Address at the Opening Ceremony of the 5th session of the South Africa-Nigeria Binational Commission, Lagos, Nigeria 11 December 2003

Your Excellency, My Dear Brother, the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
Your Excellencies, Nigerian and South African Government Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Excellencies the Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa and South African High Commissioner to Nigeria,
Government officials,
Ladies and gentlemen,

My delegation and I are once again honoured and pleased to be with you in Nigeria, this time for the 5th session of the South African-Nigeria Bi-national Commission.

We thank you for the warm welcome we have received, and which we have become accustomed to, from our Nigerian brothers and sisters.

Your Excellency and Dear Friend, it is indeed a great privilege to again preside jointly with you over the deliberations of this session of our Binational Commission, which was founded on very strong and solid foundations in 1999.

It was established because it was recognised that ours is a special friendship and partnership that we should continue to deepen and widen.

Please allow me to use this opportunity to convey to you, your Excellency, and to the government and people of Nigeria, the congratulations of the government and people of South Africa for the successful holding of your country's general elections early this year. We wish you all the best in the challenges of this term of office.

My Dear Brother, we are acknowledging Nigeria's recent general election because it was a very significant step which once again demonstrated this country's commitment to democracy and the African Renaissance. It is important also because our two countries have a responsibility to provide leadership, and need to lead by example. Elections are a good test of the health of any democracy.

My dear brother, our deliberations take place during an extra-ordinary time.

The international arena has again changed dramatically since our last meeting 21 months ago.

We have witnessed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; terror attacks in many parts of the world and a few new eruptions of civil strife in some parts of our own continent. We must also applaud the fact that we have also witnessed many positive developments aimed at bringing about peace and stability to some parts of the continent.

Our sister countries of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo for example are clearly on the road to peace and normalcy, and this should give us all hope that peace is an achievable goal in Africa.

Last week, I gave a report to the United Nations Security Council in New York, and requested that the UN plays a more active role in the Burundi peace process, and consider taking over the African Mission in Burundi, which was established early this year as a temporary measure to prepare the conditions for a UN deployment. The military component of the African Mission comprises troops from South Africa, Ethiopia and Mozambique.

With the signing of the recent political and military protocols, peace has returned to at least 95% of the territory of Burundi. It is our view that the situation is now conducive for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force.

We await a final decision from the Security Council, and hope that it will be a positive one. The preliminary feedback from members of the Security Council after the briefing last week gave us reason for optimism. We humbly request Nigeria's support in this regard.

We are in the meantime going to continue attempts to engage the Palipehutu-FNL, the armed group that is still outside the peace process.

Given that the majority of the Burundian parties are part of the peace process, we do not believe that this group poses any serious threat to peace.

We are focusing so much on conflict resolution because peace in the continent will provide us with the space to focus on sustainable socio-economic development and to improve the quality of life.

We are of the view that Africa is on the right track, as the institutional capacity within the framework of the African Union will soon be in place to enable the continent to respond to security challenges collectively and effectively.

Our Bi-national Commission, already in its fifth year of existence, presents us with the ideal platform for co-ordinating and joining our efforts in this regard.

My dear brother, Mr Vice President, we share similar values of what type of world we would like our children and future generations to grow up in.

It is this fundamental outlook and convergence of views that form the cornerstone of our relations, going back to the days of the struggle against apartheid.

I am confident that the 5th session of our Commission will see a further consolidation of existing co-operation, as well as areas of co-operation.

In this regard, Mr Vice President, we are extremely satisfied to note that the various rounds of bilateral consultations held between our two countries' foreign ministries, since its institutionalisation during the 3rd BNC session in Abuja have had a significant impact on the level of co-operation between our two countries, on international and regional issues of mutual concern within the context of the United Nations and the AU.

The positive results of these consultations have been demonstrated at multilateral for a such as the last OAU Summit in Lusaka in 2001, and the AU Summits in Durban in 2002 and Maputo this year, through the successful co-ordination of positions and tactics by our two delegations.

Your Excellency, I must also welcome the growing economic relations between our two nations.

The year since the 4th session of the BNC has seen a further increase in the number of South African companies actively involved in Nigeria, while a number of trade missions were also exchanged.

We have noted, with great pleasure, that the value of bilateral trade has continued its sharp upward curve witnessed over recent years, already totalling R 3,7 billion in the period January to June 2002. We look forward to seeing a further consolidation of this positive trend.

My Dear Brother, we also wish to congratulate the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on its successful hosting of the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Abuja.

We are, however, like the rest of the Southern African Development Community and some Commonwealth members, disappointed by the outcome regarding Zimbabwe. We share the SADC view that the decision to continue the suspension of Zimbabwe will not help the Zimbabweans to overcome their present difficulties.

Your Excellency, in April next year, South Africa will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of its freedom from oppression and racism, and 10 years of working to build a better life for all. We wish to once again thank you for your support and solidarity during the struggle against apartheid, as well as in the last 10 years of reconstruction and development. We truly value this partnership and co-operation.

My Dear Brother, let me reaffirm that it is indeed a pleasure for all the members of my delegation to be in Lagos for the 5th session of our BNC.

I wish all delegates fruitful discussions, in the knowledge that as usual, the outcome will further consolidate the partnership between our two countries.

I thank you.

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