Department of International Relations and Co-operation Media Briefing by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane at the 8th session of the South African/Egyptian Bilateral Commission.
Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Department of International Relations and Co-operation:
Once again, I want to take this opportunity to welcome our friends from Egypt, led by the honourable Aboul Gheit, the honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt who had come to South Africa to coach with me the 8th session of the Joint Bilateral Commission between South Africa and Egypt. We’ve got very, very good, strong historical bilateral relations with Egypt. We enjoy very, very good relations, warm relations with Egypt, both at a political, economic and counsellor level of our diplomatic relations. This 8th session of the joint bilateral commission confirmed just that.
Among the highlights of this session was the initialling or the agreeing or joint agreement that we will be signing five very, very important agreements in Egypt in October when President Zuma makes good the invitation that he got from his counterpart, the President of Egypt, to visit Egypt.
So, all sectoral departments participating in this Joint Bilateral Commission have participated in this, but also in these pending agreements as ready to sign; one agreement on ICT, one on health and veterinary science, one on the environment and one on the 2-yearly program amongst others on tourism, promotion and learning from Egypt’s experience.
We also agreed to have a joint trade committee between our two countries and when President Zuma visits Egypt, we will also be witnessing the endorsement of Egypt/South Africa Business Council. It will formally be launched in Egypt to expedite the good trade and economic ties between our two countries.
We all know in this room, ladies and gentlemen, that the great Pharaohs will miss playing … not visiting South Africa, but playing in this World Cup, but they remain our African champions and I was told by the Minister, of course, that it will be illegal for us to borrow just a few to come and play on Bafana Bafana’s side, unless we fast-track their citizenship before the game starts, but we want to take this opportunity once again to say to our Egyptian friends, through your good self honourable Minister, that by the way South Africa is just a stage. Africa is the theatre. Africa will be hosting this spectacle, the FIFA World Cup for the very, very first time in the history of FIFA World Cups that have been around the world.
Some ministers our age, honourable Minister, say it’s once in a lifetime that they will be witnessing this on our continent, and I’m sure you agree. So, President Zuma has invited all African Heads of state to honour us with their participation in the official opening of the games on the 11th of June. We will be playing against Mexico and President Zuma says that the South African team has the capacity and the potential to surprise. So, I shall leave the 2010 there for now and hope that Bafana Bafana will pleasantly surprise all of us, but also to say that if South Africa doesn’t win the cup, at least one of the five qualifying countries should make sure that the cup remains in Africa, but above all we think after the successful Africa cup hosting by Angola, with a few hiccups, the circus spectacular that will take place in South Africa will help us bury African pessimism.
Amongst the many discussions that our two delegations had, they did not only touch economic and political co-operation, but also to see how we could work together to expedite civil aviation co-operation, but also to work with us in the construction sector to see how Egypt has done well in maintaining government infrastructure that has already been built, particularly government buildings.
The other area where we think we can learn or work together with Egypt is on functional technologies, particularly on the provision of basic fresh water to even the poorest of the poor, but also provision of basic sanitation, even in the remotest parts of South Africa, very much in line with our five key priority areas.
One exciting or two things that came out of this discussion for us, and in particular for me maybe as a former teacher, is that out of the co-operation on ICT, we will also be getting ICT teachers from Egypt to South Africa, but also collaboration at another level of think tanks between South Africa and Egypt.
I’m sure, honourable Minister, you and me as former diplomats, we also love the idea of exchange of the young diplomats, cross-training in between our two countries and I will leave the rest to you, because I know you say it in a very flowery and interesting language, but once again, welcome to South Africa, honourable Minister and delegation.
Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Minister of Egypt: Thank you very much Foreign Minister. The idea of South Africa winning the World Cup is a very appealing idea and we would love to contribute to that. You see, in Egypt if you marry an Egyptian woman, then you get nationality. Some of our players, I think, as you suggested, would be tempted to marry some beautiful Zulus and if they would marry Zulus, then hopefully you would grant them nationality and then they start helping young players, but we would love to see you winning. Really and truly we would love to see you winning.
