Address by Deputy Minister Sue van der Merwe at the Dinner in Honour of Heads of Mission of the West and Central African Regions accredited to South Africa, Pretoria, 30 March 2005

Your Excellencies,
Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
Your Worship the Mayor of Pretoria,
Ladies and Gentlemen

Bon Soir mesdames, monsieurs, Excellences, c'est vraiment un plaisir d' etre parmi vous ce soir.

On behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you for taking time to join us this evening.

We have worked hard in the past year to strengthen relations between South Africa and the various countries in West and Central Africa. During our very busy and productive working sessions we have found that we have limited opportunities to interact with each other informally and to explore areas of common interest beyond the essential and urgent matters such as high level visits, the preparation of large-scale bilateral meetings and the signing of agreements. From our side we have felt the need also to interact in a more informal fashion and this dinner presents us with an ideal opportunity to exchange views in a more relaxed atmosphere to network and deepen our friendships.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, in line with the rest of the South African public service, has recently completed its annual planning process of establishing the objectives and priorities that will guide departmental actions during the coming year. I would like to share with you some of our thoughts.

Of course, the consolidation of the African Agenda remains a central anchor point of South Africa's foreign policy.

The South African government firmly believes that the future of South Africa is inextricably linked to the future of the African continent. Our national vision of building a united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society is what we also desire for the African continent as a whole. Our collective understanding is that socio-economic development cannot take place without an enduring peace and permanent political stability and democracy. These are the necessary conditions for socio-economic development.

Our work will continue to focus on the strengthening of Africa's institutions continentally and regionally viz the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). We shall continue to focus on the promotion and support of the implementation of Africa's socio-economic development programme, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as well as strengthening and deepening bilateral political and economic relations with all countries in Africa through the establishment of effective structures for dialogue and co-operation.

The AU has both a political mandate and also a socio-economic role aimed at alleviating poverty and promoting sustainable economic and social development and growth. The Peace and Security Council (PSC) is intended as a decision-making organ for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict and the provision of collective security and early-warning of conflict and crisis situations in Africa. As a PSC member, South Africa will continue to support the establishment of continental, regional and national Early Warning Systems, the African Standby Force, including regional brigades, a Common African Defence and Security Policy and the Panel of the Wise.

As the host of the Pan-African Parliament, one of the "people's organs" along with the ECOSOCC, South Africa will work hard to provide an appropriate environment and work with the AU to ensure that the parliament can effectively play its envisaged role. The parliament and ECOSOCC are important instruments to ensure that civil society stakeholders receive prominence in their interaction with continental and regional mechanisms. It is our belief that a strong civil society, including the private sector, is an essential element in ensuring good governance and deepening democracy and can contribute towards enriching continental deliberations on all issues.

The year 2005 presents us with a unique set of opportunities through which the process of redefining the partnership paradigm and securing concrete support for Africa's socio-economic development can be pursued. These include the UN Secretary-General's High Level Panel Report on Threats, Challenges and Change, the Commission for Africa Report, the 2nd Report on the Implementation of the G8 Africa Action Plan at the June 2005 Summit in Scotland, the CSD13 process, the Africa Partnership Forum meetings, the 3rd Report on the Implementation of UN Support for NEPAD, the Beijing +10 Review, the Copenhagen +10 Review and the MDG +5 Review.

As Africans we need to use these fora and the opportunities these reports present to intensify our efforts to possess our own future and to ensure that Africa indeed occupies a more central place in the world.

Important initiatives to generate support for the African continent will also be pursued through the Asia-Africa partnership process (AASROC), culminating in the Golden Jubilee Africa-Asia Summit in Indonesia in April this year, the IBSA partnership, the G77 South Summit and the Conference on Progressive Governance to be hosted by South Africa later this year.

Your Excellencies, with these important developments in mind, I believe that we have to strengthen our own collective thinking on these and other matters as part of a great African family. For many in our country, the West and Central African region represents a part of the continent largely unknown to many South Africans. The region that you represent. certainly represents a diverse range of cultures, languages and religions. It is also a region that presents the continent with significant challenges in our common quest to advance the African Agenda.

The situation in Côte d'Ivoire presents a particular challenge to peace and stability in that sub-region. President Mbeki continues to pursue his mediation effort at the behest of the African Union. We acknowledge that these processes are never easy and are often time consuming, and that a great deal of patience is required. The President will again host the key roleplayers in the Ivorian process in Pretoria this weekend, where he will lead the effort to re-generate momentum in the process. The economic impact of this crisis is not lost on Côte d'Ivoire's neighbours. We cannot allow this situation to prevail and negatively impact on Côte d'Ivoire and the wider sub-region.

The firm stance taken by the AU on Togo, together with the brokering role played by ECOWAS, have led to an acceptable solution which will see elections called to properly elect a new Togolese head of state.

In the Manu River Union we have seen a return to peace after decades of internal conflict once again particularly as a result of the intervention of ECOWAS and countries in that region. For countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone the most important phase of reconstruction now lies ahead to ensure sustainable peace and stability. South Africa will also endeavour to play a role here within the constraints of its own limited resources.

In the Central African Republic we have witnessed a country slowly returning to the international fold. We trust that the recent presidential election will clear the way for the CAR to play its rightful role in the continent and eagerly await the official results of the poll.

All of these are significant developments that pave the way for an Africa that is at peace with itself and the world.

To underpin our efforts in these two regions South Africa has recently established a number of new diplomatic missions and will continue to do so, as additional resources become available. Bilateral relations will be further strengthened through the signing of agreements and the establishment of Joint Commissions of Co-operation.

South Africa will endeavour to deepen relations with countries in these two regions during the coming year specifically at the technical level through co-operation inter alia in the Trade and Investment, Mining and Energy, Agriculture, Transport, Environment and Tourism, Crime and Justice, Health, Education and Cultural sectors. Together we must begin to make South-South Co-operation and the ideals of NEPAD a reality.

We are looking forward to the 7th session of the Nigeria/South Africa Binational Commission and the 2nd session of the Mali/South Africa Joint Commission of Co-operation during the coming year. New instruments for the promotion of bilateral relations will become operational with the launching of the Ghana/South Africa Joint Commission of Co-operation, the Senegal/South Africa Binational Commission and the Republic of Congo/South Africa Joint Commission of Co-operation. While we will soon host a delegation of senior officials from Guinea to explore the strengthening of bilateral relations, special efforts will be made from our side to finalise and conclude outstanding agreements with Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo.

As African Heads of Mission you are ideally placed to encourage bilateral technical co-operation and particularly the promotion of intra-African trade and investment. We look forward to hearing a little later from the Secretary General of Trade Point Africa on how Trade Points can be established in your countries and be utilised by our diplomatic representations for this purpose.

The period that lies ahead of us hold much promise, especially in efforts to reform the international political architecture. The recent decision of African states taken in Swaziland, known as the "Ezulwini Consensus", shows that Africa is committed to working together to take serious decisions.

Let us continue to consolidate our efforts to build a fairer, equitable international system.

Let us continue to bring about progressive change on the African continent.

I firmly believe that this spirit of togetherness that has characterised Africa in the last decade of the twentieth century in the second wave of democracy to sweep our continent has continued up until the present. This unity has marked the building of the African Union and is standing us in good stead in dealing with the broader international community in promoting Africa's agenda.

We look forward to working with you all in achieving our common objectives in building a better Africa in a better world.

May you have a very enjoyable and relaxed evening.

Thank you

Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

30 March 2005

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