Toast Remarks of the President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the State Banquet in honour of the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, Tshwane, 2 September 2008

Your Excellency, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Mr Hugo Chávez and the distinguished Venezuelan delegation,
Your Excellencies, Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
South African and Venezuela business leaders;
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

On behalf of the government and the people of South Africa, I am truly honoured to welcome you Your Excellency and your esteemed delegation on this auspicious occasion and wish you a fruitful and enjoyable stay in South Africa.

Your presence here among us, on your first ever state visit to our country, the southern-most part of the African continent, is indeed historic as we seek closer co-operation between our respective countries in particular and the African continent, Latin America and the Caribbean in general.

Your Excellency, let me thank Venezuela for the principled position it took in our struggle to defeat the Apartheid crime against humanity and your personal inspiration and commitment to the achievement of the goal of a better world for all.

Twice during the second decade of the 19th century, as he engaged in protracted struggle to liberate South America from Spanish rule, the great liberator, Simon Bolivar, visited Haiti and secured the military support of this first independent Black Republic for the victory of his cause.

I mention this then unprecedented act of international solidarity for the liberation of the oppressed because tonight we have among us successor patriots to the historic leaders of Haiti, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henry Christophe and Alexander Pétion, on one hand, and the Liberator of South America, Simon Bolivar, on the other.

Tonight we have in our midst the former President of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide and Hugo Chavez, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. We are honoured to have them here tonight as honoured guests of our government and people.

Their presence in our country communicates the powerful message that only do we have shared heroes such as Toussaint L'Ouverture, Simon Bolivar, José Marti, Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela, but that we have to follow the example set by these titans and act together in solidarity to secure the all-round emancipation of our peoples and the peoples of the South.

I am therefore very privileged, on behalf of our people, once more to convey a warm salute to the outstanding personalities from across the Atlantic Ocean who have honoured us by their presence tonight, President Hugo Chávez and President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Our respective countries and Regions are facing tremendous developmental challenges and with less than seven years to go, time is fast running out to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In this regard, Your Excellency, President Chávez, we have paid close attention to your initiatives to improve the lives and social conditions of the marginalised masses, not only in Venezuela but also in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Your Excellency, the people of our country share the same vision with the people of Venezuela; a vision of a world based on freedom, equality, justice and prosperity for all. Accordingly, both our people draw inspiration from the same heroes and heroines of our struggles for freedom.

Today, as successor generations to the great liberators I mentioned, we continue the struggle to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment and improve the social conditions of all our people confident that a better world is possible.

We are indeed very inspired by the fact that Simon Bolivar continues to make an enormous impact on the modern-day aspirations of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. We are proud, Your Excellency, that, recently, the capital City of Tshwane where we are, was honoured by the unveiling of the bust of Simon Bolivar, a creation by a South African sculptor, in the gardens of the Art Museum. Clearly, this will go a long way in confirming the strategic relations of solidarity that must exist between our countries.

Your Excellency, your vision, among others of regional co-operation, conceptualised in the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), was undoubtedly shaped by the outcome of the Independence Wars and the historical significance and lasting impact on the politics of South America as they led to the formation of 'Gran Colombia'. We have no doubt that the 2008 concept of South American Regional Integration can be linked directly to the concept of Gran Colombia envisaged by Simón Bolívar.

The Bolivian Alternative of the Americas is designed to promote reciprocal trade and solidarity among like-minded nations in your region and it continues to grow as a new geopolitical and geo-economic institution that seeks the construction of a better world for the peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America.

In this regard, Your Excellency, there are similarities with Africa's New Partnership for Africa s Development (Nepad) programme that provides a framework for a continent-wide holistic socio-economic renewal and development. The overarching NEPAD objectives include sub-regional and continental economic integration, economic growth and sustainable development.

As you are aware, Your Excellency, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and Mercado Comun Del Sur (MERCOSUR) signed a Preferential Trade Agreement earlier this year. We are confident that this step will be an extension of the already established political common ground, and will provide the foundation for expanded economic co-operation among our nations of the South. South Africa and Venezuela are thus moving closer even at this level as both our countries are signatories to this Agreement.

Your Excellency, as discussed during our extremely constructive discussions earlier today, we congratulate Venezuela for taking the initiative to host the 2nd Africa-South America Summit Meeting in November this year, and look forward to engaging the bold ideas you will bring to this important meeting.

Clearly, the Summit will provide an ideal opportunity, further to discuss our objectives and strategies to advance towards stronger regional co-operation, to enhance South-South co-operation and to identify new areas of co-operation in the multilateral arena.

Similarly, Your Excellency, we look forward to your participation next month, October, in the African and Africa Diaspora Summit Meeting which we will be honoured to host.

Similarly, South Africa and Venezuela share common principles as members of the Non-Aligned Movement. It is our firm belief that Cuba has steered the Non-Aligned Movement to greater heights during its Presidency, especially through the emphasis placed on the advancement of developmental issues.

Of particular interest is the clear revival of interest in Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) issues by member states from Latin America and the Caribbean. This is reflected by your country in particular that hosted the NAM Conference of Ministers of Information in July 2008 and Guatemala's readiness to host the NAM Ministerial Meeting on the Advancement of Women in December 2008.

We are indeed pleased, Your Excellency, that you have decided to visit us, as your presence among us confirms the growing relations that our countries have built since South Africa attained its freedom in 1994 and will serve to give further impetus to these relations.

South Africa attaches great importance to the friendship and co-operation which have developed between our peoples, positively affecting our relations at bilateral and multilateral levels. The agreements we have reached underline our shared determination further to strengthen our relations in the political, socio-economic and cultural areas.

We are truly inspired that today we agreed to build our relations as a strategic partnership and committed ourselves to work practically and urgently to achieve this objective.

Your Excellency let me again thank you for visiting our shores. I was glad to hear that you would be visiting the Mahlasedi-Masana Primary School in Mamelodi in this city and we thank you for the work being carried out by the government and Embassy of Venezuela in support of the school and its learners.

This confirms the dedication of the Government and people of Venezuela as well as your own, Mr President and dear friend, to ensuring that we act in ways that actually change the lives of the ordinary people for the better.

Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and join me in a toast to the good health and prosperity of His Excellency, President Hugo Chávez and to the friendship between the peoples of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Republic of South Africa.

To friendship and solidarity!

Thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency
2 September 2008

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