Opening Statement by Minister Dlamini Zuma on the Occasion of the First South Africa - Malaysia Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) Meeting, Kuala Lumpur, 23-24 June 2005

Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dato Seri Syed Hamid Albar
Distinguished Guests
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

On the occasion of the first South Africa - Malaysia Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC), I am delighted to extend warm greetings from the Government and people of South Africa to the Government and people of Malaysia.

I am honoured to participate in this opening ceremony today and would like to thank everyone who worked hard to elevate the status of the official bilateral interaction between our two countries to this level. Please allow me, on behalf of the South African delegation, to extend our sincere gratitude towards our Malaysian counterparts and good friends for their exceptional hospitality whilst hosting us here in the beautiful city of Kuala Lumpur.

South Africa and Malaysia have strong historical links dating back to the 16th century when our countries and peoples were the victims of continuous colonial exploitation by distant external forces. During the dark years of apartheid that followed in South Africa, Malaysia had been one of the staunchest supporters of our Liberation Movement's struggle for freedom and justice and we could always count on you to be one of Apartheid South Africa's most vocal critics.

Shortly after freedom was restored in South Africa in 1994 and our country became a democracy for the first time in history, Malaysia was one of the very first countries to demonstrate a clear vote of confidence in the new South Africa through major investments into our economy. Of these, Malaysia's investments into the South African petroleum and Information and Communication Technology industries were the most prominent.

For this support during difficult times, ladies and gentlemen, the people of South Africa will always remain grateful towards Malaysia. As the saying goes: "A friend in need is a friend indeed". Last year South Africa celebrated Ten Years of Freedom and whilst reviewing the past decade with gratefulness in our hearts, we were very much aware of the fact that our peaceful transition to democracy might not have materialized in the way it did without the support of those international friends who understood our challenges and stood by us through those difficult and trying times.

Ladies and gentlemen

South Africa and Malaysia enjoy excellent bilateral relations that are built on solid foundations and that are strengthened by regular high-level official visits and interaction between our respective business communities.

In this regard, South Africa remains very appreciative of the contributions made by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir who strongly opposed Apartheid South Africa, on the one hand, and who later very actively promoted new ties and close co-operation with post-Apartheid South Africa, on the other.

In March 1994, Malaysia awarded the Tun Abdul Razak International Award to former South African President Nelson Mandela for his efforts in the forefront of the struggle to dismantle apartheid. Similarly, Dr Mahathir received the Order of the Cape of Good Hope from President Mandela in Cape Town on 7 May 1997.

In 1994, Dr Mahathir was one of the first foreign statesmen to pay a private one-day visit to South Africa to congratulate President Mandela on the country's transition to democracy. Since 1994, a rapid improvement of bilateral relations occurred in all spheres, but most notably on the political and economic levels.

The personal friendship between former President Mandela and former Prime Minister Mahathir, Malaysia's consistently principled and committed anti-apartheid stance over four decades and a common appreciation of the importance of South-South co-operation, provided the impetus for a warm, friendly and solid relationship.

Malaysia's political, economic and social importance to South Africa can never be over-emphasised and our relationship stretches much further than merely trade and investment interests. Our countries share common sentiments regarding many international issues and we talk the same language when it comes to, for example, the importance of South-South co-operation or the imperatives for developing nations to participate in the global political and economic system on an equitable basis.

Malaysia's current position as Chair of both the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is paramount in this respect and particularly the competent, pragmatic leadership provided by Prime Minister Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Malaysia enjoys South Africa's full support for your country's efforts to advance the "Agenda of the South" and for your commitment to the revilisation of these institutions to enable them to better contribute to the material welfare of the citizens of all member states.

Developing nations around the world need to act collectively when confronting international issues such as the reform of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions, the promotion of fair global trade regimes or any other multilateral issue that hinders developing countries on their paths to sustainable economic development, social justice and an equitable world order.

