Mbeki: the chairman of the new African Union
By Gordon Bell
South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki on Monday took over the chair of the Organisation of African Unity from Zambia's leader Levy Mwanawasa during the opening session of the OAU's last summit in Durban.
The 39-year-old OAU is set to be replaced by what is seen as a stronger African Union on Tuesday, with Mbeki as the body's chairperson for its first year in existence.
Mbeki thanked the heads of state assembled in the port city for the confidence shown in South Africa chairing the historic summit.
His first task in the new position was to present an award to honour Salim Ahmed Salim, the former long-serving secretary-general of the OAU, for his service to the organisation.
"Today we salute an outstanding African, one of the leading diplomats on the continent," said Mbeki.
The summit adjourned shortly before 2pm and will continue later on Monday afternoon when the delegations are to discuss various issues behind closed doors, including recommendations for putting together the four key structures of the AU.
They are also likely to discuss the action plan for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), and political concerns in some parts of the continent, such as the position of Madagascar.
The Indian Ocean island state has been barred from taking up its seat in the AU following a disputed election in December. - Sapa