Address by H.E. Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, at the Africa Day Celebration in the Czech Republic, 20 May 2008

Salutations

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karel Schwarzenberg
Members of the Chamber of Parliament
Members of the Senate of Parliament
Chief of Cabinet
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
Members of the Business Community
Honoured guests, friends
Ladies and gentlemen

Introduction

On behalf of the people and the government of South Africa, I thank you for extending this invitation to address you in this occasion. And as representatives from the southern most tip of Africa, we wish to convey the warmest greetings of our President Thabo Mbeki. I appreciate the opportunity to mark Africa Day amongst friends of Africa and so far away from home.

Importance of visit

For our part, we consider this an important visit since it builds on developing closer and cordial ties between Africa and the Czech Republic. The relationship is based on cementing the mutually beneficial co-operation of our peoples, business communities and respective governments at all levels. Speaking for South Africa, we have indeed found many common interests with the Czech people.

Strategic importance of Czech Republic for Africa

We consider it noteworthy that the "Czech Republic as a non-permanent candidate of the United Nations (UN) Security Council for the period 2008/09 will provide us with the opportunity to lobby for support on the reform of the Institutions of the United Nations and the architecture of the Bretton Wood institutions." We need a strong UN able to promote the interests of the poor, an inclusive and democratic UN, able to pledge solidarity where it is most needed.

Context of the world – food insecurity

The world has changed dramatically for most nations, from unprecedented world growth to a food and fuel crisis. I emphasise this because the present economic climate for African countries is simply not conducive for sustainable growth in our economies and for our societies in the short and long-term. The world is confronted and faces serious challenges, which include food shortages and the high fuel costs, skills shortages and disease. Many sub-Saharan African countries are seriously affected.

While Africa has experienced economic growth well above five percent in 2007, and it is expected such growth will reach the six percent mark owing to a high demand for its commodities. But despite these positive developments, and as the recent summit of the African Development Bank (AfDB) confirmed, the escalating food predicament will be disastrous for many African countries, more especially for those people living on less than one dollar a day, the poorest of the poor. The gains they are making may be compromised. This food and fuel crisis is as a result of greed and the lack of global solidarity, as well as little consideration for economic realities of climate change now and here.

Consequences of food insecurity

What will happen if there are no comprehensive and long-term solutions? If we continue to have those who can afford to consume the planet's resources in a selfish manner!

Poverty and hunger could derail the progress the developing world has made. Especially as we await the conclusion of Doha. We face exposing our women and young people to untold hardships. This calls for all of us to do much more and the world to correct the market trends and to commit to sustainable development.

What are the solutions?

What is to be done? It begins with political will and a change of heart.

For a start, I agree with the words of the former President of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel, when he said, "Genuine politics…is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action."

African solutions to African challenges

In the final analysis, we fully understand that the challenges we face in Africa can be solved by us as Africans acting together. We agree that the solutions to our circumstances cannot be imported from elsewhere; the solutions are within our capacities, but we cannot do without partners.

We have to put food security higher on the agenda in Africa. The decision by African Heads of State is that much more than we presently attribute, has to go to agriculture. Not enough is being spent in Agriculture in most African countries.

Economic trade

To our hosts here, the Czech Government, as RSA we say that we are encouraged by the trade figures between our respective countries, though they are not where we would like them to be. I understand trade between our countries in 2006 stood at three-hundred-and-seventy-one million US dollars (US$371 million).

It offers hope to our bilateral relations when we see a few South African multinationals such as SABMiller, Mondi and Sappi operating in the Czech Republic.

However, there is ample room for development and maximising the full potential of our countries. There is room to co-operate in tourism, service capital goods, science and technology and education. I am also told that we have many Czech students in our universities and we appreciate the trend and would encourage more South African students to come to your beautiful country and encourage business as well to go both ways.

I am going to be bolder and say, South Africa is a country where opportunities exceed challenges. Our challenges, which now sadly and regrettably include barbaric attacks on poor foreigners, can be overcome. Foreigners in South Africa in the main are helping to build the country.

South African challenges

In South Africa our biggest draw back is skills shortages. We in some cases rank lower than poorer African countries in terms of human resources. This is because apartheid deliberately for decades denied education to the majority. With a fast growing economy we are finding skills to be our biggest draw back. In this area we are seeking partnerships and support in every way, and also here in the Czech Republic for instance.

AsgiSA/JIPSA

This is why we launched the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) to stimulate shared economic growth, and the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA), which focuses on skills development. Through this programme we co-ordinate co-operation within South Africa's public and private sector, and with our sister countries, specifically in the areas of information and communication technology (ICT), engineering, artisans, education, cultural, finance and project managers.

We believe we can learn from the Czech education institutions and from your models of enhancing literacy levels, which have a strong focus on science and technology, vocational and artisanal training. We seek to build the highly sort after technical skills for our infrastructure build programme.

Areas of mutual benefit

There is much to learn from each other in critical areas like the 'network industries' – transport, communications, water and energy supply. As the South African government, we are certain there is fertile ground to foster new partnerships to fight poverty, increase employment creation opportunities, and develop transfer of technology and skills development.

We also want to highlight our significant strides in the area of arts. Our growing film industry, artistic technical services and music, which is our greatest strength!

Conclusion

As I said earlier, I truly believe South Africa is a country where opportunities exceed challenges.

We encourage people-to-people contact through cultural, educational and sports exchanges as well as in promoting tourism between our countries.

Once again, we urge you to join us in 'building today, a better Africa tomorrow.'

Happy Africa Day. God Bless Africa - make her children free and grant her peace.

I thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency
20 May 2008

Source: The Presidency (http://www.thepresidency.gov.za)

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