Following the successful Asia-Africa Summit that was held in Jakarta during April this year as well as the Commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of the 1955 Bandung Conference, the need for continued inter-regional co-operation to address international issues of concern has never been more important.

In the spirit of Bandung and the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership Plan of Action (NAASP) that was adopted in Jakarta, South Africa is eager to assist wherever possible to strengthen the partnership between our regions and to further promote the goodwill that was so evident during the Summit. It is only through dedicated efforts, similar to Foreign Minister Dato Seri Syed Hamid Albar's personal intervention - when he persuaded the ASEAN group in 2002 to make President Mbeki the first non-ASEAN Head of State to address its Summit in Cambodia - that we will move closer to creating a better world for our children.

Ladies and gentlemen

May I use this opportunity to express South Africa's appreciation of Malaysia's continuing support for the African Union's home-grown development blueprint, namely the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). As Africans, we are of the opinion that our continent is emerging from its historical backlogs. We are committed to an African Renaissance and those who share in our vision of turning potential into reality will share in reaping the benefits of what our continent has to offer.

The opportunities for doing business with South Africa and Africa are vast and there is evidence to suggest that government and business leaders in some of South Africa's neighbouring countries have already successfully exploited those opportunities created by Smart Partnerships via the Langkawi and Southern African International Dialogues.

As close partners from different parts of the globe, South Africa and Malaysia have been engaging since the advent of our democracy on the political, trade and investment, cultural, educational, scientific, technological, defence and other fronts as well as through people-to-people co-operation.

In reflecting on our partnership and engagement, it is clear that we have made considerable gains, but we need to do more to further strengthen our ties and intensify the levels of co-operation. In some instances, our countries need to revisit our joint objectives in order to fully exploit opportunities and to maximize mutual benefit. This is exactly the motivation behind our gathering in Kuala Lumpur and we look forward to the results of this joint forum.

Ladies and gentlemen

Trade and investment relations between South Africa and Malaysia have experienced rapid expansion since 1994 and we have seen tremendous growth in total bilateral trade volumes from ZAR 1,1 billion (ZAR 1,096,957,000) to a high-water mark of ZAR 5,7 billion (ZAR 5,654,163,000) in 2002. The Asian financial crisis had only slightly affected total trade volumes. Current total trade volumes, however, have slowed down to ZAR 3,8 billion (ZAR 3,783,606,000) in 2004.

Although we understand the ever-changing dynamics of global economics, it is my contention that these figures do not reflect the full potential of our bilateral trade relations and can be grown substantially, provided we optimize and exploit new opportunities. In terms of the value of Malaysia's total investments on the African continent, we are pleased to note that it compares favourably with the value of your country's investments in other regions of the world. In this context, South Africa is well positioned to provide guidance as to NEPAD's win-win approach and to act as the gateway to other African markets, especially land-locked countries with huge economic potential.

To date, South Africa and Malaysia have concluded a total of five official agreements and two Memoranda of Understanding in areas of mutual interest, while at least six more official agreements and MOU are still being negotiated and seven others have been concluded between state, parastatal or business entities. All these agreements and negotiations are proof of the importance and extent of the relationship between our two countries. It is of course important to remember that agreements are not an end in themselves, as we need to give substance to the content and implement them speedily to the mutual betterment of our people.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Apart from numerous high-level visits between South Africa and Malaysia, our countries have been fortunate to have had several State Visits between them since 1994, namely the visit by former Prime Minister Mahathir to South African in 1995, the visit by former President Mandela to Malaysia in 1997 and the visit by President Thabo Mbeki to Malaysia in 2003.

We are very pleased to be able to say that we look forward to receiving Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on a visit to South Africa later this year.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to thank all of you for your valuable contributions towards enhancing ties between South Africa and Malaysia. It is clear that this relationship is based on a common commitment to sustainable economic development, social justice and co-operation for a global order that would be marked by peace, security and equity. We look forward to a constructive JMC to consolidate our excellent partnership.

I thank you
Issued by Ronnie Mamoepa on 082 990 4853
Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
23 June 2005

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