Speech by the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, H E Mr L. Landers, on the occasion of a Public Participation Programme titled: “Celebrating 20 years of South Africa’s Democracy and freedom with Cuba”, Havana, Cuba, 28 October 2014.
Your Excellency Ambassador Manana;
Your Excellency DDG Maya
Your Excellency Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Anna Teresita Gonzales Fraga
Esteemed Leaders of the Communist Party and Veterans of the Revolution
Your Excellencies and members of the Diplomatic Corps
Esteemed Management and Staff Members of OSPAAL;
South Africans and Friends of South Africa with us today;
Distinguished guests; and
Comrades and Friends
I feel greatly honoured to be here with you today. This is a very special day for the people of South Africa. It is a day that marks the birth of one amongst South Africa’s colossal figures of our struggle for freedom and democracy – Cde O.R Tambo.
It was on this day that this revolutionary who would later pioneer our country’s diplomatic acumen was given to us. In preserving his legacy that we can advance his values by being here with our friends on this very special day.
At the outset, please allow me to express my sincere appreciation to our hosts here at OPSAAL, the people and the government of Cuba for the wonderful reception we have received in the few days of our stay here in the beautiful city of Havana.
I bring with me revolutionary greetings from the government and the people of South Africa. I have been asked by my government to deliver this message of appreciation and reaffirmation of the continued relations between South Africa and Cuba.
My delegation and I are here in Cuba – the beautiful city of Havana – for two reasons. These are as follows:
- To thank the government and the people of Cuba for the selfless support we received during our struggle for freedom and liberation;
- To renew, reassure and reaffirm our solidarity with the people and the government of Cuba.
Over so many years the government of Cuba has demonstrated to the world the true meaning of international solidarity. Cuba has always given expression to two cardinal principles echoed in the words of Commandante Che' Guevara when he said:
"our struggle can never be over as long as there is a single human being suffering anywhere in the world`' and elsewhere…..if you can feel indignation at the slightest injustice done to anybody, anywhere, then you can be a comrade of mine”.
These revolutionary words bring to mind some profound words of wisdom shared by our very own Cde Nelson Mandela in December 1993 in one of his articles titled “New Pillars for a New World”.
“As the 1980s drew to a close I could not see much of the world from my prison cell, but I knew it was changing. There was little doubt in my mind that this would have a profound impact on my country on the southern African region and the continent of which I am proud to be a citizen. Although this process of global change is far from complete, it is clear that all nations will have boldly to recast their nets if they are to reap any benefit from international affairs in the post-Cold War era”
These two powerful quotes clearly reflect the unflinching commitment by our fallen heroes to remain devoted to the ideals and objectives of solidarity.
To this day, we live by these ideals. They continue to inspire the people of our two countries in celebrating the journey we have traversed together. Most importantly, it is words such as these that provide the much needed assurance that our relations are firmly rooted in the principles of our freedom charter viz. that: “there shall be peace and friendship”.
Together, our international relations work has been underpinned by a commitment to development, democracy, human rights, peace and security in the world.
Ladies and gentlemen;
It is in keeping with our revolutionary traditions that we return to Cuba at a time when our country celebrates two decades of democracy and freedom.
This is a milestone we should celebrate with the government and people of Cuba, primarily because of our shared common history.
As we enter into the third decade of our democracy and freedom, we hope to continue walking this path with the people of Cuba, and make use of our shared solidarity as a prism through which we view the world.
The historic elections on 27 April 1994, followed by the presidential inauguration on May 10, and the installation of a Government of National Unity were milestones that ushered in a period of profound and fundamental change in our country.
Over the past twenty years we have walked a long way, rising from being a pariah of the world, to becoming a symbol of hope, human rights, peaceful transition and a constitutional democracy that is celebrated by all.
Let me provide a brief overview of the current state of our relations with Cuba, making use of our historical past and our common struggle to leverage what we wish for.
South Africa and Cuba enjoy cordial bilateral relations characterized by years of excellent cooperation in various fields of common interest and mutual benefit.
Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, these relations have further strengthened, and efforts have been redoubled to ensure that both countries continue to work together and support each other at various levels, including the multilateral fora and other strategic formations.
