Opening Remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa during Official Talks on the occasion of the State Visit by Your Majesties the King Philippe and Queen Mathilda of the Belgians, Union Buildings, 23 March 2023
Your Majesty, King Philippe of the Belgians,
Your Majesty, Queen Mathilde of the Belgian,
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa, Dr Naledi Pandor,
Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs and Foreign Trade and the Federal Cultural Institutions of Belgium, Ms Hadja Lahbib,
Ministers of the Republic of South Africa,
Ministers-President of the regions of Belgium,
Your Excellencies, the Ambassador of Belgium to South Africa and the Ambassador of South Africa to Belgium,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Your Majesty, it is my pleasure to welcome you to South Africa.
In 2018 you received me in Brussels during our working visit to the European Union.
I was and remain most encouraged by your interest in developments in South Africa, and by our common desire to deepen relations between Belgium and South Africa.
As South Africans we were deeply moved how in 2013, in your first Christmas address to the people of Belgium as their new monarch, you paid tribute to the father of our democracy, President Nelson Mandela.
You said, and I quote:
“He personified the will to build bridges. He showed us that dialogue and reconciliation can change the world. Let us find this strength in ourselves.”
Indeed, your visit to our country is about building bridges. We are pleased that you have honoured our invitation. Our world has changed a great deal since January 2020 when we extended an official invitation for this State Visit.
We have had to contend with a global pandemic that wreaked great devastation on human life, livelihoods and the global economy; a series of natural disasters around the world; and since last year, a war between Russia and Ukraine that has sparked a global crisis of high cost of living.
We are indeed living through difficult times. Never has the imperative for global cooperation been greater, and never has the need for greater global solidarity been more urgent.
I wish to express our appreciation to the Kingdom of Belgium for its role in the global fight against COVID-19. Belgium is an important donor to the vaccine alliance GAVI, for the operation of COVAX, the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access initiative. Belgium has also donated more than 10 million vaccine doses, of which a significant proportion were sent to countries in Africa.
Belgium was also one of the earliest backers of the World Health Organisation’s mRNA tech transfer hub initiative in South Africa, operating from the understanding that long-term solutions are needed to address inequitable access to vaccines and therapeutics.
Today Belgium is a partner in in the mRNA Transfer Hub in Cape Town.
One of our companies, Afrigen Biologics, is collaborating with Belgium’s Univercells Group to develop a novel mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. This cooperation will ensure that we are better prepared in the event of future health emergencies, and towards achieving our goal of producing the first African-owned coronavirus vaccine.
The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine is of grave concern to us all.
As South Africa we continue to emphasise the importance of finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.
As you rightly said back in 2013, Your Majesty, dialogue and reconciliation can change the world. We look forward to sharing our perspectives on the conflict during our meeting, and to learn more about Belgium’s stance.
It is also important to consider the impact of the conflict on the international economy, especially with regards to global food and energy security.
As South Africa we are encouraged at the growth of grade and investment between our two countries, and that our respective tourism links are also developing.
There has also been good cooperation between our two countries when we were both members of international bodies such as the United Nations Security Council, and currently, on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
I believe that much more can be done for our bilateral relations to grow and expand.
When it comes to our respective histories, we share some similarities.
They include contending with a painful past, striving for national reconciliation, and building a common, united future. This should form the basis for greater dialogue between our two countries, because we have much to learn from each other.
Your visit, Your Majesty, will add momentum to this process. It is our wish that this is an opportunity to foster greater cooperation, but also understanding, between the peoples of Belgium and South Africa.
I thank you and invite you now to make your opening remarks.
Issued by: The Presidency