Minister’s Speech at the Dinner hosted by the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr. R. Bogollagama, Sri Lanka, 11 November 2009

Your Excellency, Foreign Minister Bogollagama,
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Mr. Hussein Bhaila,
Your Excellency, High Commissioner Pheto,
Your Excellencies, High Commissioners and Ambassadors,
Senior Government Officials from Sri Lanka and the Republic of South Africa,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to be standing before you today and I am especially grateful to the Honourable Foreign Minister, Mr. R. Bogollagama for the heart warming welcome to Sri Lanka. South Africa / Sri Lanka relations can be traced back to 1994 through the exchange of Diplomatic Notes. Since then our relations have grown to a commendable extent with South Africa establishing a full High Commission with a resident High Commissioner, High Commissioner Pheto, in January last year. This year we celebrate 15 years of diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka.

The opening of the High Commission here in Colombo and the 15 year anniversary of our diplomatic relations express the growing bilateral link between our two countries. Currently we are engaged in the Partnership Forum Agreement (which has strengthened cooperation in bilateral political relations, trade, culture and science), Memoranda of Understanding and cooperation in the multiple fields of Trade and Industry, Science and Technology, Arts and Culture, Education, Water Affairs, Taxes, Intelligence Services and Transport.

Programme Director,

I recall when the first Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka, Mr Nigel Austin, was appointed in August of 1999. We have come a long way since then. Sri Lanka has become a key partner on several international issues such as human rights, poverty alleviation, globalization and the reform of the UN and Bretton Woods Institutions.

Programme Director and Honourable Foreign Minister,

I visited the IDP camps today and was impressed by what I saw in the camps. Both South Africa and Sri Lanka share a common interest in the promotion of human rights as seen in the commonalities of the ruling parties of both countries – that is the United People’s Freedom Alliance and the African National Congress.

The parties are generally considered centre-left and pursue a developmental and non-capitalistic agenda. Such commonalities bind us together in South-South formations such as the Indian Ocean Rim of Association for Regional Cooperation (the IOR-ARC), where member states are currently deliberating on the Outcomes Document from the Working Group of Heads of Mission hosted by my country at Sun City, which is in the North West Province of South Africa. It is within such South-South formations where we are able to forge greater partnerships especially in the area of peace, security and development of the South.

Programme Director and the Honourable Foreign Minister,

Back at home in pursuit of regional integration through SADC, we are currently seized with assisting the Government of Zimbabwe to implement the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which was signed in September last year. A politically and economically stable Zimbabwe would augur well for the South and as such we appreciate the support from Sri Lanka in this regard and call for more support as we aim to see the GPA implemented as soon as possible for the sake of the Zimbabwean people and the SADC region as a whole.

Through SADC, we are also currently preparing for the next round of talks on the Madagascar issue to resolve the political situation there. The African Union (AU) member states have resolved that until the implementation of the Maputo Agreements, the establishment of Transitional Government Institutions and the organisation of an electoral process, we will maintain the leverage of sanctions as well as the suspension of Madagascar’s membership in SADC, the AU and key development aid.

The AU member states made a conscious decision that they would no longer accept a government which has seized power through military coups but will only recognise those that have been democratically elected. It is for this reason that we have made the choices we have made regarding the latter. 

The former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, in an interview with the Washington Times in February of 1999 stated, and I quote:
"Sri Lanka has been a functioning and vibrant democracy for many decades. I'd class it with the United States and India..."

As South Africa and as part of the African Continent, we also seek to be categorised as a functioning and vibrant democracy. We too wish to be compared with renowned democracies such as Sri Lanka and India. In this regard, as a country that has enjoyed democracy and universal suffrage since 1931, we wish to learn from the Sri Lankans but also to share our experiences of peaceful transition as we seek to support the Government of Sri Lanka in the peaceful resettlement of the IDPs.

Honourable Foreign Minister,

The Republic of South Africa will be hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup next year. The Local Organising Committee is busy preparing for this significant occasion in the history of South Africa. In this regard, I would like to extend an invitation to the people of Sri Lanka to come and join us next year as we watch the national soccer teams of the world come together to participate in the World Cup games. Those who have a love for soccer always prefer to watch the games live and those who are not so much fans of the sport can come to share in the festivities of the World Cup.

Programme Director on a lighter note,

I am told that like the culture, the food of Sri Lanka is very unique. Coming from a diverse country like mine where our food, just like our mixed cultures, has become something that brings us together, I am looking forward to the meal prepared here today. I hope I will find another recipe to take back home and include in the diverse riches of the food and culture of South Africa. I am told Sri Lankans like their fish dishes, their spicy rice and curry, their fruits, coconuts and their tea and coffee.

It is clear from these observations that Sri Lankans share a lot of commonalities with the people of South Africa. I thus say with authority that I am looking forward to strengthened bilateral and multilateral relations with Sri Lanka based on our shared common interests.

I thank you

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