Remarks by Ministers Dlamini Zuma and Lomas Morales at Opening Plenary of Fifth South Africa-Cuba Joint Bilateral Commission (JBC), Arabella Sheraton Hotel, Cape Town, 8 November 2007

Remarks by Minister Dlamini Zuma

Excellency and friend Minister Martha Lomas Morales
Distinguished Cuban delegation
South Africa's Ambassador to Cuba
Charge from the Cuban Embassy
Members of the South African delegation

It is indeed an honour and privilege to welcome you once more Minister to this beautiful part of our country during the fifth session of the South Africa-Cuba Joint Binational Commission. And off course, I have been informed that this is a very special day for you, I have been informed this is your birthday and indeed, we would all want to wish you a very happy birthday.

And off course, as always, our thoughts are also with President Fidel Castro, the Commander-in-Chief. We wish him a speedy recovery, we wish him well and we cannot help but recall that when we visited Cuba to discuss the health programme for the first time, the hours he spent with us discussing this programme and the way in which he prioritised this discussion.

We also recall, the one time he invited us to dinner. We were very excited since we had not been invited to dinner by any President. When we arrived for dinner he said it was unfortunate that he had not asked if any of us were Muslim. When we asked why, he replied that he had prepared for us a very special dish, a little piglet straight out of kindergarten but that he would prepare something else should we not eat pork. Fortunately, none of us in the delegation were Muslim. We therefore have very fond memories of him. So please send him our regards and best wishes.

In the seven years of existence of this joint commission between South Africa and Cuba the two countries have had very exciting programmes of co-operation, some of which are going very well and are performing steadily and we have over time grown and diversified the areas of co-operation. This JBC has become amongst the biggest we have with 18 government departments participating over the past seven years.

We are very happy with this especially because one of the anchors of this programme is the Human Resource Development (HRD) programme with which Cuba is assisting us. Off course, HRD is one of our main priorities over this period in our development.

I will not go into details about how many Cuban doctors and professors are in South Africa assisting us from this end to develop our human resources but to say that we are very satisfied and the students who are studying in Cuba are engaged in a steady and entrenched programme in health.

Also, the co-operation in terms of housing, water has been appreciated and we are also very grateful for the co-operation in education particularly the maths and science programme which has been very useful and is now working towards the short courses aimed at continuously upgrading the skills of maths and science teachers. And I am aware that our education people have been also discussing a literacy campaign and have learnt many lessons from the Cuban experience.

So, we are very happy with all this

We are hoping that the co-operation in the communications field is going to take root. We are aware that our Deputy Minister of Communications visited Cuba but we need to have a proper follow up of that visit and I am told that there are exciting projects in the pipeline but we need to take them out of the pipeline since they have been in the pipeline for a while. And off course, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and Cuban Television co-operation is also an important project.

But one of the other areas that is very important is that of science and technology, because science and technology is important not only for industry but for health, vaccines, for all manner of areas that will enhance our co-operation. It will be in areas of climate change. We will be happy to learn from your experiences and to share whatever experiences South Africa has.

Again, on Social Development, we satisfied with the programme looking at diverse areas like the auxiliary social worker programme, community development workers, and also the idea of the youth development programmes that will see us starting or initiating a pioneer programme.

So all these areas are very important for us; energy, work in geosciences, work in biotechnology.

So, on the whole, these programmes have gone very well but I think Minister that we should also reflect on those that a bit on the slow side so that we can try and see how to give them impetus, the area of economic co-operation on the whole has not really taken off.

Trade, economic co-operation, investments and so on, requires us to go back to the drawing board to evaluate what else needs to be done. I know that we are negotiating an agreement but we need to look at it more closely, we need to look at the agriculture sector, we need to move on the transport issues as well. There is a suggestion that came from South Africa regarding training in transport, we require an agreement and urgently identify the various areas in which we require training on specific areas, not just generic ones.

So, I think, if nothing else, we should during this session, look at these areas a bit more closely so that they can move like the areas in which we are noting the most growth.

