Zuma: PAP is 'voiceless'
Pretoria - The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) as the only continental institution that broadly represents the people of Africa is generally "voiceless", SA President Jacob Zuma said on Monday.
"It is the institution that constitutes a single collective voice of the ordinary people of our continent," he told the opening session of the PAP in Midrand.
"They are, in the main voiceless in many existing forums, be they political, economic, cultural, religious or traditional," he said.
Zuma said discussion on peace, stability, human rights and democracy could no longer be delayed and specific resolutions needed to be made to the organ's parent body, the African Union.
"If these issues are not discussed, there would be very little point for the existence of this parliament," Zuma said to foot stomping and clapping from the floor.
It was also essential that the institution transform itself from being an advisory body to a legislative one.
"We look forward to the day when the peoples of Africa can send their representative to the seat of this parliament to fashion laws that will bring about a tangible improvement in all their lives.
"It is our responsibility to build people's power not only within these walls, but in every place on this continent where people live and work," Zuma said to more applause.
He said the PAP had already played an important role in contributing to free and fair elections in a number of countries but this work needed to be broadened, including adopting standards for the holding of elections.
"We need to encourage people to organise, mobilise and work for their own advancement. We need to support the development of grassroots structures and sectoral organisations."
Zuma also told the parliament's members that Africa had untapped economic potential, however this had been obstructed from reaching fruition by barriers constructed by the continent’s countries themselves "along the lines of the colonial map".
"We found ourselves divided into more than 50 different markets, with a multiplicity of trade and investment regulations, manufacturing standards, currencies and jurisdictions."
Electricity, transport and telecommunications infrastructure was also fragmented and often not compatible.
Collaboration on scientific developments and technological advancements was also poor.
"It is a standing joke that there are some places in Africa where one has to fly to a European capital in order to catch a flight to a neighbouring country."
Speaking after the opening ceremony, SA Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the PAP - first convened five years ago - had to establish itself in order to build capacity for legislative powers.
"It must be able to legislate to guide other organisations. Priority number one of any parliament is to legislate," she said.
However Nkoana-Mashabane was adamant that the goal of achieving a united Africa through the integration of the economies and the people was not a threat to any country’s independence.
"We have never spoken about relinquishing the sovereignty of any country."
She said information showed that currently only 10% of the trade conducted on the continent was with another African state.
"The majority of these borders we have today are artificial," she said.