I should like to take this opportunity – not of welcoming you to South Africa and the Western Cape – but of welcoming you home.

According to the latest research the ancestors of all of the people in the world outside of Africa left our continent between 80 000 and 100 000 years ago. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA which is passed down through the female line – as well as of the Y chromosome – which is passed along the male line – indicates definitively that we all come originally from Africa. The oldest human population is the San – formerly known as the Bushmen – of southern Africa – who can now be found only in the Kalahari desert.

The DNA record also accords with recent archeological finds along the Cape coast that have revealed some of the earliest traces of homo sapiens as well as some of the earliest examples of human art.

This brings me to the theme of my speech – and of this conference – of building bridges in a divided world.  The first settlement of what is now the Middle East occurred between 100 000 and 80 000 years ago when changes in the global sea levels made it possible for the first members of our species – homo sapiens – to cross from Africa into what is now Yemen.

The group that made the crossing was very small – perhaps no more than one or two hundred.  And yet they are the ancestors of all the people who spread out across the world and populated Asia, Europe and the America.  So bridges between Africa and the Middle East have, in fact, played a seminal role in the history of the world.

Today we once again need to look for global bridges – between cultures, between religions and between economies.

There are at the moment great globalizing forces that are bringing all of the peoples of the world closer together in what has been called the global village.

During the past decades we have begun to lay the foundations of a new supranational global community:

We can expect that during the coming years globalization it will have a major impact on many aspects of our lives – on the way we do our shopping; on the way we receive information and entertainment; on the way we communicate; and even on our ability to work from home.

All these factors are bringing us closer together – and closer to the awareness that we all depend on the same fragile environment for our continued well-being.

At the same time, there are a number of centrifugal forces that are driving us apart.  They include continuing inequalities in the global economic system; continuing inequalities in the global political system; and inability to deal sensitively with cultural and religious differences.

The first chasm that divides us is the continuing inequality in the global economic system.

Although the portion of the world’s population living in absolute poverty has declined from two thirds to one third in the past forty years,  the total number of people living below the poverty line has stayed about the same – at about 2 billion ( because the world’s population has more than doubled since 1966).  Even more serious is the fact that the disparity per capita between the poorest and richest fifths of the world’s nations has widened from 30 to 1 in 1960 to more than 80 to 1 today. In 2004 the average per capita income in the world’s richest ten countries was more than US $ 45 000 – compared with an average per capita income of only US$ 204 in the world’s ten poorest countries – that is a factor of 220 to 1.

For Africa, the globalised playing fields could hardly be more uneven:

The cards are also stacked against Africa in the key area of education.  Only 76% of Africa’s children attend primary school and only 26% go on to secondary school, compared with 100% in developed countries.  Less than 4% receive tertiary level education compared with 51% in developed countries.  Only 19 Africans per thousand have access to the internet compared with more than 600 people per thousand in the OECD countries.

How under these circumstances is Africa supposed to compete in the global information economy?

The second chasm that divides us is the continuing inequality in the global political system.

It is unacceptable that the power relationships that emerged from the Second World War over sixty years ago should continue to dominate the global political system.   We cannot have a world that is divided de facto into first class and second class countries.

All states should have equal rights and duties.  All sane people should support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  However, the treaty cannot be used as a means of perpetuating the present imbalance between nuclear states and non-nuclear states.  The nuclear states must promptly fulfill their clear obligations to reduce their arsenals with a view to the final elimination of their nuclear capacity.  This is clearly not happening.  The failure of the nuclear states to carry out their obligations seriously undermines their moral authority in insisting that other states should not join the “the Club”.

In the same way, why should the five permanent states on the UN Security Council continue to have a monopoly of veto rights?  By what sense of logic should Britain and France have the ability to veto decisions in the Security Council while countries like Germany, Japan, Brazil and India do not have similar powers?  All this creates an unacceptable situation where certain states in the international community are “more equal” than the rest.  In our globalizing, multipolar world this is unacceptable and untenable.

The third chasm that divides us is the continuing impact of cultural and religious differences.

The rampant advance of globalised consumer culture, with its attendant political and social ethos, poses a fundamental threat to traditional religious and cultural values in societies all over the world.  Conservative leaders often fear globalization precisely because their people find its shiny consumer products, its flashy, free-wheeling life-style and its amoral pop culture so alluring.

Traditionalists  believe – probably quite rightly – that the attendant liberal values of unrestrained freedom, sexual emancipation, abortion on demand, gender equality and materialism are irreconcilable with their most basic religious and cultural values.

The result is often a blanket rejection of western culture and its chief exponent, the United States – in what Samuel Huntingdon describes as the ‘clash of civilisations’.

We need to build bridges across these economic, political and cultural divides.