It is for this reason that we look forward to further strengthen our relations with Cuba towards establishing a win-win partnership. We believe a much stronger partnership with Cuba will help build our skills base, fast track transfer of skills, create decent jobs, and address inequalities in both our countries and promote inclusive growth.
Ladies and gentlemen;
Over the years, this partnership has been rapidly growing towards what we can regard as a strategic partnership. Successful economies have forged strategic partnerships on the back of industrialisation – this is what we have done with Cuba.
In our case, our country needs to create a decent medical health care system. This cannot be achieved without a strong cadre of medical doctors. For this we rely on Cuba, through the current medical scholarship for the provision of training in health care for our young aspiring medical practitioners.
This collaboration with Cuba forms part of our government's drive to address the critical shortage of medical doctors in the public sector in South Africa. We are impressed by the Cuban healthcare system, and know that it is respected worldwide. It is seen as a model for developing countries.
One of the main drawcards of Cuba's approach is its achievements in primary healthcare and proactive disease prevention in a country with a large rural population.
We hail the government of Cuba for managing to provide its people with effective, and affordable health services despite operating on a limited budget. It is well known that Cuba has achieved developed world health outcomes on a developing world budget.
This is what we want for our country, and Cuba is the most appropriate model to emulate in order for us to promote our National Development Plan (NDP).
Ladies and gentlemen;
Not only does Cuba work closely with South Africa on health issues. A number of countries in our continent are also beneficiaries of Cuba’s generosity, especially in the health sector.
The advent of the Ebola outbreak has seen Cuba respond to the scourge, contributing hundreds of doctors and nurses to West Africa. This action puts the island of Cuba at the forefront of the international response.
Despite its small population, Cuba has sent 165 medical professionals to Sierra Leone, a larger contingent than most Western countries.
A further 91 Cuban doctors and nurses are to begin work shortly in Liberia and Guinea, and Cuba has pledged to send more than 200 others.
The island's response to the epidemic, which has killed more than 4 500 people in West Africa, has won plaudits from humanitarian workers who say the international community's reaction has otherwise been lacking.
The year 2014 is a historic year in the socio-economic and political journey of South Africa’s young democracy. Today, we stand proud for we have attained many of the promises we have made to our people. Today, South Africa is better than it was 20 years ago.
It can be argued that very few countries can set themselves to achieve what South Africa has achieved over the past 20 years. South Africa has come a long way in addressing injustice, inequality and poverty. Society has been totally transformed in every sphere since 1994.
Ladies and gentlemen;
South Africa has abandoned its shameful past and has steadily moved towards building a new culture based on respect for human rights and dignity.
Twenty years on, South Africa has moved from being an inactive reject and pariah state, to a country that plays a critical leadership role in Africa, and continues to wield power and influence in global politics.
This transformation has brought about great respect for our country, a legacy we must all work hard to preserve for those who will come after us.
In just 20 years, we have broadened our international reach from 34 missions abroad in 1994 to a staggering 126 missions throughout the world, but with a sharp focus on Africa.
Our international trade has also escalated to higher proportions, playing a key role in the eradication of poverty, unemployment, inequality. But a lot still needs to be done to eliminate this triple challenge. We have been consistently vocal in our belief that the struggle for a better South Africa is inextricably linked to the struggle for a better Africa.
Our international relations engagements are on course, in support of our national priorities.
Our contribution to the mandates of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the African Union (AU) has been critical in repositioning the continent as a stable region politically; and economically as a preferred investment destination.
Today, our relations with countries on the continent are favourable. Over the years, we have built and maintained relations with countries of the South both bilaterally and multilaterally. This we did through our membership of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Group of 77 (G77) + China, IBSA, BRICS and other important structures.
In the past 20 years, our country has built and maintained solid bilateral relations with countries of the North. They continue to play an important role in our country’s socio-economic development.
Our respect for the rule of international law has been illustrated by our active role and participation in institutions of global governance such as the United Nations (UN), the G20, the G77 and China, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Our participation in all these fora's has generated increased visibility, influence and respect for the country globally, and indeed gave a balanced account of our milestones over the past 20 years.
Accordingly, the year 2014 presents an opportunity for the people of South Africa, the continent and the rest of the world to join us in celebrating the South African story as we know it. Our celebration must strengthen our partnership with the rest of the world. We must feel proud of our achievements and commit ourselves to work towards a shared future.