That as a way of introduction, but on a more serious note, we are looking forward to the enhancement of relations with you and the visit of the South African president, President Zuma to Egypt early October I’m sure would not only enhance, but would give a great push to the relations. We are similar societies. You are in the south. We are in the north and we are very willing to work and to co-operate and to do whatever it is to the good for both people as well as for the rest of the continent.
Today, as you suggested or as you referred to, we didn’t limit ourselves to the bilateral relationship, though very important and there I have to tell the media that the following joint commission would be in 2011 and we’ll stick to that. I will host you in Alexandria, the pearl of the Mediterranean. You denied me going to the Cape. So, as you denied me going to the Cape, I will not deny you coming to Alexandria.
But apart from the bilateral, which you covered very well in your introductory statements, we covered lots of issues and I think in the next hour also we would be dealing with lots of the political issues that deserve our exchange of views. So, we discussed Sudan, we discussed the situation in Africa, we discussed the Horn of Africa and I listened to the views of the Foreign Minister on lots of what is happening in the region and the Southern African region and I touched on issues relating to our part of the continent and we would continue doing so.
I have to admit that the visit of President Mubarak to South Africa in July 2008 contributed a lot to give the Egyptian State and the Egyptian Government a focus on how to build relations and how to enhance relations with South Africa, between Egypt and South Africa. I have to finally end that statement by saying it was a good omen seeing this young lady sitting with her consultant and suddenly comes the call from President Mubarak himself and he was enquiring on the details of what we were doing today and the results of my meeting with President Zuma and I reported to the President that we were in the midst of discussions with the South African Foreign Minister and I will be seeing the President of South Africa in a few hours.
So again, he conveys his regards to the President, the Foreign Minister, the Government and the rest of the South African people. Thank you very much.
Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Department of International Relations and Co-operation: My pleasure, thank you very much.
Member of the media: I’ve got just two questions, if I can. One is you mentioned, Mr Minister, that Egypt is going to import beef from South Africa now. I would appreciate if you could expand on that, just to both of you, to let us know what it means, how did you arrive at this decision and what were the impediments that actually blocked you from being able to do so.
The second question relates to South Africa’s intention to return to the Security Council of the United Nations. I would love to hear from your, Mr Minister from Egypt as to whether you would support South Africa in this endeavour as it seeks to return to the Security Council and what kind of relations would you like it to have in terms of the issues that are being raised at the UN. Thank you.
Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Minister of Egypt: Yes, I have to admit that the agreement to import South African beef was not done by the two foreign ministers. It was done through the discussions and very thorough discussions that have been taking place between the Egyptian Agricultural Minister, the authority that is responsible for the importation of foreign beef and foreign meat into Egypt and the South African Minister of Agriculture.
Egypt imports great quantities of beef and meat, but mainly beef, and we buy a lot from foreign sources. We have certain herds in Egypt and wealth in Egypt when it comes to our needs. So, we are always careful to ensure not only that the Egyptian citizens and the Egyptian people are receiving the best of quality health-wise, but also that as we import anything, it doesn’t affect our own wealth. There we came to agree that whatever rules that are internationally accepted, we will be bound by them. Hence we will be importing from South Africa large quantities, the way we do with the rest of the international community. The important thing is the quality and the price and there we usually, every year, import up to 2.5 billion Dollars in imports. So, if South Africa is ready to offer Egypt a good proper deal, then we will pursuing to do so. That is on the beef.
