Address by President Nelson Mandela at luncheon hosted by President Ahtisaari, Helsinki - Finland

15 March 1999

Your Excellency, President Ahtisaari
Madame Speaker
Mr Prime Minister and members of the Government
Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you, My President, for your kind and gracious words of welcome to me, my wife and my delegation.

Finland is in many ways like a home away from home for us, not least so, Mr President, because of your esteemed self. We are greatly honoured to be allowed to reciprocate the visit you paid to us some two years ago.

That visit is still very vividly and fondly in our memories. It served as symbolic and substantive consolidation of the long friendship between our countries, and between yourself and our people and region.

Yours is a household name in Southern Africa because of your long and distinguished history of support for the cause of freedom, peace and democracy in various countries of the region. We are delighted, on the eve of our departure from public life, to once more share an occasion like this with an old and trusted friend.

Mister President when, in about three month's time, I am allowed to retire to the calm of the village of birth, it will be with a sense of fulfilment in that the institutions of South Africa's young democracy are well established and functioning.

For that - the achievement of democracy and the consolidation of its workings - we owe a great debt of gratitude to the governments and the people of the Nordic countries. Finland was a staunch supporter in our long struggle against apartheid. Today we know you as a committed partner as we rebuild our country to make a better life for all its people.

Relations between South Africa and Finland are strong and continue to grow. We interact with one another in very aspect that matters - politically, in the multilateral arena, economically, in culture, sport and education.

Geography has placed us at the opposite ends of the globe - and, if I my add, it has given us climates so different that few South Africans could have imagined the blanket of snow that has greeted us here, or the bracing temperature!. But human perseverance has proved stronger than geography. Our friendship has stood the test of time and distance.

Our disparate geographical locations has given us different foreign policy priorities. For Finland the focus is naturally on the European Union and your own immediate region, including Russia and the Baltic States. South Africa's foreign relations are defined primarily by our membership of the Southern African Development Community and the fact that we are an African country.

Nevertheless we are bound by a common commitment to democracy and human rights. We value your advice and co-operation as we entrench those values in every sphere of our national life. We trust that we can, by sharing our experiences, contribute to your deliberations as well. Our co-operation reflects the fact that globalisation is not confined to the economy and trade. There are also global approaches to the many social and political problems facing our world.

The close bonds of friendship and co-operation between our two countries - one on the northern outskirts of Europe, the other on the southern tip of Africa - also carry a powerful message about equitable relations between North and the South, based on mutual respect and reciprocal benefits. In this spirit we can and should work together for a world order which will serve equally the poorer nations and the wealthy, the powerful and the small.. Developing countries know that they have a solid and trustworthy friend in Finland.

Mr President, South Africans will always remember Finland as our friend from the days when we often stood alone in our struggle to rid our country of the scourge of apartheid. This visit, one of the last such official journeys before my retirement, will also remain fixed in my memory.

It is my great honour and privilege, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, to ask you to rise, to raise your glasses and to join me in a toast to the President of the Republic of Finland and the people of Finland.

Issued by the Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website