The Toast Remarks for his Excellency, the President of Italian Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, at the Palazzo Del Quirinale, Rome, Italy

Your Excellency, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Mrs Franca Ciampi,
Your Excellency, Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi,
Your Excellencies, Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen:

My wife, my entire delegation and I are truly delighted to pay a State visit to the Italian Republic and thank you, Your Excellency, for your gracious and kind hospitality.

On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, we are very pleased to convey our warmest greetings to your Excellency, the government and the people of the Italian Republic.

Today, South Africa celebrates the Human Rights Day and it is fitting that we celebrate this important Day in the South African calendar with you in this magnificent Palazzo del Quirinale. For it is with sincere gratitude that today we thank the Italian people for your unwavering solidarity in our struggle against apartheid which made it possible for South Africa to join the community of democratic nations.

We have convened this evening on the occasion of this State banquet to bid farewell to a great Italian, a great European and a great Internationalist as he takes time off from a hectic life as a banker, politician and academic.

Mr President, you belong to that rare breed of people who in their youth were confronted with difficult moments brought about by the evils of totalitarianism and dictatorship. Together with many of your peers you took the correct stand against fascism and fought heroically to ensure that succeeding generations experience a life of freedom, democracy and justice.

Among these heroes are the more than one thousand South African soldiers who as part of the allied forces lost their lives and today lie buried on Italian soil.

Later, as an outstanding Governor of the bank of Italy for fifteen years, you, Your Excellency, played a central role in the development of the economy of this great country. You further consolidated this work as a Cabinet Minister and Prime Minister and ensured that Italy occupies her rightful place as a founder member of the European Union (EU) which today is one of the most important political unions in the world and the largest economic market.

Through your words and actions, you have demonstrated your unwavering solidarity with the African continent. Indeed, when you were conferred with a Degree of Doctor of Civil Law by Oxford University in 2005, you said among other things that the EU has particular responsibilities with regard to the African continent "where the extent and urgency of problems requires increased collaboration with the African Union and the United Nations in order to stabilise crisis areas, consolidate the rule of law and fight underdevelopment."

In the same address you also said, Mr President:

"I was born in 1920. I served as a soldier in the Second World War. I will never forget the scourges of nationalistic rivalry and totalitarianism. As an Italian and a European citizen, I feel the duty to point out especially to the younger generations the value of the unity of our continent and the need to continue along the chosen path."

It was clearly that experience of 'nationalistic rivalry and totalitarianism' that made you work so hard for the unity of Europe.

In addition and true to your resolve to fight underdevelopment, the first engagement between the African continent and the G8 took place in Genoa here in Italy in 2001, opening exciting possibilities of partnership for development between the industrialised countries of the North and Africa.

Accordingly, I am confident that I am speaking for many of my colleagues on the African continent that we will continue to draw on your experience and wisdom as we work for unity and fighting poverty and underdevelopment.

Your Excellency, South Africa and Italy share many things; experience with totalitarianism; internal divisions because of the legacy of past mistakes and the courage to work for national and continental regeneration.

Accordingly, it is natural and logical that South Africa and Italy have forged strong political, economic and people to people ties. It is indeed to the benefit of both our countries that our relations are sound and are constantly being deepened and strengthened through interaction at the bilateral level as well as regionally through the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) and through multilateral forums such as the UN, G8 and others.

In this regard as you know Your Excellency, since 1994 our countries have signed important bilateral agreements covering areas such as trade, development, finance, investment, education, science and technology, transport, arts, culture and sport.

Clearly, our relations were further strengthened by your memorable state visit to South Africa in 2002. As we all know after your visit we witnessed concrete commitments from Italy in helping us to create a better life for all South Africans.

We therefore thank the Italian government for the important contribution they are making within the framework of our partnership, among other things to improve our information systems and develop our capacity for health care planning and management at both national and provincial levels.

Indeed, to reaffirm our further commitment to this partnership, we are here with a large and important business delegation. Clearly, we fully support the initiative of Business Unity of South Africa (BUSA) and Confindustria in forging closer links of cooperation through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MU).

This partnership will be further strengthened when the President of Confindustria, Mr Luca Cordero de Montezemolo, leads a delegation to South Africa next year.

Again we are very happy that our partnership is also expressed through engagements around women empowerment initiatives, with specific focus on broader development and economic advancement of women ensuring skills development, entrepreneurship and access to resources.

Your Excellency, as Africans, we are strengthened by the constructive role that your country is playing in achieving peace and stability in the horn of Africa. We reiterate our support and readiness to work with you on this matter. Undoubtedly, we believe as you do that peace and stability are prerequisites for development and prosperity.

We are very pleased to announce our readiness to host the African International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), an important initiative within our programme of the regeneration of Africa led by New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

In this regard, our Minister of Science and Technology will be visiting Trieste to further strengthen our cooperation so that together we can enhance our efforts to tackle serious infectious diseases on the African continent.

Further, we count on the support of Italy in our quest to house the square kilometre array telescope, which will greatly increase the capacity of all humanity to study and understand the very origins of the universe.

We have no doubt that our cooperation will continue to be strengthened in many spheres and thank you, again, Mr President, for your warm hospitality. I am confident that during your retirement you will regard South Africa as your home from home where you will always find the sunniest and warmest welcome.

Ladies and gentlemen; please rise and join me in a toast to the good health and prosperity of his Excellency, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Mrs Franca Ciampi and to the excellent friendship between the wonderful peoples of Italy and South Africa. To friendship and good health! To a blessed and happy retirement!

Thank you.


Mukoni Ratshitanga
Cell: 082 300 3447

Issued by: Department of Foreign Affairs
21 March 2006
Source: SAPA


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