We need to bridge the global economic divide.  We need a new international economic system that will make globalisation work for all the members of the international community.  The answer to many of the problems of economic inequality is not necessarily more aid – but better and fairer access to first world markets – particularly for agricultural exports.

One of the most serious distortions in the globalised economy remains the massive subsidies paid by first world countries to their farmers.  These amount to some US$ 280 billion a year – almost six times as much as the US$ 56 billion that first world countries contribute in foreign aid.   The first world’s agricultural subsidies often make it impossible for developing countries to compete in global markets for agricultural products – the one area where they have a competitive advantage.

We also need to protect third world economies against the kind of predatory attacks on their currencies that crippled a number of South East Asian countries eight years ago.

We need to bridge the global political divide.

We need a new international political order in which all countries are treated equally and justly – and where no countries have automatic privileges that are denied to others.  We need to reform the United Nations system.  In particular, we must enlarge the Security Council and make it more representative.

We must insist that all countries carry out their obligations in terms of key international treaties – such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol.

We must address political conflicts that exacerbate international relations.

The international community must redouble its efforts to work for a just and lasting peace in conflict situations throughout the world in such places as the Darfur; Sri Lanka; Chechnya, and Kashmir.

In particular, it must address the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians –   which remains one of the primary causes for regional and international terrorism.  Similarly, the United States, it allies and the countries of the region should do everything they can to create a situation in Iraq that will enable the coalition forces to withdraw as soon as practicable.  Whatever its justification, there can be no doubt that the continuing presence of western troops in Iraq is the other principle cause of international terrorism.

Finally, we must bridge the cultural and religious divide.

We must show the greatest sensitivity when dealing with other religions and cultures.  Although the West may be convinced of the superiority of its liberal, democratic and free-market model, it must refrain from trying to impose it on others. The West must engage with other religious and cultural groups with a sense of respect and toleration. Let others conduct their affairs as they see fit and evolve systems of government and social values that best suit their cultures and conditions.

People in the West may find many of the customs of other cultures unacceptable – particularly those relating to women’s rights.  However, non-western societies are often equally affronted by many of aspects of Western attitudes and lifestyle.  Despite Francis Fukuyama’s idea that the West has perfected human political and economic society, the West must in all humility accept the prospect that its system might not be best for all people at all times.

If we can bridge these chasms, I have no doubt that we will be able to make globalization work for all mankind.

In particular, the bridges that we are building between Africa and the Middle East can be an important stimulus to the economic development of both our regions.

The Middle-East – and particularly the Gulf States – are leading the way in spectacular development.  I was struck by this when I visited the UAE at the end of last year.  Forty years ago Dubai was little more than a sleepy fishing and trading village on the southern shore of the Persian Gulf.  Today it is one of the most dynamic and exciting commercial centres in the world.  It has become a major crossroad between Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia.  It has some of the most exciting and beautiful buildings in the world and has become an important venue for international events and for shopping.

What happened?  The climate didn’t suddenly change.  Dubai was not suddenly endowed with enormous natural resources.  The new prosperity was not the result of oil wealth.   It was the result of visionary leadership, excellent management and sheer will.

South Africa also has enormous potential.

However, it is a mistake to think that South Africa is simply a resource-based economy.  In 2004 manufactured products made up 58% of our merchandise exports. Tourism and the automobile industry now contribute as much to South Africa’s gross domestic product as its famed mining sector.

South Africa is the colossus of Africa.  With only 5% of the continent’s population its produces 29% of its GNP and generates 38% of its electricity.   The province of Gauteng has a bigger GDP than any state in Africa with the exception of Egypt.  So, although we are the furthest part of Africa from the Middle-East – we are certainly  one of the main gateways to the continent.

And Africa is a continent on the move.   During the past fifteen years much of sub-Saharan Africa has made significant  progress toward democratic government.  Freedom House, a New York-based organization which monitors the state of civil and political rights in countries around the world, now classifies 8 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 47 states as being ‘free’ multi-party democracies; another 22 are regarded as being ‘partly free’ and 17 as ‘not free’.    This represents substantial progress since the 1970s.

Also, Africa’s economy is on the move.  The region’s growth for last year exceeded 4%.  As the former World Bank head, James Wolfensohn recently observed:

“The world has been put on notice that Africa is no longer the basket case that everybody had historically thought it was, but is now front and centre in terms of development by India and China.”

The Middle-East is emerging as one of the world’s great crossroads.  One of those roads – perhaps the road of the future – leads to Africa, with South Africa as its gateway.

Accordingly. I look forward to plenty of traffic across the Afro-Middle-East bridge in the years ahead.   Like the first land-bridge between our continents 80 000 years ago, it will lead to an exciting and successful future.