Speech by Deputy Director-General Ambassador Sooklal commemorating 25 Years of bilateral relations between South Africa and Bangladesh at the Bangladesh Institute of International Strategic Studies (BIISS), 04 September 2019

Major General Abdur Rahman
Esteemed Delegates
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am honored to be afforded this opportunity to be with you today to commemorate an historic event in our shared history. It was almost exactly 25 years ago, on 10 September 1994 that Bangladesh and South Africa formalised diplomatic relations.

South Africa wishes to express its gratitude to Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi people for your contribution in our fight for freedom, liberation and democracy. This year we celebrate twenty five years of a free democratic republic. Bangladesh, since its own independence, remained a most principled supporter in our struggle against apartheid and racial discrimination, and consistently called on the international community to take action against the Apartheid Regime. It is therefore befitting that we celebrate, with our esteemed friends in Dhaka today, our freedom as well the warm bonds of friendship and solidarity that binds our two countries together.

Today we also recall with pride the visit to Bangladesh in 1997 by President Nelson Mandela, to participate in the Silver Jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s Independence. In his speech at a public rally in Dhaka on 26 March 1997, he thanked the people of Bangladesh by stating:

 “The long distance between our countries did not make you care less for our needs. You all know that none can be free until all are free. For your selfless support, for making our cause your own, we thank you.”

South Africa’s relations with Bangladesh are based on the vision of President Mandela. He was committed to social justice and freedom for all and he worked tirelessly for the promotion and protection of human rights internationally. Nelson Mandela was a symbol of hope for the oppressed and marginalised across the globe. He dedicated his life in service of humanity and contributed immensely to the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.

We therefore pay tribute to the dynamic and visionary leadership of former President Nelson Mandela and Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, whose commitment and sacrifice enabled us to enjoy the freedom and democracy both our countries have today.

Madiba and Bangabandhu, both respected as the “Father of the Nation”, were far ahead of their time and history. Both ventured to do what their contemporaries would not have dared to do. They fought colonialism, followed by a war against an Oppressor. They took unpopular, but courageous, decisions. Both were imprisoned for extended periods but their legacies are encapsulated in a life committed to reconciliation and nation-building.

Bangabandhu stated that:

“To do anything great, one has to be ready to sacrifice and show one’s devotion. I believe that those who are not ready to sacrifice are not capable of doing anything worthy.”

Sheikh Mujib dedicated his life to fighting for the just causes of East Bengal, demanded for Bengali to be made one of the state languages, free the Muslim League leadership from the clutches of a few aristocrats, establish East Bengal’s rightful place in the administrative hierarchy in Pakistan, and the fair and equitable allocation of the country’s resources between the two wings of the country.

Bangladesh attained its independence on 26 March 1971 as the culmination of decades of struggle for freedom and statehood under his inspiring and resolute leadership.  At his call, the Bengali people rose in resistance and waged an epic war for the liberation of their land.

Upon taking office, the government under his leadership, had to deal with the countless problems of a war ravaged country. Law and order had to be restored, infrastructure developed and, most importantly, the government had to address the most immediate needs of under-development and large scale poverty.

The struggle for freedom against the Apartheid Oppressors in South Africa mirrored Bangladesh’s struggle for nationhood.

We also therefore celebrate Madiba and Bangabandhu’s dedication to forge a close partnership between our two sub-continents to fight colonialism in any form and emancipate the people of the Global South from poverty and underdevelopment, in their common struggle for a fairer world.

The 1955 Bandung conference that gave rise to the “Bandung Spirit” of South-South Cooperation, underscored the principles of mutual interest, solidarity and respect for national sovereignty. These principles continue to play an important role in shaping and guiding our relations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

South Africa prides itself for being a progressive society and part of a progressive humanity that observes and respects the equality of all people and of all sovereign states. We are firmly committed as one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy to the pursuit of global peace and prosperity through cooperation and partnership, through multilateralism and through the consistent and fair application of a rules-based global architecture.

We maintain this position at a very uncertain time internationally, a time when unilateral action is threatening to undermine this multilateral architecture. The emergence of unilateralism is taking place against the backdrop of rising nationalism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance. It takes place at a time when the problems facing the world – from climate change to terrorism, from migration to poverty – require ever-closer collaboration among the countries of the world.

It is important to emphasise that we should not abandon the institutions that have been set up over the last 70 years to mediate and manage international relations. Rather we should strengthen them and, where necessary, reform them to become more effective and inclusive.

This approach is reinforced by a number of disturbing recent global developments. The resurgence of geopolitical rivalry, which has not been experienced since the Cold War era, has a severely negative implication for international peace and security.

There is a growing challenge to many multilateral arrangements, such as the withdrawal from commitments made in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, on climate change, financing for development and in nuclear non-proliferation.

The rise of trade protectionism threatens the multilateral trading system we agreed upon in Marrakech in 1994 and Doha in 2001.

