Address by President Nelson Mandela during visit to the Finnish Parliament, Helsinki

15 March 1999

Madam Speaker;
Honourable Members of Parliament,

Thank you for your kind words of welcome.

When I visited Finland seven years ago, as a representative of the majority of South Africans still denied their freedom, our transition was at a critical stage. But we did not allow ourselves to be deflected from a negotiated path to democracy. The support of Finland's government and people, which had sustained us in our struggle, also helped us through that transition, as it has strengthened us in the reconstruction and development of our country.

Today, with pride, I bring you greetings from South Africa's first democratically elected Parliament, and from our Speaker, Dr Frene Ginwala. We are grateful, Madame Speaker, to your joint efforts with her to promote co-operation between our Parliaments, both in general and to enhance the role of women in Parliament and in other spheres of decision-making

.As we prepare to consolidate our democracy in our second elections, we admire the peaceful manner in which the Finns, as true veterans of democratic rule, are waging their election battles in preparation for next Sunday's national election.

But we also know that this tolerance is combined with a passionate commitment to universal human rights and the courage to fight for the rights of others even at your own expense, as you did in support of the world-wide campaign to isolate apartheid.

Now, we are busy turning the bonds forged into struggle into a partnership for peace and prosperity. Although our economic ties have grown so rapidly since we gained our freedom, the potential to expand these links for mutual benefit is enormous.

Co-operation between Finland and South Africa in all spheres has a solid foundation in our shared respect for equality, democracy and human rights. That affinity transcends the vast distance between our countries, as we reach out to one another across continents.

President Ahtisaari's contribution to African, and especially Southern African, affairs has earned him the respect of the entire continent. South Africans will never forget that it was he who led the initiative to cancel the arrears of South Africa's United Nations fees arising from the apartheid period.

Many Finns have taken the plight of less advantaged South Africans to their hearts and spared no effort to promote a multitude of development projects in our country. We thank them and acknowledge their role in the liberation and reconstruction of South Africa.

Finland's programme of Development Co-operation during the first years of our freedom has strengthened the transformation of our society in such key areas as the reform of our judicial system; bringing clean water to those who were denied it; and developing community forestry, We look forward to benefiting from your focus on another of apartheid's legacies, our critical shortage of qualified teachers

South Africa faces many challenges, but in a world as interdependent as the modern world, none of us can focus only on our problems. First and foremost we are part of the African continent, and Africa's problems are ours.

As members of the Organisation of African Unity and the Southern African Development Community we are working hard to promote peaceful resolutions of the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Angola and Eritrea/Ethiopia. We are unbending in our conviction that even the most difficult and deep-seated problems are capable of peaceful resolution.

Finland is justly renowned for her specialised contribution to peacekeeping all around the world. We are glad that we can tap your expertise, as well as benefiting from the material support of the Nordic countries, while SADC establishes a credible peace-keeping capability.

For all these reasons, the prospect of Finland assuming the European Union Presidency will be widely welcomed, not least by South Africa. We wish you success.

Madam Speaker, we are grateful to you and your colleagues for sharing your valuable time with us on the eve of your parliamentary elections.

Our own elections in June will mark the end of my public life. I shall retire content in the knowledge that our people, with a new generation of leaders, will have the partnership of countries like Finland as they build on the foundation for a better life for all which we have laid with your help.

Together we will continue to make a reality of the hopes we have shared through so many years.

I thank you.

Issued by the Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website