The Chief of Federal Protocol,
Esteemed Representatives of the Belgian Government,
Distinguished Representatives of the European Union,
Representatives of the Business Sector,
Fellow Africans in the Diaspora,
Fellow Compatriots, South Africans Living in Belgium,
Ladies and Gentleman,
It gives me great pleasure to extend warm and fraternal greetings to all of you this evening, the occasion of the National Day celebration of South Africa. We would like to express our most profound thanks and gratitude to you for gracing this occasion with your presence.
Twenty years ago, on 27 April 1994 South Africans of all races and creed took to the polls to cast aside centuries of discrimination and oppression and build a new society on the foundation of freedom and democracy. This historic election was an epochal moment that marked the death of apartheid rule and paved the way for the birth of a free, democratic, united, non-racial, non-sexist society. It ushered in a new era of peace and development whose positive impact has been felt across the borders of South Africa, well into the hinterland of Africa.
During his inaugural address as the founding President of democratic South Africa, the late President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize Laurette and Recipient of the highest honour in South Africa, the Order of Mapungubwe declared,
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another…”
He went further to say,
“We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without and fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” Nelson Mandela, Inaugural Address, Pretoria 9 May 1994.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The road to democracy we travelled was many miles long, a heroic, arduous struggle against an abominable system declared a crime against humanity by the international community. The Apartheid regime was brought to its knees not only by the courage and determination of my compatriots, but also by the steadfast support and solidarity of people the world over. It is fitting therefore that on the 20th anniversary of our freedom we should once more convey our thanks and gratitude to you and at the same time renew the bonds of friendship and solidarity that happily subsist between us. Here in Belgium we received a lot of support from the Anti-Apartheid Movement in both the Flemish and Walloon regions, the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, the African Diaspora and the European Community (EC). We thank you for your selfless sacrifices and support.
Having abandoned its shameful past, South Africa has steadily moved towards building a new society based on respect for human rights and dignity. South Africa is free, united in diversity and providing boundless opportunities to all regardless of race, gender or creed. It has been firmly integrated into the community of nations and is faithfully fulfilling its duties and responsibilities in the international system as a responsible global citizen. This we do guided by the vision articulated by one of our most distinguished statesmen, Oliver Reginald Tambo, the late former President of the ANC who said, “We seek to live in peace with our neighbours and the peoples of the world in conditions of equality, mutual respect and equal advantage”.
Twenty years into our freedom, we have a good story to tell!
A definitive picture of a rapidly changing country, of increased income levels, an improvement in the roll-out of basic services and amenities, and increased levels of education is emerging. We have restored dignity to millions of our people by giving them access to water, electricity, sanitation and housing.
Whilst we have made remarkable advances, challenges remain. We still face the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment, exacerbated by the recent global recession. Dealing with these challenges has become a central focus of our democratic state. Working together with business, labour and civil society we are determined to increase our efforts in the next 20 years and beyond so that all our people can enjoy the dividend of democracy and a better life.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Three weeks ago, South Africa held its fifth general election since the 1994 elections that culminated into the democratic breakthrough. These elections represented an important phase in the consolidation of the democratic project in South Africa. They demonstrated the strength of our democratic institutions, an anchor on which the country’s political stability is rooted. The vibrant and rigorous political culture that has come to be associated with South Africa was on full display during these elections. More importantly, the elections gave all South Africans an opportunity to determine their future. Following the smooth and successful conclusion of the general elections, the fifth Parliament of the Republic unanimously elected His Excellency Jacob Zuma as the next President of South Africa. The President-elect of the Republic will be inaugurated this coming Saturday, the 24th May 2014.
As we celebrate this milestone, we would like to thank the government and people of Belgium, the European Union, and the ACP group for all the support and cooperation we have received from you in these past 20 years. The mutually beneficial trade and investment relations we enjoy with you has ensured the growth of our economy and contributed to its increased competitiveness and diversification. The cooperation we enjoy in technical, scientific and social fields has boosted our capacity to realise our ambition of becoming a developmental state.
We would like to take this opportunity to renew our availability to continue engaging in a dynamic relationship with you, for the development and prosperity of our country.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by paying tribute to my countryman, who will entertain us tonight, Bra Hugh as he is affectionately called in South Africa. Hugh Masekela needs no introduction. He is a legendary jazz maestro who bestrode the world for thirty years as a South African exile, using music to campaign against apartheid. His music was an inspiration in the fight to end apartheid and colonialism. Such notable musicians as his former wife Miriam Makeba, Fela Kuti, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie and political figures Nelson Mandela, Stokely Carmichael, and Malcolm X all figure in Masekela’s life. A life as much about his activism as about his music.
We therefore feel extremely honoured tonight that, on the year of his 75th birthday, Hugh Masekela is performing here in Brussels as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of South Africa’s freedom and democracy. I invite you to enjoy the evening and the music of Bra Hugh.
Permit me to conclude by proposing a toast for the health of His Majesty King Phillipe, King of the Belgians, and the prosperity of the Belgian nation; and the health of His Excellency Herman Von Rompuy, the President of the Council of the European Union, and His Excellency Jose Manuel Barosso, the President of the Commission of the European Union, and the prosperity of the European Union.
Long live South Africa-Belgium friendship and cooperation!
Long live the South Africa-EU Strategic Partnership!
Long live the solidarity with the ACP group!
I thank you for your attention.