Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma has called on the Pan African Parliament (PAP) to move with speed in ensuring that its deliberations strengthen the promotion of peace, development, democracy and economic growth.
Speaking at the opening of the PAP First Ordinary Session on Monday, Zuma urged the Parliament's members to demonstrate that they were not merely a forum for debate, but an institution that forms an essential part of the renewal of the continent.
He said though much had been achieved in just the last few years, the continent could not become complacent while its people remained among the poorest in the world.
"Our people remain exposed to disease and malnutrition with high rate of child mortality and declining life expectancy, despite significant medical advances and improved health care provisions," Zuma said.
He reminded the delegates that parts of the African continent were still plagued by war and conflict, political instability and removal of governments by unconstitutional means.
"In such circumstances, development is stifled and economic activity severely curtailed," said Zuma.
African leaders had a responsibility to answer to these challenges. Zuma said while it was possible for any one country to improve its situation, it was by working together that an achievement can be seen.
"For this reason among others, we are encouraged that the Pan African Parliament will soon be able to transform itself from an advisory body into a legislative body."
Zuma said the parliament had played an important role in contributing towards fair, free and transparent elections in a number of countries.
PAP is an organ of the African Union which was formed in 2005 to promote democracy and conflict resolution in the continent. The new MPs are meeting for the first time under the leadership of the new president Indris Ndele from Chad.
The First Ordinary Session is expected to focus on the review of protocol that established PAP in a bid to give the parliament full legislative powers.