Your Excellency, Ambassador Carlos Fernandez de Cossío, Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to South Africa
Your Excellency Mr Fana Jiyane, Chief Executive Officer of the Freedom Park Trust,
Your Excellency, Ambassador Bene M’Poko, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps
Your Excellency, Ambassador Carlos Sersale, Dean of the GRULAC Group
Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Colleagues, comrades, friends and compatriots
Your Excellency, Ambassador de Cossío,
President Jacob Zuma, the Government and the people of South Africa send greetings and congratulations to General Raul Castro, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, as well as to the Government and the people of Cuba, on this most memorable day, the 55th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
It is an immense honour to join you in celebrating another anniversary of the Cuban Revolution - which is traditionally celebrated on 1 January.
Cuba can look back on 55 years of revolutionary political history with pride. Cuba has played a key role in world politics. It's solidarity with the developing world has earned the respect of many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
The great Cuban Revolution had a direct impact on political events in southern Africa, and especially in South Africa, and that impact is still felt today. Cuba was a loyal supporter of the struggle against the Apartheid regime and a formidable champion of the new South Africa.
Tonight, we also celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations between South Africa and Cuba. We are mutual beneficiaries of a very special relationship. Both our countries paid a high price for our struggles for political freedom, both have improved the living conditions for the majority of our citizens, and both our countries have made the world a better place for all.
Let me take this opportunity to recognise the important contributions made by both diplomatic Missions in Havana and Pretoria over two decades - ambassadors John Nkadimeng, the late Mampe Mosia Makhaya, Lenin Shope, Thenjiwe Mtintso, Justice Piitso and the current ambassador, Naphtal Manana, as well as Cuban Ambassadors, Angel Dalmau, Marcos Rodriquez, Ester Armenteros, Angel Villa and the current ambassador, Fernandez de Cossío.
The relationship between South Africa and Cuba dates back well before our historic 1994 democratic elections. Before 1994 Cuba educated our cadres, helped us in our military struggle against the apartheid regime, and supported our struggle for justice in international fora.
Today we pay special homage to the Cuban combatants who sacrificed their lives in Angola for a democratic South Africa. Their names are written on the Wall of Remebrance here in Freedom Park.
Cuba has long been our ally in our struggle for freedom.
We will continue to support Cuba in its struggle to have the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America lifted. This is a principle issue and standpoint supported by the vast majority of the United Nations member states.
Against this background, 2014 will be the year of implementation of the Economic Assistance Agreement to further stimulate trade and agricultural cooperation between our two nations.
Over the past 20 years there has been a robust and constructive interaction at both bilateral and multilateral level between our countries. South Africa and Cuba both chaired the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and still contribute to the revitalisation of the movement and its relevance in the multilateral arena.
Distinguished Guests, I would like to highlight a few current areas of cooperation between South Africa and Cuba.
When former President Nelson Mandela passed away on 5 December 2013, Cuba sent a high-level delegation to South Africa, led over by Comrade President Raul Castro, to attend the State funeral.
President Jacob Zuma paid a State Visit to Cuba in 2010 and has received an invitation from President Castro to pay a follow-up State Visit soon.
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriquez transited through South Africa towards the end of 2013 and used the opportunity to meet with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and the Secretary-General of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe. We are working towards receiving the Cuban Foreign Minister in South Africa this year for formal discussions with the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation.
The celebration of 20 years of diplomatic bilateral relations between South Africa and Cuba is a major achievement. There are over 30 (thirty) signed bilateral agreements in place between the two countries covering vast areas of cooperation for example arts and culture, defence, education, science and technology, health services, housing as well Home Affairs.
One of the success stories is the extensive cooperation between South Africa and Cuba regarding skills development and training. During this year, no less than 1,828 South African students will be receiving medical training in Cuba. So far, more than 420 South Africans from disadvantaged backgrounds have graduated in Cuba as medical doctors, providing much needed primary healthcare services to their local communities. Another 73 final year medical students are doing their final year at SA Universities and will be graduating in 2014. Similarly, 11 South African students have graduated from the International Sport School in Havana and a number of teachers in South Africa have benefitted from the Mathematics and Science skills development programme.
The 10th South Africa-Cuba Joint Consultative Mechanism was held at Deputy Ministerial level and took place in September 2013 in Havana, against a background of our solid bilateral ties and with the aim of further strengthening relations, and expanding cooperation, particularly in the multilateral and regional spheres. Cuba has been invited to attend the next meeting in South Africa during the course of this year.
Our relationship is of such a standing that the Cuban Embassy meets on a monthly basis with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to exchange information, to discuss bilateral issues of the moment and to expedite the implementation of projects and programmes. In addition, regular meetings are held between the Embassy of Cuba and the South African authorities, as well as at party-political level.
At civil society level, through the commitment and dedication of the Friendship of Cuba South Africa (FOCUS) initiatives, South Africans have been sensitised on issues pertaining to Cuba and FOCUS has been the driving force in mobilising support for the various solidarity campaigns for Cuba in South Africa.
Your Excellency, Ambassador de Cossío, both our countries have benefitted from visionary leaders such as President Nelson Mandela and President Fidel Castro who inspired millions. Today both our presidents, President Jacob Zuma and President Raul Castro, seek to build on our shared history and to use our friendship to create a better world for all.
I, therefore, take great pleasure once more in conveying to the government and people of Cuba our sincere congratulations on your anniversary and best wishes for Cuba’s future peace and prosperity.
We share in Cuba’s joy.
Viva Cuba – Viva!
Viva South Africa – Viva !