Address by President Nelson Mandela at the banquet in honour of President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland

13 May 1997

President Martti Ahtisaari;
Deputy President Mbeki;
Cabinet Ministers;
Members of the diplomatic corps;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen;

It gives me great pleasure to welcome a special friend of South Africa back in our country. We were greatly honoured when you joined us three years ago to celebrate the dawn of a new era in our country, the inauguration of our first democratically elected government.

Then, South Africa was exuberant. We were setting out along a new road, with the support of our friends around the globe, to tackle the enormous challenges of reconstruction.

As we meet again after three years you will see for yourself how South Africans have been using the freedom Finland helped them win. Working together we have laid the foundation for a better life. But we face them with confidence because our unity is the basis of our strength. During your visit you will sense the pride of a nation in the making.

Mr President, you are no stranger to our part of the world. South Africans who once found a home from home in Tanzania recall with appreciation the support they enjoyed during your time as Finland's representative to that country.

You are warmly remembered by all of Southern Africa for your role as the United Nation's special envoy to Namibia during its transition. We also remember your efforts in initiating the long process of bringing about peace in Angola. These processes were pivotal in stabilising our region and bringing freedom to South Africa. And as peace, stability and democracy take root in our region, we have started realising our vision for regional co-operation for growth and development.

Finland, renowned for its human rights and humanitarian record, will always hold a special place in the hearts of South Africans. The Finnish People's commitment to freedom put Finland, along with other Nordic countries, in the forefront of the world's united response against apartheid.

The support of our friends that sustained us during the dark days of Apartheid now inspired us in our goals for a new South Africa and our broader regional and international vision.

In helping South Africa to entrench its democracy and to eradicate the legacy of apartheid, Finland is assisting us once again to achieve our goals. Your co-operation is strengthening our efforts in the fields of education, water affairs and forestry, human rights training as well as nation building through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Finland's support to South African Non-Governmental Organisations contributes to the mobilisation of our people in their own upliftment.

In a few short years trade and investment between our countries has increased dramatically. The strength of the business delegation accompanying you reflects this welcome trend. We are confident that this visit will help identify further business opportunities. The expansion of economic ties, as well as the transfer of skills that this promotes, will make a significant contribution to our economic growth and development.

The links forged in struggle are indeed being transformed into a partnership for peace and prosperity. The Agreement on Development Co-operation which we signed today gives expression to that relationship, and it will help to strengthen the bonds of friendship between our nations.

Finland's support for South Africa in the European Union is also of great importance to us. We remember that it was you, Mr President, who initiated the process for writing off our United Nations arrears inherited from the apartheid years.

South Africa is committed to working with Finland for peace, democracy and equitable international relations. We welcome your call for a more representative United Nations Security Council since we believe, as you do, that world peace and harmony can only be achieved if there is equity in the exercise of power in multilateral fora.

Mr President, on behalf of the government and all the people of South Africa, may I bid you and your entourage, a warm welcome to our country.

Ladies and gentlemen;

I ask you to join me in a toast to His Excellency, President Ahtisaari and the people of Finland, and to the flourishing of friendship between our peoples.

Source: South African Government Information Website