Address by President Nelson Mandela at the banquet in honour of President Chirac of France, Midrand

26 June 1998

Your Excellency, President Jacques Chirac;
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed a distinct privilege and honour to welcome you to our country. I fondly recall the warm reception that I received during my visit to France in 1996 when I shared in the Bastille Day celebrations. I would wish that this banquet should also be seen as a token of our appreciation and reciprocity for your kind hospitality two years ago.

There is a powerful symmetry in our exchange of visits. In France we celebrated the impact that the French Revolution had made on the world, inspiring millions to resist oppression and strive rather towards those noble ideals; liberty, equality and fraternity. And today we meet on the anniversary of the day that the Congress of the People adopted the Freedom Charter, affirming the same democratic principles as those expressed in the French Revolution.

Our struggle for these ideals was only to bear fruit thirty nine years later, when South Africans in their millions participated in our country's first democratic elections. Our victory was also the victory of the French people who helped sustain us in our struggle for freedom by their active and unselfish support.

Even after we achieved democracy, France has been there to help ease our re-entry into the world economy. She has lent a helping hand in our efforts to improve the lives of our people, so that our freedom should gain real meaning and so that our once divided nation should achieve lasting unity and peace.

I must express our appreciation for the work being done by the French Development Agency in our country, to help redress the inequalities and legacy of the past. The opening of the Agency's office in South Africa has made its contribution even more effective, and I am confident that your visit here will further enhance France's part in our development.

But it is not only democratic principles that our two nations share. Amongst the colours of our Rainbow Nation, is one that is French. The Huguenots, who came to South Africa as part of the colonisation process, have contributed greatly to our country's economic development. That is evident above all in the French legacy of viniculture, especially in the Western Cape. Today that legacy is a vital part of the heritage of a nation that is united in its diversity. Today, too, our democratic constitution guarantees to all South Africans the religious freedom which the Huguenots sought.

Then, there is a passion for the game of football that we share, but on this topic we shall say no more since we want this evening to be a pleasant supper rather than one of heated debate. As you know Mr President, it is the pastime of many soccer fans to seek to redefine the outcome of contests that must be settled on the field. However we cannot avoid noting that in this part of the world we do not experience weather that disadvantages one side.

Most importantly, Mr President, you and I are the beneficiaries of complex histories which place on our countries a common responsibility to work with others in the quest for a more just and equitable world.

I particular, we share a common aspiration for the rebirth of Africa. Whether as members of our respective regions forging a mutually beneficial relationship between Europe and Southern Africa, or in other arenas, there is much that we can do to contribute to this goal. We would like to use this occasion to make special acknowledgement of your efforts to bring the plight of the poorest African countries to the agenda of the G8.

Allow me to conclude by thanking President Chirac and the French people for your continued interest in the well-being of our nation. Our efforts to attain sustainable economic growth and to entrench democracy are strengthened by the knowledge that we can be assured of your support, as a country and also as a member of the European Union and the UN Security Council.

I have no doubt that during your stay in South Africa you will experience the warmth of a people in whose hearts France occupies a special place. And I am confident that your visit will help deepen the mutually supportive relations between our countries that have grown so rapidly in the few short years of our freedom.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I ask you to rise and raise your glasses in a toast to His Excellency President Chirac and the people of France, and to the strengthening of relations between France and South Africa. Vive I'amite sud africaine et francaise!

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website