Address by President Nelson Mandela at State Banquet in honour of President Omar Bongo of Gabon

21 November 1996

Your Excellency President Bongo and Mrs Bongo,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

We are greatly honoured to host you, Mr President, and your distinguished delegation. We hope that your short stay in our country will be both pleasant and fruitful.

As one of Franscophone Africa's most distinguished heads of state, your name is held in high esteem in South Africa. And the name of Gabon is admired for your country's impressive economic development and for its determination to entrench multiparty democracy.

We regard you, Mr President, as one of Africa's great statesmen, a true peacemaker and mediator. You have tirelessly sought to reserve for our continent an honoured place in the councils of the world. Your efforts to obtain a more equitable deal for Africa in the world financial and commercial order are greatly appreciated by our continent.

Under your guidance and leadership, Gabon contributed significantly to South Africa's transition. This it did through its active involvement in Africa's principled campaign against apartheid, through your own wise counsel, and through Gabon's unflinching solidarity with the liberation movement.

We thank you and the people of Gabon most sincerely for your invaluable contribution to our liberation.

We meet today as free men and women. With colonialism and apartheid behind us, we can at last address the task of improving the lives of our peoples and work as partners in Africa's rebirth.

Central to our own economic reconstruction is the strengthening of economic ties with other African countries. Our own growth depends on our partners experiencing growth as well. We therefore draw mutual benefit from the fact that trade between our two countries is ever increasing and the co-operation in the public and private sectors is thriving, especially in mining and technology.

There is great potential for further interaction. Air services and visa exemption accords are already in place; good progress is being made in the negotiation of agreements on the reciprocal protection of investments, on the elimination of double taxation and on maritime transport.

I am confident that the talks we had yesterday will help secure an environment that promotes further South African investment in Gabon, as well as increased economic co-operation generally.

Our responsibility as partners extends beyond opening lines of communication between our two nations. Higher levels of economic co-operation on the continent are essential to put Africa firmly back in the mainstream of economic development.

For Africa to maximise the economic potential locked up in its vast natural and human resources, our continent also needs peace and stability. On this occasion we would like to express our concern about the situation in the Great Lakes region.

South Africa is committed to working with our partners in SADC, and in the OAU and UN, in the urgent quest for a solution to a problem which has the potential to affect all of us on the continent, not the least in the South.

South Africa is ready to shoulder its responsibilities in concert with our friends in the community of nations. However, in the final analysis it is up to our brothers and sisters who call that region home to make a solution possible. We earnestly call on them to forsake violence, to engage in constructive dialogue and to respect the lives and common dignity of their fellow human beings.

South Africa is honoured to count a peacemaker such as President Omar Bongo among its friends. For what you have selflessly done for our country, our continent and humanity in general, your richly deserve Africa's recognition and respect.

Ladies and gentlemen,

May I now ask you to raise your glasses and drink a toast to President Bongo and the people of Gabon; and to the flourishing of relations between Gabon and South Africa.

Source: South African Government Information Website