Opening Statement by Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim of the Department of International Relations and Co-Operations (DICO) during the 7TH South Africa-Cuba Joint Consultative Mechanism, Havana, Cuba, 23 June 2009

Your Excellency, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Marcos Rodriguez,
Your Excellency, Mr Piitso, Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to Cuba,
Your Excellency Ambassador Matjila, Deputy Director General: Asia and Middle East, in the Department of International Relations and Co-Operation,

I bring with me fraternal greetings from the political leadership of South Africa to these shores of one of the most important countries in the history of the peoples of South Africa, and indeed the rest of the African continent.  On behalf of the delegation from South Africa I express my gratitude to the leadership of Cuba for extending an invitation for us to be here today.  We recall vividly your contribution to South Africa-Cuba relations during your tour of duty in our country from 1999 to 2003. 

Your Excellency, on 11 May 2009, our two countries marked 15 years of official diplomatic relations.  South Africa and Cuba celebrated this historic milestone by holding a special commemorative event at the Freedom Park Memorial in Pretoria to honour the thousands of Cuban internationalists and combatants who fell in the course of struggle for freedom and human dignity in Africa.  I still recall the occasion when the former President of this country, Mr Fidel Castro, addressed a Joint Sitting of our Parliament in September 1998, and he almost brought down the walls of the Chamber when he declared:

“From the African lands in which they worked and fought voluntarily and selflessly, these internationalists only took back to Cuba the remains of their fallen comrades and the honour of having discharged their duty.”

These words have been ingrained in my conscience, because I am one of those who have witnessed the exploitation of Africa’s resources and the subjugation of her people by powerful forces in pursuit of their own selfish interests. Cuba’s interactions with Africa have proven to be an exception to this rather unfortunate rule.

In fact, former President Castro’s words were echoing what former President Mandela said in July 1991 during his first visit to Cuba following his release from Robben Island, that:

“The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice unparalleled for its selfless character. We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty.” It is unparallel in African history to have another rise in the defense of one of us..”

It is my understanding, Your Excellency, that on 1 January this year, Cuba celebrated 50 years of the triumph of the Revolution.  I believe I am speaking on behalf of all revolutionaries in Africa when I say, it’s a celebration worth having and well-deserved. For without the triumph in your own struggle, most of us in Africa would have been robbed of your support in our own efforts to rid ourselves of the yoke of oppression.   

Your Excellency, today we begin the meeting of our 7th Joint Consultative Mechanism (JCM), which is but one of the critical components of our overarching formal mechanism of interaction, the other being the Joint Bilateral Commission (JBC). Our JCM takes place against a background of solid bilateral and fraternal relations which our countries have been able to forge during the past 15 years of official diplomatic relations.  Our respective political leadership saw it fit to establish such a mechanism in order to bolster our bilateral relations for the benefits of our people, as well as to further enhance our strategic co-operation in the regional and multilateral spheres.  

Accordingly, let me take this opportunity to salute Cuba for demonstrating its unwavering commitment to maintain and strengthen our dialogue through the JCM and the JBC.  Since its inception, the JCM has indeed become an important forum for us to openly share our impressions and perspectives on a number of issues of mutual interest and concern at bilateral and multilateral levels, and I am certain that this 7th Session offers us an opportunity to continue with that tradition.

Your Excellency, we gather together under vexing times in the history of international political economy as the world is attempting to craft a response to the global financial crisis. There is no gainsaying in denying that the global financial challenges we face today are daunting but as internationalists, I have no doubt that we will commit ourselves and join forces in identifying lessons learned and seeking solutions aimed at reversing a catastrophe. In his address to the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa meeting held in Cape Town recently, President Zuma correctly pointed out that one of the lessons that we must draw from this crisis is the need for a transformed global financial system, because it is clear that these systems cannot be self-regulatory.

  1. The occasion of our meeting will afford us an opportunity to share how this crisis has impacted on our own countries as well as reflect on the solutions we envision, within the context of multilateralism.  As internationalists we know that every difficult situation is an opportunity for change, and I believe that this is one of those moments that progressive forces are called upon once more to stand together, to defend the dignity of our people.

The 7th JCM also takes place during the time of interesting developments in our respective regions. In the recent past, we have witnessed Africa seeking solutions to a number of protracted conflicts situations, and taking strides towards reconstructing some of the countries whose infrastructure has been devastated by civil strife. As the Deputy Minister is aware, South Africa has played and continues to play a role in our Africa’s socio-economic development agenda.

The South African Government values the contribution that Cuba continues to make towards Africa’s revival in the context of our existing trilateral agreements; therefore we hope to share some of the developments in our region with you in order to further our mutual goals of stability and prosperity in our respective regions.  We have followed with keen interest momentous developments in this region, with many countries in the hemisphere declaring their own chosen path of economic development.  We hope to hear more about these historic changes during our two days of deliberations.

Our meeting also coincides with a moment in history that our countries’ political landscapes have experienced transformations in the recent past. In the case of South Africa, among other things, we have just held our fourth democratic elections, which were a further testimony of our people’s resolve to freely decide for themselves who should govern them. We will also have an opportunity to update each other on this and other related developments, so that we can have a better understanding of the path that our countries will take in the coming years.  

In each successive election since 1994, the ruling party in South Africa has committed itself to implementing developmental programmes aimed at uplifting the lives of our people. Over this period, the ruling party has gained valuable experience which made it realise that one of the prerequisites for effective implementation of our programmes is a strong planning capacity, and the ability of the Government, where required, to make timely interventions in strategic areas in the country. In this context, we wish to express our gratitude to Cuba for the assistance given to South Africa through the deployment of more than 400 Cuban professionals and experts in various government programmes such as health, housing, and infrastructure.  Moreover, the training of our young people through scholarship programmes offered by your government in medicine and sports, will contribute further to the development of our people and communities. Our engagements in development issues in Africa and throughout the globe are but an extension of commitments and promises made to our own nation.

Allow me Your Excellency to re-affirm that South Africa’s foreign policy will continue to articulate a progressive agenda based on the values enshrined in our Constitution such as human dignity, social justice and fundamental human rights.  It is an agenda that seeks among other things to champion, defend, and strengthen the cause of development and the fight against poverty, and challenge the unrelenting marginalisation of the countries of the South in the international sphere. We will strive to achieve these goals through strengthening co-operation among progressive forces in the South, and within the context of multilateralism. This foreign policy perspective will be punctuated by activism, solidarity, and support for self-determination of those nations that seek their own chosen path of development.   

Accordingly, we hold Cuba in high regard and value our relations simply because this country has unflinchingly remained as a reliable partner in the pursuit of a progressive agenda in the international sphere.  It is for this reason that we will not only aim to solidify our relations through our dialogue during this session, but we will further aim to deepen our bilateral relations when our Minister of International Relations and Co-Operation Ms Nkoana-Mashabane leads the South African delegation to the 6th Joint Bilateral Commission later this year.

Once again, and on behalf of the South African delegation, thank you your Excellency for the invitation and we look forward to our fruitful and worthwhile discussions.

Thank you

Issued by Nomfanelo Kota on 082 459 3787

Department of International Relations and Cooperation
Private Bag X 152
Pretoria, 0001

23 June 2009

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