Address by President Nelson Mandela at the banquet in honour of President Mary Robinson of Ireland, Cape Town

26 March 1996

Madam President;
Honourable Ministers;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great honour and privilege for our government, our nation and for me personally to welcome and host the President of Ireland this evening.

The people of Ireland hold a very special place in the hearts of many South Africans. In particular, many thousands remember with warmth and gratitude the commitment of Irish priests and nuns to provide a decent education to youngsters when the apartheid regime denied them this right.

The people and government of Ireland staunchly supported our struggle for liberation through many long years. Many of our exiles found refuge and a second home in Ireland - among them one "Irishman" present here, called Professor Kader Asmal, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry who, we understand, had the honour of lecturing to you as he does to us today.

The Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, distinguished by its record of effective solidarity from the 1960s, drew its strength from your people's passionate commitment to freedom and equality.

We will not forget that Ireland steadfastly refused to have diplomatic relations with South Africa until the dawn of the Government of National Unity. And today as we tackle the challenges of transformation, we still draw strength from that principled support.

Indeed, Madam President, your country has never disappointed us.

We do know that the people of Ireland have cherished our freedom because they have also known what it is to be oppressed. They too have known racism and discrimination.

In the same way that forms of oppression have been shared, so too have there been common forms of defiance and resistance: shebeens and boycotts have been part of our past too! Indeed we recall the very effective mass protest against the 1969-70 South African Rugby Tour of Ireland when the sports boycott was part of the international community's contribution to our struggle.

Out of a harsh history the Irish people forged a truly humani- tarian tradition and have produced leaders who are true to that tradition. I wish to pay tribute tonight to President Mary Robinson, champion of women and children across the globe, and to express our appreciation to you personally for your support over the years.

We admire your determination to heal your country and to develop a new patriotism in Ireland based on tolerance, openness and acceptance. These are also aspirations which the government and the people of South Africa have embraced and are making a reality.

Now that South Africa has achieved its freedom we look forward to turning the bonds of shared struggle into all-round relations between our countries.

The trebling of trade since 1992 is of the greatest signifi- cance. Increased economic links will certainly benefit both our peoples.

Despite your own needs, Ireland continues to provide support and encouragement through its extensive development assistance. And we warmly welcome the agreement on Development Co-operation signed today. We are confident, too, that we can rely on Ireland's support in the European Union when Ireland assumes the Presidency later this year.

South Africa would like to reiterate its support for Ireland, especially in the resolution of the Northern Ireland situation. We would not presume to offer any solutions, but we make available any experience of our own that may contribute towards a resolution of the problem by peaceful means.

We do know that our experience taught us that any problem can be settled through discussion and negotiations, if all the key parties to the conflict are involved and can talk directly to each other, and if all are willing to seek solutions in the broader interest.

We therefore hope that all parties will make their way to the negotiating table; that all would eschew violence; and that none will act in a manner that places obstacles in the way of others participating.

President Robinson and Mr Robinson; We are delighted to have you as guests in our country. We wish you a pleasant stay. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and the people of Ireland on the difficult road that still lies ahead of you. We trust that there will soon be peace and tranquility in your beautiful island.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Please stand and raise your glasses in a toast to Her Excellency President Mary Robinson and the people of Ireland; and to the flourishing of relations between our countries.

I thank you.

Issued by: The Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website