Public Lecture by Deputy President Paul Mashatile on the occasion of Celebrating Thirty Years of Diplomatic Relations through Mutual Respect, Strategic Partnership and Cooperation between South Africa and Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Tuesday, 12 December 2023

Public Lecture by Deputy President Paul Mashatile on the occasion of Celebrating Thirty Years of Diplomatic Relations through Mutual Respect, Strategic Partnership and Cooperation between South Africa and Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Tuesday, 12 December 2023


Professor Mancini,

High Commissioner to South Africa, Zainal Arif Mantaha,

High Commissioner to Singapore, Charlotte Lobe,

Deputy Ministers of the Republic of South Africa,

Ambassadors and High Commissioner,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Allow me to convey my greetings and well wishes to the people of Singapore from the shores of the mighty Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and the people of our beloved South Africa.


It is truly an honour to stand before you today to deliver this public lecture that commemorates 30 years of diplomatic relations, mutual respect, strategic partnership, and cooperation between our two countries, this is a historic moment!


Through this lecture we also commemorate 100 years of the remarkable legacy of one of the greatest leaders of our time, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, here at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.


It is a privilege to be at this prestigious school established in the name of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister.


Indeed, we remember Mr Lee Kuan Yew as an outstanding patriot who dedicated his life and wisdom to the wellbeing of his nation. He was an astute statesman whose passion lay in building a united and respected nation, free from want and ignorance.


Thanks to his visionary leadership, Singapore is today a global model for good governance, efficiency, and economic prosperity.


In recognition and celebration of this milestone, the South African High Commission in Singapore has held a series of events in collaboration with the Government of Singapore; to strengthen relations and reaffirm our commitment to the shared developmental goals of our nations.


This visit is itself a demonstration of our commitment to strengthening diplomatic, economic, and people-to-people relations.


We certainly look forward to another thirty years of diplomatic relations and beyond. While we celebrate what we have achieved thus far, I must emphasise that this is also an opportunity for us to prepare for future cooperation and many more years of friendship.


Professor Mancini,


I am particularly delighted to be in this beautiful country once again since my last visit in September 2019 as the 68th Lee Kuan Yew Exchange Fellow.


One of the things that I was inspired by during that visit was the commitment of the leaders of Singapore to the development and economic growth of this nation.


The trajectory of Singapore reminded me of that of South Africa under the leadership of our first democratic President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who espoused the vision of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united, and prosperous society.


Who taught us the values of Ubuntu – Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, I am because you are!


Coming here today, I am encouraged that your commitments have remained true, and are evidenced by the inroads in the areas of education, technology, and urban agriculture amongst others.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


As we gather here today, several significant megatrends are currently affecting the world, these include globalisation, geopolitical inequality, environmental crises, demographic changes, and technological convergence.


For instance, the current global population stands at 7.7 billion. However, projections suggest it will increase to 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050. Half the 2 billion people expected to be added to the population are from African nations.


The challenge however is that the surge in population is accompanied by a rise in inequality, which presents a significant challenge to global unity and security, affecting peace and stability, especially in Africa.


Furthermore, there is a rapid urbanisation of the world; it is predicted that by 2030, 70% of people on the planet will be residing in cities.


Governments and cities must therefore give priority to urban planning strategies that are capable of adapting to these changes. This entails making investments in the ecosystems and infrastructure required to provide a good level of living for all people.


According to the 2023 Atlas of Sustainable Goals, the global Gini co-efficient has fallen since 1990, from about .70 in 1990 to .62 in 2019, which represents significant progress in reducing global inequality.


This suggests that although there has been progress in reducing inequality, there is still a significant gap between the rich and the poor, and more work needs to be done to promote economic equality on a global scale.


Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time and poses a significant threat to humanity and the planet. It is a complex problem that demands urgent and consistent action from every individual, organisation, and government.


The effects of climate change are far-reaching, and we need to be proactive in adopting sustainable practices to reduce our carbon footprint. The global community must unite to address this issue with utmost seriousness and commitment.


I commend Singapore for its implementation of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 as a framework to both mitigate and adapt to climate change, and the integration of urban agriculture as a critical component of developing a thriving and resilient city.


What we see here is a true manifestation of the Malay saying ‘Sikit-Sikit Lama-Lama Jadi Bukit’ (Little by little, eventually you can build a mountain).


