Address by President Nelson Mandela at a State Dinner in his honour in Thailand

16 July 1997

Mr Prime Minister
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity, if I may, to say how sad and shocked we were to learn of the tragic loss of life at Pattaya. On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, and myself personally, I wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to the families who lost loved ones in the disaster, and the whole Thai nation. Our thoughts are with you in this time of grief.

Ladies and gentlemen;

It is a great privilege for me to be in your midst in these splendid surroundings tonight. I would like to thank you and your government most sincerely for according me such a warm welcome.

The name of your country, Prathet Thai, embodies the very essence of what has become our dearest possession; namely our freedom. You are the only country in this region which has never come under the yoke of colonialism. That is a history to be justifiably proud of.

Our own background, Mr Prime Minister, is unfortunately very different. After three centuries of colonialism our people had to face, in apartheid, an even more degrading and destructive form of domination. But with the help of many countries, including yours, our people have at last gained their precious freedom.

Mr Prime Minister;

It was a great disappointment to me that I was unable to attend the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the accession to the throne by your esteemed and beloved monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. I did however observe the magnificent celebrations by your people. What struck me most were the sentiments of pride, dignity and gratitude, which only a free people can express so spontaneously.

It is a rare honour and privilege for me to be able to meet His Majesty the King during my visit, to help forge even stronger relations among our peoples.

Now that South Africans have joined the ranks of the free, relations between our countries can flourish. It gives me great pleasure to see the peoples of South Africa and Thailand crossing the gap of different cultures and geographical distance, to learn about and appreciate one another.

Official relations between our countries are literally in their infancy. Yet, much has been achieved in a very short time. Thailand is today one of the most popular tourist destinations for South Africans, and I am glad to see that more and more Thai people are visiting our country as well. The rapid growth in bilateral trade measures how our two countries are growing closer in the economic context. I am confident that our partnership will grow from strength to strength.

Your country is one of Southeast Asia's success stories - it has become an economic powerhouse in a strongly growing region. We are embarking on the same road. Thailand as part of the Indo-China region and South Africa in Southern Africa have much to offer each other. Our region holds great potential for development, and we hope to see more and more involvement by Thailand and Southeast Asia, in general, in making our Southern Africa a prosperous growth area.

Our partnership as nations also derives from a shared commitment to the strengthening of the developing world. As the current President of UNCTAD, South Africa is co-operating with your country as it prepares to assume the Presidency of this important body. We attach great importance to this responsibility. Together we can help shape UNCTAD's strategies and objectives in keeping with the demands of the new age. We have also found your experience in such areas as population development, primary health care and the combating of illegal drug trafficking very useful indeed.

We note that Thailand will host the Asia Games next year. As you well know, South Africa is bidding to host the Olympic Games in the year 2004 - the first time ever on the African continent. We do appreciate your support for our continent in this regard.

Mr Prime Minister;

May I once again thank you for your excellent hospitality in receiving me and my delegation at short notice. May our visit contribute to the growing co-operation and bonds of friendship, and above all, to the strengthening of freedom, peace and prosperity for the peoples of our two beautiful countries.

I now wish to propose a toast to the continued good health and happiness of His Majesty the King, to Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and to friendship and co-operation between the peoples of South Africa and Thailand!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation