Toast Remarks by the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, on the Occasion of a State Visit to Tunisia, 12 October 2004

Your Excellencies, President Zanial Abidin Ben Ali and Mrs Ali,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure and honour for me, my wife and the entire South African delegation to visit the Republic of Tunisia and be hosted in this beautiful and ancient city of Tunis.

Your Excellency, we, the people of South Africa, are indebted to the people of this country for the unwavering support you gave us during the long and bitter struggle against apartheid. We recall with fond memories that symbolising that support, the Government of Tunisia issued a passport to that great son of South Africa, former President of the African National Congress (ANC) Oliver Tambo, when the country of his birth had denied him one.

Accordingly, today when we celebrate a decade of democracy in our country, we recognise and appreciate the invaluable contribution of the people of Tunisia in helping us to attain our freedom.

Our state visit to this sister African country follows the successful meeting of our Joint Bilateral Commission in July of this year. I am particularly happy that our two governments have addressed not only the positive aspects of our bilateral relations, but have also identified solutions to areas in which we have not made the necessary progress.

We are very happy that tomorrow we will sign a number of important agreements. These are the Programme of co-operation on Public Health and Medical Services, Programme of co-operation on Arts and Culture and the Memorandum of Understanding on Employment. Our businesspeople will sign agreements between the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Tunis Chamber of Commerce, Tshwane Trade Point and Tunis Trade Point and a Memorandum of Understanding between our national chambers of commerce.

Clearly, these agreements are important for our citizens because they will ensure that we work together, utilising our resources, to improve our health services; learn from our diverse and rich cultures; share experiences so that we deal effectively with the challenges of employment and collaborate to improve the flow of trade between our countries.

Indeed, we need this close cooperation in these and other fields so that we can use our various capacities to build a prosperous future for our peoples and expedite the renaissance of our continent.

Among other things, both our countries have important archaeological sites and remains that remind us of our glorious past and the great civilisations such as those of Carthage here in Tunisia and Mapungubwe in South Africa. This afternoon we had the great privilege to admire the treasures at the Bardo National Museum.

We have come to Tunisia on the eve of your national elections. I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the people of this country free, fair and peaceful elections that would strengthen the democratic order not only in this country but on the entire African continent as well. Indeed, it is from the strength of democracy at the national level that the recently launched Pan African Parliament derives its mandate. In this regard, your democracy in this country is an important building block for peace, stability and democracy on the continent.

Your Excellency, we are strengthening our bilateral relations for the benefit of our citizens. At the same time, given our geographic locations, we have an opportunity to create a continental axis that unites the rest of the continent through practical projects, working within the framework of the developmental programme of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to make our contribution in ensuring a better life for all the people of Africa.

Undoubtedly, many Africans derive strength and courage from the shining example of Tunisians' commitment to democracy, peace and stability on the continent. The deployment of Tunisian troops in areas such as the DRC and Burundi is a practical demonstration that, as Africans, we are ready and prepared to work for peace and stability for the benefit of all Africans.

Again, we share the vision of your government to find a lasting solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. Like you, we too are distressed by the on-going deaths and destruction in Palestine and Israel. Like you, we too are ready to make the necessary contributions to ensure that we achieve the objective of a free and independent state of Palestine co-exiting peacefully, side by side, with the state of Israel. Similarly, we both seek a peaceful Iraq, with its people enjoying full sovereignty.

Your Excellency, our countries share the view that we have to accelerate the process of reform of multilateral institutions, including the United Nations. As we are aware, this matter will soon reach finality with the report of the High Level Panel appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.

I am confident that we will continue to work together to ensure that indeed this reform process achieve the objective of making the United Nations more representative of the nations of the world as well as better positioned to respond to the pressing challenges facing poor nations.

Equally important are the urgent reforms of the Bretton Woods Institutions so that through these institutions, the international community would be better able to contribute effectively to the eradication of poverty, ensure sustainable development and help to bring about equitable global economic order.

The challenges facing our two countries and peoples are vast and numerous. I would like to assure you, Your Excellency, that in South Africa, Tunisia has a true partner in striving for a just and equitable world order.

It gives us immense pleasure once again to visit your beautiful country and I thank you for the warm reception accorded to me and my delegation.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Please join me in wishing good health to His Excellency, President Zanial Abidin Ben Ali and Mrs Ali, the people of Tunisia and wishing continued economic growth, socio-political stability to the Republic of Tunisia as well as everlasting friendship between our peoples.

Thank you.

Issued by: Ronnie Mamoepa 082 990 4853

Department of Foreign Affairs, Private Bag X152, Pretoria, 0001
13 October 2004

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