SPEECH BY THE AMBASSADOR OF SOUTH AFRICA TO THE USA, EBRAHIM RASOOL, ON THE OCCASION OF HIS WELCOME TO WASHINGTON DC (THE JOHN F. KENNEDY CENTRE, THURSDAY OCTOBER 7, 2010)
Members of Congress
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Members of the Business Community both from South Africa and the USA
Ladies and Gentleman
I want to record my thanks to the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, for speaking here this evening and bringing his entire delegation to this function. It means much to me, our Mission and the work we are tasked to do in the USA. I want to thank those who have sponsored this event: SAA for the initiative and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and the IMC for their support. I want to thank also, and maybe especially, everyone here tonight at the Kennedy Centre for being here, and giving importance to our role as a Mission in the USA. Minister Gordhan has a quality that needs to be global in its application but is possessed by a few: the ability to know clearly what are the principles and objectives we strive toward, but to understand how we reach them strategically and pragmatically. I also want to express gratitude to President Zuma and South Africa – except for a few cold war warriors in the Cape – for the confidence they have shown in deploying me to probably one of the most challenging postings in the world. You would also understand if I thanked my life partner Rosieda, for making the enormous personal and professional sacrifice to accompany me on this 4 year adventure – she has faced many ups and downs with me, but has never before had to sacrifice her career and be isolated from the big support group in the form of family and friends in South Africa.
I’m indeed grateful to all my predecessors since 1994 who have had to represent South Africa in times which were more demanding than what I find myself in. They, together with all who represent South Africa in the USA today have made my task very easy, especially the Deputy Chief of Mission Johnny Moloto who have kept Team South Africa together and eased my path into Washington, with his unique combination of skills: to remain focussed, but unflustered. He was doing such a great job that I feared I would be irrelevant.
I’m certainly a most fortunate Ambassador. I have arrived here at a time of unprecedented warmth between President Obama and President Zuma, between Secretary Clinton and Minister Mashabane, and even between Ambassador Gips and myself. I must say, that prior to even becoming an Ambassador, I understood that all Ambassadors should model themselves on Donald Gips, because he doesn’t stand on ceremony, he knows the bottom-line of his job and he pursues it with passion. I am happy to call him a friend and a role model. These are not merely good relations at a personal level, but they emerge because we are operating in a time when the USA under President Obama is embracing multilateralism as the way to do business in the world today, when they are more responsive to the need to build enduring partnerships, when they engage more equally and reap the benefits increasingly of cooperation.
But I’m also fortunate because, probably for the first time, the American Nation has allowed themselves to be surprised by South Africa. The FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup has swept away long standing Afro-pessimism as the world and Americans found in South Africa a peaceful people, a working infrastructure, fibre-optic connectivity, world class facilities, first class accommodation, spectacular natural scenery , a soulful connection with humanity, and the worlds best airline.
They found these despite the poverty, the economic inequality, the shortage of housing, the difficulties of delivering services, the preponderance of disease and inadequate schools.
It is within this contrast that our work is defined for the next four years but the conditions have never been more favourable for me to perform my simple task; to deepen and consolidate a cooperative partnership between South Africa and the United States of America. Already we share mutual priorities for good governance and democracy; for human rights and dignity; for peace and stability; for growth and development; for combating climate change and for creating a society free of pandemics like HIV and AIDS, afflictions like violence, and conditions like poverty. These will define the outcomes of my work and the work of Team South Africa in the USA over the next four years.
However, today we pursue our task from a completely different paradigm. While aid is necessary it is no longer the defining characteristic of the USA’s relationship with Africa and South Africa. More and more what we need is partnership in the search for new sources and approaches to energy. What we need is skills development that truly makes education the antidote to the legacies of colonialism and apartheid. What we need is more and more to drive down mortality from diseases like HIV and TB, but also investment in the research programs that continue to bring new tools in the fight against such diseases. What we need is to ensure that AGOA is not only maintained but strengthened, that we negotiate a viable and equal TIDCA and that we achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
These will be the tasks that will occupy the energy and resources of Team South Africa in the USA over the next four years and we will build on the firm foundations of initiatives like PEPFAR and the various cooperation agreements that already exist between South Africa and the USA.
