Address by President Nelson Mandela at a banquet in honor of President Yasser Arafat of Palestine, Cape Town

11 August 1998

Mr President;
Distinguished Guests,

We have long looked forward to your first State Visit to our country. It is a distinct honour to welcome Palestine's first President to South Africa, both because your name is revered by millions in South Africa, and because you come as a leader of a people who have shared with us the experience of struggle for justice.

South Africans drew courage and strength from the support so generously given by the Palestinian people even though they themselves lacked freedom.

Now that we have achieved our freedom, we have not forgotten our friends and allies who helped us liberate ourselves. As former beneficiaries of selfless international support. South Africans have a duty to lend a supportive hand to others seeking justice and equality.

As we give our freedom lasting meaning by the improvement of our people's lives through reconstruction and development, we daily confirm for ourselves that peace, prosperity and security are possible only if they are enjoyed by all without discrimination. And daily we reap the benefits of having joined hands to work together for the things that unite us.

It is in that spirit that South Africa has fervently supported the Middle East peace process.

We cannot solve the problems of others, though we do stand ready to assist in whatever way we can within the limits of our capacity. But our own humble experience has shown that negotiated solutions can be found even to conflict that the world has come to regard as insoluble. It has taught us that such solutions emerge when former opponents reach out to find common ground.

One of the enduring memories of the inauguration of South Africa's first democratic government in 1994 was the meeting in Pretoria of yourself, Mr President, and President Ezer Weizmann of Israel, a meeting which evoked so much promise of peace.

We celebrated when the adoption of the Oslo agreements confirmed that the Middle East had leaders of vision who could put the region on the path of friendship and peaceful co-existence.

Over the last two years we have shared the painful concern of all who care for peace as successive violations of this agreement moved the fragile resolution we all sought further from our grasp.

At the same time we have also been filled with admiration at the efforts of Palestinian and Israeli Citizens who have reached out across the historical divide to campaign together for a resumption of the peace process. We have noted too the recent urgency in the public calls for forward movement in the Peace Process. The fact that these are coming also from within senior levels of Israeli society lends credence to the growing sense of crisis that not enough is being done to achieve the peace that your region cries out for.

We hope with the rest of the world that the current deadlock will give way to a recognition that the security of any one nation depends on that of others, and that none can enjoy lasting peace while others remain in conditions that perpetuate injustice, poverty and insecurity.

Nor can those who perceive themselves to be powerful succeed in action to violence agreements in the hope that fellow-negotiators will be weakened and isolated from their base.

In this testing time, the people of Palestine, and of the Middle East as a whole, and their leaders, need all the vision and perseverance they have demonstrated in the past in the pursuit of comprehensive and lasting peace along the path mapped out by the Oslo Accord.

South Africa is proud to be part of the international consensus affirming the right of Palestine to self-determination and statehood. We are committed to playing our humble part, within the limits of our resources, to help ensure that Palestine assumes its rightful position in the global arena.

The coming Non-Aligned Movement Summit, which South Africa feels privileged to host, will, we believe, present an opportunity to help steer the global agenda towards sensitivity for the needs of developing nations such as ours.

Mr President;

Since establishing full diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine in 1995, we have watched with pleasure as institutions of democracy have begun to strike root in Palestinian soil.

Inasmuch has our own freedom brought us the opportunity to address the basic needs of our people, it also allowed us proudly to engage in a modest programme of technical development assistance to Palestine. We ourselves have benefited from this exchange by drawing on the experience of the Palestinian people, in particular in the field of health.

Your visit, with your strong business and technical delegation, is already extending the co-operation between our nations to which the agreements signed today give further formal expression.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I ask you to rise and propose a toast to President Yasser Arafat and to the flourishing of relations between the peoples of Palestine and South Africa.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website