On South Africa joining the Security Council, it is an agreement done with the southern region and as the southern region would allow South Africa to come forward without competition from any of the members of the region, then we blindly endorse the South African membership. We have no problem with this. We have been watching the conduct of the South African delegation before the Security Council. I recall Ambassador Khumalo of South Africa defending NAM interests, defending the interests of the south, defending African interests, defending Arab and Palestinian’s and you have been standing all along with this, all along. That Ambassador Khumalo of South Africa was helping lots of our delegations in South Africa. We appreciated all along his conduct and whoever comes representing South Africa, sitting in the Security Council, will receive our support always.
Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation: Well Thami, I don’t know if you want me to take a bite on this, safe to say that we are really truly happy, truly humbled that the Egyptian Government had finally lifted the ban on South African beef. We are very, very keen to enter or re-enter that market and if we have our way, we want 50% of that bite. We think we can. We can offer you not only a good price, but good quality, so says the Minister of Agriculture, not me, just through me.
Years ago, Thami, we had some challenges with foot and mouth and when the international community broadly lifted the ban, we remained having to have some further discussions with the Egyptian Government. We are happy that the ban has finally been lifted.
I would also want to take this opportunity to thank my colleague and friend for endorsing or re-endorsing South Africa’s candidateship for a 2-year non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council. I would hasten to say that we would have expected that from the Pharaohs, but I had to wait until he says so himself. Yes, we will continue, if re-elected, to work for the advancement of peace and security for Africa, for the developing world, for NAM member countries and we will continue to work with G77 and other countries. We will endeavour not to fail our constituencies and our people.
We will do that very much in line with the calling and the resolution that this year all African countries must focus on peace and security. Working together with Egypt and all likeminded countries, we will continue to pursue peace, security and development in Africa.
Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Minister of Egypt: If I may add also, you see, Egypt is the Chairman of the NAM movement up till 2012. Egypt starting from 2011 will be also the Chairman of the OIC, the Organisation of Islamic Countries. Egypt is the Chairman of Africa/China and will be starting from next May Africa/France. So, Egypt is in many foras and such Egyptian position will be helping the South African membership and the Council to co-operate and to work together defending our own African NAM developing world interests.
Member of the media: We’ve seen the recent expansion of Jew settlements in Palestine. So, I just wanted to know Egypt’s role in resolving the conflict in the Middle East. Another question is Egypt’s role in conflict reconstruction and particularly ensuring the thriving of free and peaceful elections in Sudan.
Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Minister of Egypt: Thank you very much. The first part of your question deserves an answer that might last for a week, because the situation in Palestine is a manifestation of how an occupying power imposes itself on people and their land. Israel has been occupying Palestinian territory in the West Bank, now almost for 43 years and while they effected their occupation, they started also building settlements and the occupied territories. As the international community confronted the Israeli’s, they didn’t pay any attention to any legal objections and they continued their settlement activities, specially in East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is part and parcel of the occupied territories.
Egypt works with the international community. I for one communicated with the principals of the quartet, the United States Secretary of State, the Russian Foreign Minister, the European High Foreign Policy and Defence, Lady Ashton as well as with Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations. I conveyed to them over the last few days many, many messages, insisting that they today, as they meet in Moscow today, they have to issue a very strong warning to Israel indicating their deep displeasure of the Israeli action, behaviour, conduct as well as the need for the international community to expedite a settlement, a settlement that comes through negotiations between the parties, but in order to have negotiations between the parties, we have to agree on the basis for discussions, on the end-game for a settlement as they agree.
What is required? What is required from the Egyptian point of view is the establishment of a Palestinian state to live side-by-side with Israel. The volume of territory that has been occupied by Israel in ’67 has to be comprising the Palestinian state. Hence the lands and the territories of the Palestinian state should be equal to that area that has been occupied and if there would be willingness on the part of both to exchange territories and swap territories, that should be minimal, not exceeding 2% by any account, that both parties should allow themselves security for both and not only for one party and co-operation between both, ultimate co-operation.
The Arab peace initiative is on the table. Arabs are suggesting to Israel that as you withdraw from the occupied territories and not only Palestinian, but also Syrian and Lebanese and as you allow a Palestinian state to emerge, then Arab countries are ready to engage in normal relations with you.
