Press Statement by South African President Mr Thabo Mbeki on the Conclusion of the Meeting with Italian Republic President Carlo Ciampi, Rome, Italy

Mr President,

My wife Zanele and I wish to thank you and Mrs Ciampi most sincerely for the generous hospitality you have given us in this truly magnificent Quirinale Palace.

Having just emerged from an involved local government election campaign ourselves, we are grateful to you and your compatriots for taking time off your busy schedules to be with us during your equally involved election campaign.
We are particularly honoured, Mr President, that ours is the last incoming State Visit you receive in your current term as President of the Italian Republic.

The visit commences on South Africa's Human Rights Day, a particularly historic day in our country. As you are aware, Mr President, 21 March 1960 was a watershed moment in the history of South Africa, which was when 69 people were killed in a cold blooded way by the apartheid police for protesting against the dehumanising pass laws. From their peculiar vantage point, the apartheid government thought that their brutality at Sharpeville would crush the people's spirit of resistance. Instead, and as part of that process of change, March 21 served to mobilise the people and pricked the conscience of the world. As a result, today marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the new Constitution of our country.

President Ciampi's memorable Visit to South Africa in 2002, gave further impetus in the relationship between our two countries. Amongst the most critical areas of our relations include the areas of health, arts and culture, and science and technology.

We have taken this opportunity to express our gratitude to President Ciampi for his personal interest and encouragement of bilateral cooperation especially through direct assistance to our Health and Education sectors.

Our meeting today has given us the opportunity to take our relations a step further with renewed focus on the promotion of our economic ties. Accordingly, we will be engaging Confindustria to explore practical steps on the further development of trade and investment opportunities between our countries.

We will take advantage of that meeting to highlight major economic growth interventions in which our government is currently engaged. These include initiatives around South Africa's hosting of the Soccer World Cup in 2010 and the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa, which will see a public investment drive in the local economy over the next five years. We believe that these have the potential to open up many areas of interest to the Italian business community.

Our meeting with the President also gave us an opportunity to speak about the challenges and developments on the African continent.

Those include, amongst others, the need to support institutions of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the promotion of good political and economic governance. In this regard, I wish to again thank you, Mr President, for the consistent support you have provided, particularly since we started engaging on these issues, on the eve and during the G8 Summit in Genoa. We are confident that the Government and people of Italy will forever be ready to lend a hand whenever their fellow human beings on the African continent require support on issues of development, peace and democracy.

We would like to reiterate our commitment, like Italy, to multilateralism and to the United Nations to ensure the resolution of international problems through peaceful means.

Mr President, as you come to the end of your term, I would like to repeat as I said at the meeting that we indeed very pleased that we could come to Italy before you ended your mandate and wish you, Mr President, success in your future endeavours. Our people, Mr President, hold you and Mrs Ciampi in high regard; we are very fond of you. I would like to say that whenever you want to come, as many times as you want to come, you are welcome back to South Africa.

I thank you.

For more information, please contact:

Mukoni Ratshitanga
Cell: 082 300 3447

Issued by: Department of Foreign Affairs
21 March 2006

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