Address by President Nelson Mandela at a banquet in Russia

29 April 1999

Mr President;
Your excellencies;
Ladies and gentlemen;

Thank you, Mr President, for your kind and gracious words. Our warm welcome in Russia has been all that we expected of a country that has a very special place in the hearts of South Africa.

Our plans to make this visit earlier this year were frustrated by the rigours of your winter, of which we on the southern tip of Africa have little understanding. Though we have braved many dangers, we dared not face the cold to which you are accustomed.

And so we have come to your beautiful country during your gentle spring weather, and in the last autumn days of South Africa's first democratic government and my own public life.

This brings a special opportunity to pay homage to a people and a country who were in the vanguard of that great legion of humanity who shared our struggle against apartheid and therefore also our victory.

It was from here that many of our most valiant fighters drew inspiration and the hope of a more humane future.

It was here that our leader, the late President Oliver Tambo, sought assistance and found it without conditions, at a time when it was neither fashionable to provide it nor dictated by any narrow interest.

In a time of need Russia became a home away from home for many of us. Hundreds of young South Africans found here the education they were denied in their own homeland. Many of our cadres found the military training that turned them into skilled combatants for freedom and justice.

This was the solidarity of true internationalism, transcending a vast geographical distance as well as the cultural and social differences between out peoples.

The Russian people made a special contribution to the elimination of racial tyranny in South Africa and the establishment of democracy. For helping to liberate all the people of South Africa from an inhuman system, we say from the bottom of our heart: "Spasiba bolshoi!"

But we also know that the best way of honouring that selfless support is to use our freedom to build a society that is true to the ideals for which we fought together.

As your spring brings growth and sunshine, so democracy has brought us the possibility of addressing our people basic needs. It has allowed us to take our place in the international community of free nations, to build relations of mutual benefit and work with our friends for a better world.

Though we still have far to go, we are working hard to ensure that all our people have access to the most basic amenities of modern life, without which their freedom and their hard-won rights would remain empty shells. We are entrenching democracy, and securing the peace for which our country yearned for generations.

All this is only possible, and only sustainable, in active partnership with our neighbours in Southern Africa; with the countries of our continent; and with our friends across the world.

This first State Visit to Russia by the President of a democratic South Africa is therefore also part of the reconstruction and development of our country.

The agreements we signed today express our shared determination to lose no more time in establishing the framework for relations that will bring substantial benefit to our peoples. Our joint focus on science and technology; on mineral resources; and on the expansion of trade and investment reflect the strategic focus of our intent to turn the bonds of solidarity into a long-term productive partnership for prosperity and peace. That is why we have with us such a powerful delegation, drawn from government, the scientific community and leaders of business.

The exchange of views which this visit allows, between ourselves, Mr President, and with officials of your government and members of the Federation Council, will also promote common approaches to the critical questions facing humanity, as we enter the new millennium in search of equity, development, peace and security.

The achievements of this visit have been made possible not only by the historic bonds of friendship. They required also patient and thorough work by officials of our two governments. I particular the successful visit of Deputy President Thabo Mbeki to the Russian Federation has given the process powerful impetus.

This gives us great confidence that the relationship between our countries will continue to grow far into the future.

It moves me Mr President, to offer a toast to you, and to the people of Russia; and to the flourishing of friendship between our countries.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation