Firstly, something quite profound was happening a mere few kilometres away, on the margins of the G20 Summit.
It was the Global Citizen Festival 2017, held in Hamburg, where I had the great pleasure and good fortune, together with other heads of state, luminaries, and global musical superstars, to offer a renewed message of hope, resilience and fortitude to a global society, at large.
On February 14, 2017, as Minister in the Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, I was formally appointed as an ambassador for the Global Citizen movement, and on February 15, the South African cabinet welcomed this quite noteworthy appointment.
Through my stewardship, South Africa became an integral part of a movement of some 8 million Global Citizens across the world - a network of top celebrities, policymakers, business leaders, activists and stakeholders committed to tackling the world’s biggest challenges and ending extreme poverty, unemployment and inequality.
As such, the work of the Global Citizen movement is fully aligned to our lodestar - the “National Development Plan, Vision 2030” and it is also inextricably bound and linked to the development framework for the continent - Agenda 2063 and the global UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Critically, the Global Citizen is a global initiative that campaigns for the world’s poorest people and seeks to hold leaders accountable for the promises they make.
They intend, amongst many other issues, to focus on the following in 2017: accelerate efforts to ensure every child has access to education, even in conflict and humanitarian situations; closing the funding gap to end polio; galvanising political and financial support, with their partners, to guarantee food and water security for the world’s poorest people.
So, it was quite astonishing, that on the eve of the G20 Summit, there were more than 11000 people packed into and attending the Global Citizen Festival, at the Barclaycard Arena, Hamburg, on July 6.
The crowd inside filled the auditorium with electric vibes, powerful messages and compelling ideas.
And, yet, paradoxically, not a single stone was cast; not a building burnt nor anyone injured.
The evening was packed with an air of expectation, the sounds of joy and feelings of hopefulness and the music played on. Virtuous cycles of concerted and collective action can, and does, indeed make a difference.
The arena was filled to capacity with activists who were there to highlight the global and local issues that mattered to people across the globe and they were there to make sure that the voices of the most vulnerable in society were elevated at the G20 Summit.
Quite significantly too, the Global Citizen Festival 2017 yielded:
40 commitments and announcements by global leaders;
$706million committed in funds.
This was set to reach 113 million lives across the globe.
The dialogues between artists, the presence of world leaders, and the voices of global citizen activists were truly spectacular and quite inspirational.
Some of the notable guests in attendance were: David Beasley (executive director of World Food Programme), Ellie Goulding (artist and Global Citizen Hamburg performer), Demi Lovato (Global Citizen ambassador - mental health advocate), Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister of Canada), Chris Martin (Artist - Global Citizen festival curator), Dr Soka Moses (Front Line ebola worker), Diana Oviedo (owner of PrintsLab based in Medellí* , Colombia), Shakira (artist and Global Goal advocate).
Also Mauricio Macri (President of Argentina), Jorge Faurie (Foreign Minister of Argentina), Erna Solberg (Prime Minister of Norway), Elizabeth Vazquez (chief executive of WeConnect), Pharrell Wiliams (artist and Global Citizen Hamburg performer), Jakaya Kikwete (former president of Tanzania), Larissa Zeichhardt (local German business owner), Gordon Brown (former Prime Minister of the UK, UN special envoy for education), Dr Tedros Adhanom (director-general, World Health Organisation).
And Nadia Murad (UN goodwill ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking), Olaf Scholz (Prime Minister and Mayor of the State of Hamburg), Muzoon Almellehan (Unicef goodwill ambassador), Alexander DeCroo ( Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium and minister of development co-operation), Lilianne Ploumen (Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation), Dr Jim Yong Kim (President of the World Bank Group), Ms Irene Otieno (social activist from Kenya and now based in the Netherlands) and many more.
I had the pleasure to meet the indomitable Shakira - and I have no doubt that she is not just a prodigiously gifted artist, but also a highly committed and conscientious Global Citizen to make the world a better place-through her commitment and support.
Pharrel Williams was his enigmatic self and Coldplay was just awesome.
These are global super stars, no less, giving of themselves, remarkably, to make the world a better place!
Some anecdotal examples that resonated on the evening included:
Shakira and Coldplay, in addition to sharing some powerful messages, also captivatingly performed unforgettable duets together with many other superstars, that included Lena and Herbert Gronemeyer;
Pharrell Williams was superb - he performed as well as spoke out to the audience, about ending extreme poverty, unemployment and inequality and encouraged the audience by stating that he felt that it can, and indeed should, end extreme poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Chris Martin performed not just in one or two, but three languages - English, Spanish, and German - during the course of the night.
World leaders with whom I shared the platform - like Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg made commitments on women’s health, education, and polio.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that he planned, in person, to address women’s empowerment at the G20 Summit as he believed that given the opportunity, women and girls can change the world.
“It was really important to be in Hamburg, as a Global Citizen, and everyone wherever they may be are all Global Citizens” said a dashing Ellie Goulding.
“Mental health support can help enable refugees, like Nadia Murad, and many others, who have been victims of conflict to seek justice, provide closure, and heal” said Demi Lovato, Nadia Murad, and Muzoon, who spoke out for mental wellbeing, education, and justice for refugees.
“I really feel that nothing is more important for our future than education” said Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina.
“Every woman, and every girl, should be able to decide, for herself: how many kids she wants to have, when she wants to have them, and with whom she wants to have them”, said Alexander de Croo, Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium.
