Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Marius Fransman hosted his Panama counterpart, the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Francisco Alvarez de Soto in Cape Town on 19 April 2012.
Relations between South Africa and Panama were given a boost with the signing of an agreement between the Ministers.
The agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding between the two Deputy Ministers, regulates co-operation between the two countries’ diplomatic academies and focuses on language training between the two countries – in English and Spanish.
Also discussed was the introduction of flights to Panama City – a regional air hub, the waiver of visa requirements between the two countries, co-operation in combating drugs and promoting sports and arts and cultural linkages.
Fransman said Panama was strategically placed as it had the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most important canals. About four to six percent of world trade passes through the canal, but after the completion of current renovations the canal is expected to account for between 12% and 14% of world trade by 2014.
Added to this, Panama is one of Latin America’s fastest growing countries and it has one of the largest free trade zones in the world with about $25 billion (R195 billion) of imports – mostly from Asia – being channelled into the country and into the region every year.
De Soto commended South Africa for having provided a model for the rest of the world on reconciliation and said Madiba had left an historical legacy to the world for fighting for equality and democratic rights.
Trade between the two countries is skewed in favour of South Africa, with exports to Panama in 2011 of R162 million – down from R480 million in 2010, while imports from Panama totalled just R1.5 million in 2010 and R3.4 million in 2011.
During the visit Deputy Minister Alvarez de Soto awarded the Order of Vasco de Balboa, under the Great Cross Degree from Panama to Deputy Minister Fransman and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. In accepting the award Archbishop Tutu paid tribute to the thousands of people who had fought for a better South Africa saying "What is a leader without followers."
Remarks by Deputy Minister Marius Fransman on the occasion of receiving the Order of Vasco Nunes de Balboa, under the Great Cross Degree
Cape Town, 19 April 2012
His Excellency, Deputy Minister Alvarez de Soto,
Ambassador Chiari and delegation,
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Government and the people of South Africa, I would like to accept this Award with much humility.
I am extremely humbled to have been nominated for an award of such a high standing, which I am told is one of the highest a foreign citizen can receive from the Republic of Panama.
This Award has been bestowed on leaders of much greater stature, standing and statesmanship such as President Nelson Mandela, President Jimmy Carter amongst others, and today Archbishop Tutu.
Therefore, this Award is not so much in recognition of my own humble contribution in the field of international diplomacy, and human solidarity but a recognition of the struggles of the people of South Africa, Africa and millions across the world that have contributed towards a better, safer and more equitable world.
The free and democratic State that we created in 1994 after the demise of the Apartheid regime, is a product of the struggles of the South African people, African people and millions of anti apartheid activists across the world i.e. a product of international solidarity as well.
I therefore want to dedicate this award to the generations that have fought against Colonialism and Apartheid. It was these generations many of whom who were not lucky enough to experience the dawn of democracy and the fruits of these sacrifices. Leaders such OR Tambo, Chris Hani,Ashley Kriel, Anton Fransch,Soloman Mahlangu, Steve Biko,Ahmed Timol, and Imam Haroun, to mention but few.
It was because of there spirit of self sacrifice that today we can proudly place South Africa amongst the international community not as a pariah but as a shining example of a country where we can help to make this world a more equal and a more better place. One based upon the principles of equality, non racialism, non sexism, human solidarity and social justice.
As I receive this reward I do so humbly in the hope that we can continue with the legacy of these leaders and in particular Cde Chris Hani who was brutally gunned down and assasinated by the Apartheid regime during our negotiation period by the right wing in the hope that it would have derailed the negotiation process.
Ironically the result of this tragedy had the exact opposite effect in that it sped up the fall of Apartheid and the dawn of our democracy.
Today as I receive this award I am reminded of what Cde Chris said i.e. "Our struggle does not end when we become a democracy and bring down Apartheid. Our struggle for transformation will be about changing the power relations" in order to build a just, non racial non sexist and equitable society.
Within this context I hope that our two countries will now strengthen our relations at a political,social,cultural and economic relations that seeks to benefit our two countries where it matters most, the poorest of the poor- using international economic diplomacy to change the power relations of our people.
This is the least we can do to honour the memory of Comrade Chris as in the words of President Nelson Mandela at the funeral of Comrade Chris where he said "We all owe you a debt that can only be repaid through the achievement of the liberation of our people, which was the passion of your life".
Finally,this Award comes in a year when we are celebrating the centenary of the African National Congress, which is the oldest liberation movement in Africa. It is this movement that has from it outset in 1912 laid the foundations for our international diplomacy as a tool and pillar to build a better South Africa, Africa and World. These principles are what still guides our foreign policy as we balance our foreign policy of principled political diplomacy based upon international human rights and international human solidarity with the principles of economic diplomacy where all people and most importantly the poorest of the poor can begin to benefit from international diplomacy,as well as bilateral and multi ateral relations. In this regard, this award is a tribute to the culture and tradition of international diplomacy developed by this movement.
In conclusion, Your Excellency, Deputy Minister Alvarez de Soto, please convey my gratitude as well as the gratitude of our President, the South African Government and the people of South Africa to President Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, as well as to the Government and people of Panama.
Finally I want to extend my gratitude to the organizers of today's event, the Panama Embassy and His Excellency Mr Ricardo Chiari, Ambassador of the Republic of Panama to South Africa, in particular.