While globalisation has brought many opportunities and much progress, it has also contributed to rising inequality among states and within states. These challenges are by no means insurmountable. However, they do require a return to a cooperative and inclusive approach to international relations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

South Africa values its relations with Bangladesh and recognises that there is much for us to learn from you in achieving socio-economic goals within set timeframes. Your country has made enormous strides in addressing the socio-economic challenges faced by not only the people of Bangladesh but the wider region. Under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheik Hasina Bangladesh is well on its way to achieving Vision 2021 and 2041 as you strive to transform into a “Sonar Bangla”, having already attained the status of a low middle-income country and crossed the thresholds for graduating out of Least Developed Country category. Due to the socio-economic achievements of the present Government, Bangladesh is now recognised worldwide as a “Development Miracle”.

The World Bank in an April 2019 Report ranks Bangladesh amongst the top five fastest growing economies in the world. The economy has grown at an astounding rate of more than 6 per cent for seven consecutive years, and lifted many of Bangladesh’s poorest citizens out of destitution.  According to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty has shrunk from about 19 per cent of the population to about 9 percent over the same period. Development in social indices has also shown positive results due to human capital development. The literacy rate has increased by 72 per cent and life expectancy increased to 72 compared to India’s 68.

Within South Asia, Bangladesh ranks first in gender equality, second in foreign exchange earnings and third in life expectancy and peacefulness.

Bangladesh also plays a key role in advancing South-South Cooperation and we congratulate you for the establishment of the South-South Centre for Knowledge and Innovation to promote closer cooperation among developing nations as we address challenges arising from the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Turning to South Africa’s foreign policy objectives, our foreign policy is an extension of our national policy and is based on our national interests and objectives. The development of South Africa is inextricably linked to that of the African regeneration; to this end the African Agenda is central to our foreign policy aims and objectives. Consequently, we have defined and continue to pursue an African Agenda which is predicated on the entrenchment of democracy, equality, respect for human rights, peace and security, and acceleration of economic growth for the betterment of all African citizens.

Our foreign policy prioritises the development of our immediate neighbours in the Southern Africa region. As members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), we are committed to pursuing regional integration and industrialisation. It is our belief that the development of regional value chains and industrialisation in the region will not only assist in addressing South Africa’s own domestic socio-economic challenges, but those of the region as well. Our vision is that a fully integrated and industrialised and prosperous Southern African region can attract investment in our region.

Beyond our immediate region, South Africa remains committed to taking the African Agenda forward, including Africa’s development and its place in world affairs. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that came into effect in May 2019 will promote intra-Africa trade and offer an opportunity to create larger economies of scale, a bigger market and improve the prospects of the Continent to attract investment. The AfCFTA will see a market of over 1 billion people with a combined GDP of approximately USD 3.3 trillion. It will comprise 55 African countries and will become the largest free trade area globally. We invite Bangladesh to therefore use South Africa as a springboard into the Continent to leverage these opportunities available.

South Africa is further involved in conflict resolution, prevention, and mediation, peacekeeping and peace-building on the African Continent. Our involvement has been informed by our drive to ensure an Africa’s Renaissance for all of Africa with the goal of our Continent being at peace with itself. This goal is in line with our understanding that you cannot have peace without development and development without peace.

The advancement of the African Continent in turn is also itself intricately connected to that of the developing countries of the Global South, and Agenda 2063 emphasizes the value of the strategic partnerships as we strive for prosperity and peace on the Continent. Hence the second pillar of our foreign policy; namely South-South Cooperation. It is under this pillar that our close cooperation with Bangladesh occurs in a host of international groupings and also forms the basis of our bilateral relations.

In January 2019 South Africa took its non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) under the theme: “Continuing the legacy. Working for a just and peaceful world“; this is guided by the legacy of President Mandela. We will promote the maintenance of international peace and security through advocating for the peaceful settlement of disputes and inclusive dialogue. We share Bangladesh’s concern on the violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in occupied Palestine territory, and note with concern the humanitarian disaster unfolding on your borders with Myanmar. South Africa commends the efforts of the Bangladesh Government, for assisting these vulnerable persons and call for a peaceful and sustainable resolution to this matter.

South Africa recognises the impressive contribution of Bangladesh as one of the largest troop and police contributors to United Nations peacekeeping operations, and the current participation in six missions on the African Continent. A stated ambition of Agenda 2063 is the Silencing of the Guns by 2020.  As South Africa prepares to take over the Chairship of the African Union in 2020 we are acutely aware of this responsibility, and rely on the partnerships forged with the countries of the Global South. We recognise that we have a partner in Bangladesh in achieving this noble ambition. Guided by the philosophy of “friendship to all and malice to none” Bangladesh initiated the United Nations General Assembly Resolution on Culture of Peace and Non-Violence and South Africa will join the international community in celebrating, the twentieth anniversary of this Resolution, in September 2019.

