Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s Speech on the occasion of a dinner in Honour of the United States of America Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton, Presidential Guest House, 07 August 2009.
Secretary of State, Your Excellency Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton;
Members of our Cabinet;
Distinguished Members of the Visiting Delegation;
Members of our Parliament;
Senior Government Officials;
South African Ambassador to the US, Mr Welile Nhlapho;
US Charge d’Affaires to South Africa, Madam Helen La Lime;
Ambassadors and High Commissioners;
Members of the Business Community;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Tonight is an important moment in bilateral relations between South Africa and the United States as we have in our midst Her Excellency, Secretary Hillary Clinton, who is here to reaffirm and enhance the partnership that has developed between our two countries over the years. We welcome you to our country, Madame Secretary, and hope to live up to our reputation as Africans that we are hospitable and ready to go out of our way to make our guests feel at home. You were once inspired by this African spirit of “community” when you wrote in your book that “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”.
We are delighted to see Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson again who was here with us for the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma. The presence of Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Congressman Donald Payne in your Delegation is highly appreciated as we know how hard they work in the US Congress to champion the cause of our continent. We are also looking forward with great anticipation to working with your Ambassador-Designate to South Africa, HE Mr Donald Gips, when he takes up his post in due course. We are happy that he is here with you to soften the ground for his final landing later in the year.
Your visit to our country comes three months after our people have given President Zuma the mandate to lead us for the next five years. We have made the undertaking to work together with our people to achieve more in the areas of health, education, rural development, job creation, and combating crime and corruption.
That you have chosen to visit our country and continent just six months into the term of office of your Administration is, to us, a positive indication of the importance you attach to the relationship between our two countries, and between your country and Africa.
In outlining priorities for his Administration, President Zuma committed our country to working together with other nations for a better world and Africa, because he believes that it will take the efforts of all of us in the global village to achieve this goal. We see ourselves as part of this global partnership – between the South and the North and among countries of the South – working together to confront challenges of poverty, development, peace and security, post-conflict reconstruction, and the governance of our international system. For us, the advancement of the plight of Africa and the integration of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), are top priorities we hold dear to our hearts.
We committed ourselves at our bilateral meeting earlier today to strengthening the good relations between our two countries. The US is South African’s second largest export market after Japan. There are over 600 American businesses operating in South Africa and US investors are among South Africa’s largest portfolio investors.
Our country is also grateful for the partnership you have with us in, for instance, the area of training for some of our state institutions and the medical research programme on HIV and AIDs. I am aware that you will be visiting some of your projects in the course of your stay in our country, and I can assure you that you will find our people not only hospitable but also dedicated to delivering on what those projects are intended for.
We also agreed this morning on the need to elevate our bilateral mechanism, with its various Working Groups, to the ministerial level, and even explore the possibility of establishing a Business Council to expand ties between our respective business communities. These measures should reinforce our energy as we work together with yourselves on the priorities of our Administration for the next fives years, including in the area of rural development and food security.
This partnership to which we have committed ourselves will enhance the efforts on our continent towards fighting hunger, disease and ignorance and to promote democracy and good governance, socio-economic development, peace and security, as well as post-conflict reconstruction and development. Our two countries are already engaged in a Trilateral Partnership to help our continent attain these noble goals.
We had followed with great enthusiasm your last Presidential Election and were, like many of your citizens, moved by the message of “Change” that President Barak Obama proclaimed for your country and how the US was to play its role in the international community. We are pleased that since his election to the White House, President Obama has worked hard to reach out to many countries, organisations and communities in the world to claim your country’s rightful place as a member of the international community. We believe, like your Administration does, in a strong, effective and democratic multilateral system.
We are encouraged by some measures taken by your Administration since assuming office that are aimed at strengthening the international system, like by taking your seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council.
We are also hopeful that you will use your position in the United Nations Security Council to give momentum to the reform agenda of the United Nations, including the expansion of the Security Council to take into account geopolitical realities of the 21st century.
The transformation of Bretton Woods institutions will be to the benefit of all us as their programmes not only impact on the economies of many countries on our continent, but also on women and other vulnerable groups in our communities.
A transformed global system, we believe, will enable the international community to best respond to, among others, the challenge of finding a two-state solution to the conflict between Palestinians and the state of Israel; disarmament and arms proliferation issues; the current global economic crisis, and the threat posed to the future of our planet by climate change. Our two countries have agreed to continue to collaborate in finding a lasting solution to these challenges.
Your visit to our country is timely as every year in the month of August South Africans commemorate the day, fifty-three years ago, when 20.000 women, of all walks of life, marched on the Union Buildings under the banner of the Federation of South African Women, to deliver a petition bearing over a hundred thousand signatures that had been collected from all parts of our country.
This march has some resonance with the history of your own country as some few months before the event, in December 1955, Rosa Park’s modest act of defiance in a bus was to become one major step in the development of the Civil Rights Movement.
Our march was about the Pass Laws that were being instituted to control the movement of black women in urban areas; but it was also a culmination of years of struggle for the rights of women which had given birth to the Women’s Charter of 1954.
Since that march, the slogan 'wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo' (You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock), has become a symbol of the resilience of South African women and their sacrifices in the struggle for non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
Some of our Veterans who were part of this great march are still with us today.
The African-American poet, Maya Angelou, paid tribute to black women of the calibre of those who were part of the 1956 march when she said:
"There is a kind of strength that is almost frightening in black women. It's as if a steel rod runs right through the head down to the feet."
You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock!!
However, our struggle for our full emancipation is far from over.
In South Africa, we have established the Progressive Women’s Movement whose convener is our former Deputy President, Her Excellency Madame Baleka Mbethe. We discussed at our meeting earlier today how Your Excellency can work with us to help create linkages between our Progressive Women’s Movement with like-minded women organisations in the US. The establishment of such linkages will serve as a good example of people-to-people ties between our two countries.
You, Your Excellency, are also a product of a long history of the struggle of women world-wide to break out of the confines of the kitchen to take their place in the midst of society. Had it not been for sacrifices of those heroines who won the right for women to vote in your country in 1920, the world would have been denied the benefit of your important contribution to humanity. President Obama spoke for most of us when he said about you during the presidential campaign that:
“She shattered barriers on behalf of my daughters and women everywhere, who now know that there are no limits to their dreams.”
Women cannot sit back in their laurels and expect somebody to champion their cause and lead their struggle. We can only forget at our own peril the wish of a third-century Vietnamese woman warrior, Trieu Thi Trinh, that:
"My wish is to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill the sharks. I want to drive the enemy away to save our people. I will not resign myself to the usual lot of women who bow their heads and become concubines."
Your Excellency, this wish has been granted in the form of great women leaders like yourself. But we can do more, working together. The friendship and good bilateral relations between our two countries can help this effort, as we are friends who are bound together by a common vision of a prosperous and democratic world that is free of hunger, disease, ignorance and the exclusion of women.
It will take the efforts of all of us, working together, to realise our dream of a better world and Africa.
I thank you.