But we pursue these objectives from a completely different starting point. It’s the starting point that says Africa and South Africa are at the table as partners in the quest for increased trade, investment and tourism with countries like the United States of America. We are reaching the point where countries like the USA begin to realise that the African economic giant is awakening.
The USA, too, have read the McKinsey Report that says that Africa’s growth rate exceeded 5% last year in the midst of a global recession, and is 2 to 3 times faster than that of the OECD countries. They too have noted that Ghana’s Stock Exchange – like its soccer team – is one of the highest performing in the world today. They too have been amazed at the fact that in 2008 Africa’s households spent a combined $860bn – more than what is spent in India or Russia – and that this is set to rise to $1.4 trillion by 2020. And they too realise that the SADC Free Trade Agreement has created a regional market of 170 million people with a net worth of $360bn.
These simple facts are instrumental in alerting a US business community suffering reverses at home but, so far, still too timid to cross the Atlantic Ocean, that indeed Africa is the frontier that they must now countenance.
All of this is a tribute to the political will of Africa’s leaders to intervene in conflicts, to embrace democracy, to build the institutions that support the Rule of Law, and increasingly to improve the ease and cost of doing business in South Africa and Africa. It is one of the great discoveries of spectators who travelled all the way to South Africa for World Cup 2010 that they found there the three ingredients that account for Africa’s success: The Rule of Law; an internationally justiciable legal system; and a 24/7 global banking system. These have changed the way the world looks at Africa and South Africa but more importantly the way Africa looks at itself.
I have come here in the year that at least sixteen African countries are celebrating 50 years of independence . 50 Years ago they responded to the call by Kwame Nkrumah for all liberation movements to rededicate themselves to the speedy liberation of their territories. There responded to the message of the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia where under the banner of the Non-Aligned movement they coordinated their support for the liberation of people in Asia, South America and in Africa. Today we can say that with South Africa’s liberation 16 years ago Kwame Nkrumah’s call has almost been fulfilled.
But 50 years later we are giving new meaning to the notion that was born then of a Third World. The notion of Africa being part of the Third World was born out of the Abbe Sieyes definition of the Third Estate that it “represents everything, but was nothing”. Today Africa represents the future and it is substantial. Today we are realising the dream of Nelson Mandela when he said “I dream of the unity of Africa, where its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent”.
In representing South Africa in Washington DC and standing at the head of Team South Africa in the USA we are re-engineering our work as Missions across the USA to catch the strong trade winds of this new context. Today we are working on the ratio 60:30:10. Simply put this means that economic diplomacy must consume 60% of our energy while our political and consular functions will fulfil the remainder. In a time of diminishing budgets we will reprioritise our objectives, retread our staff, and make Team South Africa capable of responding to the needs of the new era.
We will not hide behind anecdotes and generality but will set for ourselves measurable objectives and ambitious targets. We will cohere our operations and draw on the strength of everyone in Team South Africa. We will forge partnerships with all entities from Brand South Africa to SA Tourism to SAA and everyone else who share these objectives with us. We will invite Corporate South Africa to explore the opportunities of the USA with us, and we will facilitate as best we can the entry into the African market – through a soft landing in South Africa – business people from the United States who want to trade and invest and citizens who want to tour and explore.
From December 2010 for the next two years, our offices on Massachusetts Avenue will close for renovations and we will move temporarily to the Intelsat Building on Connecticut. This move is prescient because Intelsat is preparing to take South Africa into the space age and revolutionise communications on the continent of Africa with the launch of the satellite – New Dawn. What I want to conclude with is the hope that when we reopen our new purpose built offices on Massachusetts for a re-engineered Team South Africa in Washington DC, we do so with a memorial to Nelson Mandela towering over Winston Churchill and Kemal Ataturk, joining Mahatma Ghandi on the most international street in the world, and linking to the memorial of Martin Luther King Jr. in DC. I invite you to support us in this effort as a fitting tribute to the world’s oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress, who in 2012 will be celebrating its centenary. We will memorialise Nelson Mandela and celebrate the gift of a non-racial democracy by mobilising South Africans in the USA, the African Diaspora and American citizens who cherish the ideal of a non-racial, humane society. This purpose will shape an important part of the work of Team South Africa in the USA. Once again, thank you very much for being here, for listening, and for the partnerships we will forge over the next four years as we open the economic relations and recommit to the ideals of a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, gentle and equal world.