The Israelis are missing a huge point. If you continue settlement activities and bringing your own population to live and occupy territories, then that prospect of having a Palestinian state living side-by-side is disappearing and as it disappears, then between the river, the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, there will be one state for two people. If they want to have one state for two people, then that is an option the Palestinians and the Israelis will have to face in the future, if the current situation would continue.
Why is it so and why am I saying so? Because right now you have possibly 5.5 million Israelis and you have almost 5.5 million Palestinians living in that area. So, in 2020 the Palestinians will be more than the Israelis and in 2050 it will be a new apartheid and that the international community and the world will not accept and will never condone.
So, now it is our opportunity, all of us, the international community and the important players on the scene, not to impose, but at least to put the guidelines for a settlement accepted by Israel. Israel has to change its policies. Thank you very much.
Sudan, my colleague today was saying you stayed only for 24 hours in South Africa. Actually I’m staying for 36 hours, but why am I leaving soon? I’m leaving soon because we have in Cairo a conference, a pledge and conference on Dafur where we expect and we hope that people would put pledges to help the Government of Sudan to implement a number of projects and enterprises to sustain Dafur
Sudan is not only Dafur. Sudan is also a relationship between the north and the south. We discussed today the dangers as well as the hopes. We are hopeful that in Sudan there would be elections on the 7th of April, conducted in a manner that would ensure peace and stability, north and south. And then we are hopeful that as they agree on the referendum, again it would be a peaceful referendum that would ensure, we are hopeful, that the north and the south would continue together in a unitary state or in a manner that would ensure that that great land of Sudan, the largest territory of a state in Africa, would continue with its unity and territorial integrity maintained.
We are trying our best. South Africa is trying its best and we are putting lots of our resources. You are putting lots of your resources. We call upon the international community to come forward and to help the people to opt for the option of unity in a certain way, unity that would allow Sudan to build its institutions in the south, to have a state of its own within the Government of Sudan, a government within the state of Sudan. That is what we are hopeful to agree, that the Naivasha agreement would be implemented to the letter and that the cessation or the division of Sudan would not be the only course, but there would be other possibilities for both people to live together.
Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation: Well, without disagreeing with our friend and honourable Minister, I think he has fully represented our views on the two-state solution in the Middle East, particularly on Israel and Palestine. We are really quite worried equally about this escalation or the expansion of settlements, which we think is really deterring opportunities for a peaceful settlement in that area.
President Mahmoud Abbas would have visited South Africa today, had it not even been the escalation of skirmishes around the very, very frustrated people of Palestine at this moment. We continue to work together with Egypt also on another level for the bringing together of the actual Palestinian people themselves, but for them to be able to be assisted, it is important that we bring some reasonable unity amongst them, while hoping that indeed the Israelis would scale down these skirmishes and allow and give peace a chance.
On Sudan, yes, we are working together with Egypt on the post-conflict and reconstruction of the south. Our former president is the Chair of the high level panel that helped on behalf of the AU to try and resolve the problems in Dafur.
Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Minister of Egypt: We are receiving him after tomorrow.
Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation: Yes, but also his mandate has been expanded to also oversee the process, the election process into the 2011 referendum. The Naivasha Comprehensive Peace Agreement or CPA between the north and south also gave room for the referendum to take place. What we are all concerned about is that the Sudanese themselves start preparing for the post-referendum period and all African countries, also assisted largely by EGAT, the regional body there in East Africa, and work with Sudan and all of us to make sure that peace be maintained post the referendum.
South Africa, through the IEC, also has been requested to send a monitoring team. We’ve supported the Sudanese to put up even the national election commission, but also our IEC would be going in advance to see how we could help, even just with basic voter education mechanisms. South Africa will also form part of the AU election observation team and praying that all goes well. Thank you.
Issued by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation
Private Bag X152
19 March 2010 .