Inspired by this principle, we must begin to think about how we re-imagine what successful societies should look like to effectively respond to these emerging trends, including the uncertainty of pandemics.


Fundamental to this, is that nations must invest in knowledge as a strategic resource. This requires that nations specifically invest in their people and data, particularly big relevant data.


According to Do Hoang Van Khanh (2017), a Senior Researcher in the Social & Economics Team at the Institute for Governance and Policy in Singapore.


“Using data to make decisions is not new, but we have seen data produced at an unprecedented rate by the internet and mobile technologies. Yet, the revolution in data science is not so much about “data” itself, but the rapid advances in statistical methods and software that allow huge amounts of data to be analysed and understood”.


Essentially, data plays a critical role in deepening the understanding of issues on the ground, thus leading to sound decision-making and the successful implementation of plans and strategies needed to respond to the dynamic challenges of the world today.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Whilst the current global environment is fraught with polarity, Singapore, like South Africa values the role of global governance and multilateralism in ensuring peace, security, and stability, and we agree that these are the prerequisites for a prosperous world.


It remains unacceptable that in times of global crises, reform of global governance, and political and financial architecture remain elusive despite our common interests in ensuring a relevant and responsive architecture.


Both Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and President Nelson Mandela shared a vision of a world where war, famine, hunger, and insecurity become a part of our history and not our present.


We must therefore continue in this optimism!


Like President Nelson Mandela, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Hence, we therefore believe that the only solution to end the Israel-Palestine conflict is a two-state solution, where the nations should coexist.


In this regard, we welcome the recent ceasefire which will allow for talks and the rebuilding of Gaza.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


South Africa and Singapore enjoy longstanding and substantive relations, anchored by frequent high-level engagements, multifaceted cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, growing people-to-people relations, and cooperation in multilateral institutions.


Despite global challenges including the recent COVID-19 pandemic both governments have maintained close bilateral cooperation.


Following decades of international isolation of apartheid South Africa and significant progress heralded through the peaceful negotiations, former Singapore Prime Minister, Right Honourable, Lee Kuan Yew visited South Africa in 1992 and began a process of establishing friendship between the people of South Africa and the people of Singapore.


This journey of friendship was fortified on 29 May 1992 when the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the Government of Singapore agreed to establish consular relations.


Our bilateral relationship was also fortified by the official visit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Cape Town, where our respective leaders used the opportunity for the two countries to strengthen their longstanding partnership and explore new areas of bilateral cooperation in addition to our current economic relations that are focused on trade, investment, tourism promotion, and skills transfer.


One of the areas of collaboration between our countries that can be useful in addressing some of the domestic challenges posed by issues of corruption, a lack of strong governance, and accountability is building state capacity.


This requires strategic, organisational, and technical capacity, which I am proud to say is an area we have collaborated with Singapore on, specifically as it relates to (i) building a professional, meritocratic, and ethical public administration; (ii) improving leadership, governance, and accountability; (iii) and ensuring a functional, efficient, and integrated government.


Professor Mancini, a number of public servants have been trained here in Singapore.


I am pleased to announce that the National School of Government and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy have entered into a partnership and we wish to engage mutually on areas such as Policy, Innovation and Sustainability, Data Analytics, Futures Thinking, Smart Cities & Urban Design, Women Leadership and Strategic Decision-Making, among others.


These partnership initiatives take place against the backdrop of a memorandum of understanding between the government of the Republic of South Africa and the government of the Republic of Singapore on skills development, signed in May 2023.


We believe that these partnerships with the National School of Government will translate into the delivery of key education and training programmes to build the capacity of public servants and leaders in our own country.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Singapore continues to be a strategic partner of South Africa as both a maritime and aviation hub in Southeast Asia. South Africa and Singapore are both gateways into their regions and are home to world-renowned ports.  On one hand, South Africa is regarded as the gateway to Southern Africa and arguably to Africa as a whole. It is also a base for operations from which economic connection to the rest of the African continent can be formed and business developed.


Singapore, on the other hand, is considered a gateway to Asia and serves as the regional headquarters for more than four thousand global companies. It is a first choice for many companies and start-ups who want to invest in this region.


The economy of Singapore is highly developed with a well-educated workforce, which makes Singapore a very competitive choice for many companies.