The story of our country’s freedom and democracy is worth celebrating, even beyond 2014 towards the next 20 years.
We have also been hard at work to build and strengthen our economic institutions in order to leverage this political dividend.
As we enter the third decade of our transition, we want to redouble our efforts to build a strong economy making use of a robust socio-economic transformation strategy to support the vision of our National Development Plan (NDP). It is our desire to walk this developmental path with the government and people of Cuba.
Our growth pattern is clear. The past twenty years have been fulfilling, characterised by a multiplicity of development in our country.
We have had significant improvements in infrastructure. We have increased access to housing, education and health and we have adopted prudent macro-economic policies.
Economic development remains at the centre of South Africa’s developmental strategy, and has enjoyed a real recovery in growth and investment post-1994, with far more robust and stable growth than in the previous 30 years.
Employment has also grown far faster than in the 1980s. Higher pay for the working poor, social grants and improved government services has reduced poverty substantially.
South Africa has largely achieved and maintained macroeconomic stability, taking advantage of the country’s natural resource base and establishing a sound trade regime, while maintaining and broadening financial and physical infrastructure, strengthening property rights and the legal system, and establishing and maintaining strong financial, regulatory and business institutions, such as the South African Revenue Service, the South African Reserve Bank, the Competition Commission and the National Economic Development and Labour Council.
Ladies and gentlemen;
Transformation remains critical to our developmental agenda. After the 2009 elections, 43% of MPs and 42% of members of provincial legislatures were female.
The global rankings of the percentage of women parliamentarians in national parliaments put South Africa in the top 10 out of 188 countries, ahead of many developed countries.
The number of people employed in national and provincial government combined by the end of 2011/12 constitutes an estimated of 1.3 million. Of these, 57% were female and 43% male. Furthermore, 80% were African, 9% White, 8% Coloured and 3% Asian.
South Africa’s GDP has for many years served as a perfect indicator of a consistently growing economy. At R 3,2 trillion, South Africa’s GDP is 83 % larger that it was in 1993. Between 1994 and 2000 the economy grew on average by 2,9%. Between 2001 and 2007 the economy grew on average by 4,3%
Fixed investment increased from 15% of GDP in 1993 to an average of 20% over the past five years. Over R600 billion in Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) transactions have been recorded since 1995.
On Job Opportunities, the expanded Public Works Programme created 941 593 work opportunities for the 2012/13 financial year (273 938 Full Time Equivalents), up from 550 000 work opportunities in 2009.
Ladies and gentlemen;
Government has introduced initiatives to ensure that more learners attend and succeed in school. In 1996 the South African School Act made schooling compulsory for children aged 7 to 15 years. School participation for this compulsory band is now almost at 100%
Government addresses poverty through no-fee schools and by providing nutritious meals to learners. The significant increase in Early Childhood Developed (ECD) enrolments has been a key achievement of our post-apartheid education system.
Over the past twenty years we continue to steadily improve our matric pass rate thereby ensuring that more learners qualify for entrance to universities . Over the past twenty years we had a steady increase in the number of tertiary graduates and post-graduates.
However, more work remains to be done in order to reach our 2030 vision as set out in the National Development Plan (NDP).
Ladies and gentlemen;
In order to grow our economy to greater proportions, we need a strong workforce, free of disease in order to increase life expectancy.
By 2030, the government plans to have raised the life expectancy of South Africans to at least 70 years, progressively improve TB prevention and cure, reduce maternal, infant and child mortality and other related diseases.
The focus of my address was confined to selected themes which I thought would be relevant to this interaction.
There is still a lot that can be discussed. We have a number of other critical themes and areas in which government has made great strides in. But in the interest of time, I will stop here for further interaction.
Comrades, Friends, Colleagues
In closing, I would like to assure you that the people of South Africa will continue to work with our brothers and sisters on the continent, in the Diaspora and indeed across the world toward the attainment of a better Africa and a better world.
There is no doubt that Africa must continue to rise and with the partnership of great nations such as Cuba and others in the Diaspora, I have no doubt that we will.
Today, we reaffirm our support to the people and government of Cuba, and continue to call for the international community to redouble their efforts to remove the economic blockade against Cuba as per the UN resolution.
I thank you
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION
OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road