Toast Remarks of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, in honour of the Governor General of Canada, the Right Honourable, Michaelle Jean, on the occasion of the State Banquet: Presidential Guesthouse, Tshwane, 5 December 2006
The Right Honourable, Michaёlle Jean, Governor General of Canada and Mr. Jean-Daniel Lafond,
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners and other members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and gentlemen:
Honourable Governor General, my wife and I are truly delighted that together with your delegation you found time to visit our country and continent. On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, I extend the warmest welcome to you and your entire delegation.
Through you, we also wish to convey our warmest greetings to the government and people of Canada, who welcomed us with the kindest hospitality during our state visit in 2003.
Honourable Governor General, we salute and recognise in the Canadian people a kindred spirit that inspires a like-minded, multicultural nation with whom we share the same beliefs in democracy, human dignity, equality, peace, justice and development for all of humanity.
We feel a strong sense of joy in the knowledge that in a sense your life has come full circle, in that as a child of the African Diaspora and having experienced the harsh burdens of autocracy in your other home, Haiti, you triumphed in a situation in which to be a black woman in many countries means to be shunted to the margins of society.
We are indeed inspired by what you said during your inauguration as the Governor-General of Canada last year. Among other things you said:
“My own story begins as a child in another country, one “draped in barbed wire from head to toe,” in the powerful words of the Haitian poet in exile, René Depestre, who is also my uncle. The story of that little girl, who watched her parents, her family, and her friends grappling with the horrors of a ruthless dictatorship, who became the woman standing before you today, is a lesson in learning to be free.
“I know how precious that freedom is, I know what a legacy it is for every child, for every citizen of this country. I whose ancestors were slaves, who was born into a civilisation long reduced to whispers and cries of pain, know something about its price, and I know too what a treasure it is for us all.”
Governor General, you will pardon the many among us who would think that these words were said during the demise of apartheid and the advent of democracy in South Africa. That fact of empathy emphasises our happiness that today we are honoured to act as your hosts.
Everything you said during your Installation as Governor-General relates to our own struggle against apartheid – a struggle in which many Canadians contributed immensely so that today we have this opportunity to host one whom we are proud to call our own – as much a Canadian as an African.
Canada may seem to some of us to be a far and distant land of lakes: yet to others among us she evokes a feeling of proximity because for decades now her citizens have walked side by side with us as we engaged in struggle to end the system of apartheid, as we work now to rebuild free South Africa into a prosperous, non-racial and non-sexist democracy, and do what we can to contribute to the renaissance of Africa.
If I may be so bold, Honourable Governor General, as to say something more about how we see Canada, I would say that today, a new warm breeze sweeps through Rideau Hall and the Citadelle, inspired by the fleuve de lumière or river of light, which now shines brightly not just from the St Lawrence River looking east to Europe or south to the USA but also from the Ottawa River and across the land of lakes looking west to Asia and southeast through the Atlantic Ocean to the cradle of humanity, Africa.
Indeed, Canada showed leadership at the Citadelle during D-Day negotiations and the preparation of the agreements to re-build post-war Europe in the 1940s. Once again, in 2002, Canada led the developed world by placing the African Union’s development programme, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) on the agenda of the G8 Summit Meeting at Kananaskis, resulting in the Africa Action Plan directed at enhancing our possibility to re-build and liberate our continent from poverty and underdevelopment.
Honourable Governor General, we also recognise and appreciate Canada’s significant peacekeeping contribution in Africa and its support for multilateralism and the reform of the United Nations. We are particularly encouraged by Canada’s undertaking to double its development assistance to Africa by 2010-2011.
We are very pleased that our bilateral relations continue to gain in strength in the areas of capacity building and empowerment of women in the public service, health, governance, rural development, education, arts and culture, sports and recreation.
We are also encouraged by the continuous growth of trade between our countries and Canadian private investment in the areas of mining, health, science and technology, air services as well as your Government’s positive response to our Joint Skills Acquisition Initiative and concerns about the brain drain that has led to our losing some of our professionals who had been trained at great cost.
It is fitting, Honourable Governor General, that you have visited us during our annual 16 Days Campaign of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. Your own tireless efforts and work to combat domestic violence and abuse against women has set a sterling example for all of us.
You have provided the kind of leadership that we need all over the world and I am confident that you will continue to be a leading advocate as we strive to root out from our societies the cancer of woman and child abuse.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Please rise and join me in a toast to the good health and prosperity of the Right Honourable Michaёlle Jean and Mr. Jean-Daniel Lafond and to the friendship between the sister peoples of Canada and South Africa. To friendship!