful struggle. New tensions are running through South Africa. We need to work on our societies’ diversity, to guarantee equal rights, to solve conflicts through mediation and dialogue instead of confrontation and violence.

This is what we discussed yesterday at Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg: we talked EU-South Africa relations and the “new world order” Mandela mentioned some twenty years ago, in his famous lecture at Oxford University. Here is the video.