During our tenure we will also seek to ensure that the work of the UNSC mainstreams a gender perspective, including in its resolutions. Peace cannot be achieved without the participation of women in peace negotiations, peace-keeping operations, post-conflict peace-building and governance. The promotion of Women, Peace and Security in the Resolution of Conflict will be on the agenda when South Africa takes over the Presidency of the UNSC in October this year.

Both South Africa and Bangladesh are long-standing members of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth, the G77 plus China and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

IORA is very important to South Africa, as we consider it a result of the vision of President Nelson Mandela where during a visit to India in 1995 he acknowledged that;

 “The natural urge of the facts of history and geography … should broaden itself to include the concept of an Indian Ocean Rim for socio-economic cooperation and other peaceful endeavours. Recent changes in the international system demand that the countries of the Indian Ocean shall become a single platform.

The theme of South Africa’s IORA Chairship (2017-2019) - “IORA – uniting the peoples of Africa, Asia, Australasia, and the Middle East through enhanced cooperation for peace, stability and sustainable development”acknowledged and stressed the importance of the Indian Ocean becoming a zone of peace and stability for cooperation and development.

The Indian Ocean Rim Region is at the crossroads of global economic powerhouses where greater trade and economic connectivity are being developed.

Within this shifting global economic and geopolitical landscape of the 21st century, the “Indo-Pacific” has been identified as the new area of interest.  This contributes also to the perception that the Indian Ocean Rim Region is becoming an increasingly contested space. It is within this myriad of security and socio-economic challenges facing the Indian Ocean Rim Region that it will be critically important that we have a strong IORA at its core. South Africa joins IORA members expressing our gratitude to the Bangladesh Government for making a special contribution to support the strengthening of the IORA Secretariat.

We congratulate Bangladesh for hosting the Third IORA Blue Economy Ministerial Conference (BEC-III) under the theme; “Promoting Sustainable Blue Economy- making the best use of opportunities from the Indian Ocean”. South Africa is well represented at the Conference, with a delegation led by the Deputy Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Sotyu.

South Africa is particularly pleased that Bangladesh will assume the position of Vice-Chair of the Association at the IORA Council of Ministers Meeting, scheduled to take place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 3-7 November 2019. We are also looking forward to supporting Bangladesh when assuming the IORA Chair at the end of 2021, specifically as Bangladesh will be presiding over the Association during IORA’s 25th Anniversary commemoration.

Ladies and gentlemen,

During the visit by President Mandela to Bangladesh in March 1997, he signed a Declaration of Intent together with Sheikh Hasina to promote diplomatic relations between our two countries.  This Declaration was formalised in January 2019 to a Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of Regular Bilateral Consultations.

I am therefore pleased that the 5th Round of the bilateral structured mechanism under which we advance and manage bilateral relations - the South Africa-Bangladesh Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) - took place yesterday. The SOM sought to emphasise the growing importance of strengthening the coordination of our relations. The meeting sought to focus on time bound delivery and implementation of identified projects emanating from various Departments in our respective governments.

Both sides noted the enormous potential to expand economic relations between our countries, considering that bilateral trade grew from a mere USD 1, 9 million in 1994 to USD 337 million in 2018.

South Africa and Bangladesh have complementarities and comparative advantages which can be exploited for mutual benefit, particularly in the trade, investment, technical exchanges in information and communications technology, and skills development fields.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is remarkable that it was only 25 years ago that South Africa assumed its rightful place in the community of nations as a free and democratic country. In 1994 we set ourselves the task of building a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society including building a better Africa, in a better world. Successive governments have made strides to ensure that we realise this vision, through initiatives and programmes aimed at addressing our socio-economic challenges.

South Africa is currently reviewing its National Development Plan (NDP) – Vision 2030, in order to tackle South Africa’s triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. President Ramaphosa has identified 5 fundamental goals the Government aims to achieve to transform the South African society by 2030. The goals are:

  • No person in South Africa will go hungry.
  • The economy will grow at a much faster rate than the population.
  • Two million more young people will be in employment.
  • Schools will have better educational outcomes and every 10-year-old will be able to read for meaning.
  • Violent crime will be halved.

Like most emerging markets economies, our country has not been immune to the challenges in the global environment posed by narrow nationalism and the rise of protectionism. We entered a technical recession in the first half of 2018. The Government responded with an economic stimulus and recovery package aimed at reigniting growth and promoting greater job creation. We have also been decisive in ensuring policy certainty. These and other interventions have set us firmly on the path of recovery. South Africa’s future economic prospects are favourable and we are indeed an attractive investment destination.

I wish to conclude by re-emphasising our commitment to further deepening the bonds of friendship that exist between South Africa and Bangladesh. We are mindful of the importance to keep the values of the Bandung Spirit alive as we move forward to secure economic freedom and development for the people of our countries, regions and sub-continents.  The South Africa Bangladesh partnership is securely anchored in common values and a shared vision of social and economic emancipation for all our people.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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