Through my participation at the Global Citizen Festival, I reinforced the view and placed the implementation of the “National Development Plan, Vision 2030” at the centre of the global discourse for making South Africa, Africa and the world a better place.
I noted further that South Africa remains more than fully committed to the global 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals and made particular reference to the prioritisation of water and sanitation for all, but more directly, in South Africa, as a means to also address dealing with the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
In response to the Global Citizens’ actions on the day, I noted that South Africa pledged through President Jacob Zuma’s leadership on the High-level Panel on Water to support efforts of the Global Investment Fund for Water.
I also sought to draw on the linkages and the nexus between the NDP goals and that of the global 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Global Citizen movement is a social action platform for a generation that wants to solve the world’s biggest challenges through active citizenry.
On the “Global Citizen” platform, people across the universe can learn about issues, take action on what matters most and join a community committed to effecting social change.
The Global Citizen movement believe they can help end extreme poverty by 2030, because of the collective actions and power of Global Citizens across the world.
The Global Citizen is headquartered in New York, with offices in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The organisation was co-founded by Hugh Evans, Simon Moss and Wei Soo in 2008. The Global Citizen platform was co-founded with Ryan Gall and Riot House in 2012.
Through a mix of content and events, grassroots organising and extensive reach through digital channels, the Global Citizen is building the world’s largest movement for social action. They organise massive global campaigns to amplify the actions of Global Citizens from around the world.
Certainly, in recognising the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.
Secondly, what was quite distressing was the rather bruising, battered and burning battles around Hamburg that had me reflecting more deeply on the relationship between those of us who govern and those that are governed. And something has gone wrong in the world - or not?
I was left with no doubt - the city of Hamburg’s historic identity had been shaken to its very core.
There had been two nights of rioting, looting and transport chaos that left many asking why it was decided to hold the G20 Summit in a densely populated city with such a strong tradition of counter-cultural protest?
Like many other European cities with maritime histories, Hamburg has a strong tradition of anti-establishment culture.
It was therefore no coincidence that the symbol of the St Pauli district, where I stayed, and where many of the last few days’ clashes between protesters and police took place, was a skull-and-crossbones flag.
An estimated 50000 people took to the streets for the biggest of several protest marches through the city on Saturday.
I saw a protester who carried a sign reading “For Africa but without Africa: Huh?” Interesting, I thought!
Perhaps, thinking aloud, it struck me that the capacity to produce sustained social chaos is the last resort of very desperate people?
I saw, too, a young twenty-year old walking past my car waving a placard that read: “Shadow owes its birth to light”.
Another one read: “Thank you for nothing - G20 leaders, go home now. Refugees, you are welcome”. This was no ordinary "riot’’, I thought.
And indeed, what is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.
Quite paradoxically, I sensed that here too, in Hamburg, like back home, in South Africa, there was an urge and rage to destroy, to hurt, to burn.
Until all of us undergo a metamorphosis, street fights will be waged, everything that has been built destroyed and faces disfigured, after which we will in all probability begin all over again.
But at what cost, though? How do we respond to this notion of a zero sum game where there can be no winners?
I have seldom seen as many policemen as I did, all over Hamburg. Yet, I have seldom felt so unsafe and insecure.
What was really going on, I asked? For several hours the 15000-strong police force appeared to have lost control as masked rioters erected and set fire to barricades, pulled slabs of concrete out of the pavement and looted local shops, including a supermarket, an Apple retail store and a popular pharmacy.
There were undoubted and stark parallels to be drawn with our very own South African experience.
This is the time, in global historical terms, for responsive and responsible leadership, without any shadow of doubt.
Thirdly, the G20 Summit took place at a very peculiar moment in the history of global geopolitical development, upheaval and contrast.
The summit, just generally, was dominated by global economic and political crises, threats of military confrontation and multi-sided geostrategic conflicts.
South Africa is, of course, one of the 19 member countries of the G20 which, in addition to the EU, the 20th member, conceptualised to stabilise and strengthen the global economy, bringing together the major advanced and emerging market economies, which together represent around 85percent of global GDP, 80percent of global trade and two-thirds of the world’s population.
South Africa’s participation in the G20 is guided by our national interest and the primacy of the African agenda.
We seek to use our participation in the G20 to promote and strengthen the interests of Africa and of the south, on the understanding that, if managed carefully, the G20 does present meaningful opportunities for advancing much-needed global governance reforms and orientating the international development agenda.
I felt a sense of great hope for my country, South Africa, in Hamburg. And I wondered whether the questions “Where were you born?” “Where is your home?” “Where are you going”? “What are you doing?” were relevant any longer?
Thinking about these questions in Hamburg, participating in the Global Citizen Festival, looking at the protesters, reading about the G20, and listening to the contending and contesting voices, I realised that the answers may be irrelevant - because, maybe, just maybe we are asking the wrong questions?
And, if the restless ones can get you asking the wrong questions, why should they care about the answers?
Under these circumstances, I think of heroes as those who understand the degree of responsibility that come with the freedoms we have.
This got me thinking about one of our legends, Nelson Mandela or Tata Madiba, as we called him, who, had he lived, would have been 100 years old next year.
History will remember Tata as one of the greatest men who ever lived. Incredibly selfless, and one who made so much of a sacrifice to re-write the history of generations of South Africans and the world.
During his lifetime Tata inspired us with his numerous words of wisdom, etched in our memories. And so it is that I recall his eternal optimism, in the darkest hours of life:
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death."
Jeff Radebe is the Minister in the Presidency.