Singapore, like South Africa, is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Commonwealth, and most significantly, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). In the spirit of shared development and prosperity, the two countries have signed numerous agreements to enhance cooperation in areas such as trade, investment, education, and defence.


Singapore is one of South Africa’s largest trading partners in Southeast Asia, with trade between the two countries at approximately R28 billion in 2022. South Africa exports a range of products to Singapore including gold, diamond, and wine, while Singapore exports electronics, chemicals, and machinery to South Africa.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


The growth, development and emancipation of the African Continent from the shackles of poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment remain critical. We believe in the attainment of a better Africa and a better world. We acknowledge that international relations have rapidly changed over time and have altered how international agreements are forged and reconfigured.


In the process of this global re-configuration, it is important to look at countries such as Singapore that have been able to turn the tide and inspire international relations, especially from the perspective of South-South relations.


As one of Asia’s greatest economic success stories, Singapore has undoubtedly surmounted numerous obstacles to development and has emerged as a model of how developing nations can reduce poverty and advance shared prosperity.


In this regard, I wish to applaud the role of Singapore in its commitment to the development of African countries.


This commitment is evidenced through the Singapore Co-operation Programme (SCP), which provides various technical assistance programmes to other developing countries.


We recognise the necessity to continue to forge and strengthen ties through South-South relationships and shape the narrative regarding the role of the developing world and emerging economies toward a new global order.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is important to frame our imagination of the new global order by emphasising that Africa as a continent is brimming with opportunities, and we have what it takes to be great!


Africa is a natural resource-rich continent and has the world’s largest free trade area and a 1.2-billion-person market, the continent has the potential to forge a new development trajectory, harnessing the potential of its resources and people.


This year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the African Union under the theme, “Accelerating the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area to bring greater prosperity to the continent”.


The success of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) hinges on the continent’s ability to improve and invest in its infrastructure in areas such as electricity generation, transportation, as well as freight and logistics distribution.


We are of the firm belief that investing in infrastructure is crucial to unlocking the potential for Africa to experience growth at faster rates but more importantly to ensure inclusive diversification.


As Africa, we are on the right path of development and towards a single African market. As it stands, the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement has effectively created the largest free trade area in the world measured by the number of countries participating. The pact connects 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) valued at US$3.4 trillion. It has the potential to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty and 68 million Africans from moderate poverty.


The creation of the vast African Continental Free Trade Area regional market is a major opportunity to help African countries diversify their exports, accelerate growth, and attract foreign direct investment.


I believe that South Africa presents infinite opportunities, especially from the perspective of expanding investment to Africa, as it is one of the most industrialised economies on the continent. South Africa has a sophisticated banking sector with a major footprint in Africa and is the continent’s financial hub. It is the region’s principal manufacturing hub and a leading services destination, with a highly diversified economic structure in terms of sectoral composition.


It is one of the most open economies in the world with access to numerous global markets.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


As I draw this public lecture to a conclusion, I wish to take this moment to echo the view that both Singapore and South Africa stand on the shoulders of giants such as Lee Kuan Yew and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who throughout their lives embodied ethical leadership and a genuine love for people and social justice.


We have the responsibility therefore to carry their legacy and espouse integrity, compassion, and a recognition of the value of diversity and inclusivity.


As Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once said; “You begin your journey not knowing where it will take you. You have plans, you have dreams, but every now and again you have to take uncharted roads, face impassable mountains, cross treacherous rivers, be blocked by landslides and earthquakes”.


Equally President Nelson Mandela said: “after climbing a great hill one finds that there are many more hills to climb”.


Ladies and Gentlemen, this is essentially the story of both our developmental paths.


In celebrating this centenary of Lee Kuan Yew’s birth may we embrace and internalise the values of ethical leadership and zero tolerance corruption that defined his leadership and that of Mandela.


As Africans, we find inspiration in Singapore’s journey, and we look toward a future where our nations can emulate your success story, fostering prosperity, stability, and unity.


By embracing these values, we can navigate the complexities of governance, inspire citizens, and pave the way for a brighter future. Lee Kuan Yew and Nelson Mandela’s legacies serve as a timeless guide for leaders across the globe, reminding them that visionary leadership, grounded in enduring values, can shape nations and leave an indelible mark on history.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Thank you and may the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew and Nelson Mandela continue to inspire generations to come!


Issued by: The Presidency