But off course, part of our being here is about friendship, people who share a common destiny and us sharing our experiences regarding the challenges we face during this particular period. Our consciousness and the values we share about defeating poverty with a view to creating a better life for all binds us together more firmly than any other. We both share the conviction that poverty eradication and sustainable development can only become a reality, and off course in our countries we have peace and stability, and our economies grow.

So this JBC has become a very important vehicle in our efforts, not only for our co-operation, but to assist us in dealing with the challenges that face us. In South Africa part of these challenges, as I mentioned earlier, are human resource development, skills development and service delivery. So this JBC has indeed contributed, and continues to contribute, and play a very major role in those areas and it is also demonstrated that a close and strong bond between our two countries which extends over decades are a basis and we should begin to build on this remarkable relationship.

I would conclude by thanking all the officials both from the Cuban and South African delegations who also do a lot of work in the background, between and during JBCs. And I am sure that they have this time approached their work with the same vigour and that we would conclude this JBC with substantial progress. I would like to thank you for the hard work and dedication.

I declare this fifth session of the JBC open and wish you a very fruitful and constructive session.

I thank you.

Remarks by Minister Lomas Morales

Thank you very much Minister Dlamini Zuma.

For me it is a great honour to be in South Africa to celebrate this fifth session of the South Africa–Cuba Joint Binational Commission (JBC). This fifth session is proof of the strength of the current relations between South Africa and Cuba and a reflection of the desire for this trend to continue.

Thank you also for the hospitality from the South African government and for the congratulations from Minister Dlamini Zuma on my birthday. It is an honour for me to celebrate this birthday in South Africa.

Despite the achievements we have attained over this period we also have a lot to do in many spheres as mentioned by Minister Dlamini Zuma viz. the economic sphere. We have to specify in this Commission what will be the objectives for the next period.

Currently, there are in South Africa a total of 200 collaborators. In Cuba since 1961 347 South African youth have studied and graduated in Cuba. There are currently 181 students studying in Cuba, two in higher education, seven in the National Institute of Sports and Physical Education and Recreation and 171 in the Health Sector as doctors and one in the Ministry of Education.

We have also worked strongly to extend co-operation to other sectors of mutual interest such as informatics and communications as referred to by Minister Dlamini Zuma, mining, energy, science and technology, trade and investments. These are sectors where we should devote increasing efforts to strengthen co-operation between our two countries. We see as proof of this, the recent visit of the Minister of Trade for Entrepreneurial people and a meeting in Havana that is at this moment being celebrated in Havana.

Dear Minister, allow me to provide you with some information about our national situation. The Cuban economy is still undermined by the limitations that are a result of more than 48 years of a very strong financial, economic and commercial blockade imposed on our country by the government of the United States. However, the goals for 2007 are based on a flexible plan capable of adapting to the changeable circumstances imposed by the international economy and that demand from us continuous transformations. Saving policy represents the fundamental objective and guidelines of the economy for this year specifically regarding the saving of energy and fuel. And it should also be the basis for next year because we do know that the fuel prices and oil are close to US$ 100 per barrel.

On the other hand we are working tirelessly to maintain and increase the quality of life of the Cuban population, to cover the (inaudible) place in the present battle of ideas and for economic growth despite adverse conditions.

Dearest Minister, members of the South African delegation, we are convinced that there are many sectors where we are able to work to develop joint programmes for co-operation, taking into account the political will of both governments and the basis of the Cuban international policies that offers third world countries all the resources that we have particularly human resources which are our most valuable asset.

We are also very interested to continue fostering trade and business relationships between entrepreneurs of both our countries.

I would also like to reiterate Cuba's gratitude to the government of South Africa for its support to the draft presented by Cuba on the need to put an end to the economic, financial and commercial blockade on our country by the government of the United States that again on last 30 October once again presented a draft resolution and here we count on the support of South Africa as always and I was telling the Minister as well as all the support of the African countries, all of them, who voted in support of Cuba. We would particularly like to thank the government of South Africa. We would also like to thank the solidarity manifested towards the battle we are fighting for the return of our five heroes that have been imprisoned by the United States.

We are convinced that we will continue working tirelessly to build a more fair society doing all we can to co-operate with those who need it most.

I would wish the greatest success to the work of this fifth session.

Thank you.

Issued by: Department of Foreign Affairs
8 November 2007

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