South Africa's freedom and its relationship with Jamaica


Saturday, September 13, 2014

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(This is a lightly edited speech by South Africa's High Commissioner to Jamaica, Mathu Theda Joyini to mark 20 years since that country became a democratic and free nation. It is also 20 years since Jamaica and South Africa formalised diplomatic ties. The high commissioner was speaking at a function last Wednesday at her residence in St Andrew.)

On behalf of the Government and people of the Republic of South Africa, please allow me to welcome you to our 20 Years of Freedom and Democracy celebrations.

Just over three months ago, you were here with us to mark the Freedom Day of South Africa. We are humbled that you could join us once again on this special occasion.

Today is about marking and honouring South Africa's achievements in the past 20 years. Today is also about marking the 20 years of diplomatic relations between South Africa and Jamaica. As we do that, the South African Government recognises the important role that Jamaica played in securing the freedom of our country.

Therefore, today is also about paying tribute to sons and daughters of this beautiful island for their role in the liberation struggle.

A mere 20 years ago, South Africa was a completely different place. It was a country where the majority of its citizens had never been given the opportunity to enjoy the most basic of human rights; a land in which the colour of your skin either ensured you a life of privilege or one of despair; where your gender predetermined your fate; where a child born with hair too kinky, a nose too broad or skin too dark could not, would not, be considered anything other than a second-class citizen in their country of birth.

This South Africa, this country of hope and despair, has been completely transformed in the past 20 years. This transformation is palpable. You can see it in the long snaking queues on election day. You can see it in the multitudes of schoolchildren of all races and hues, who happily walk together arm in arm on their way to school. This freedom can be seen in the townships of South Africa that now boast electricity, water, sanitation, clinics, and schools, where previously all they could boast was a spirit of freedom and a fierce determination to rid themselves of apartheid.

I could bombard you with facts and figures that demonstrate how far we have come, but as I mentioned during our Freedom Day celebration, on this very podium, that all South Africans from different quarters agree that, yes, we have a good story to tell, that we have made significant strides and that SA is a better place today. But we are the first to acknowledge that we have so much more to do to address the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Our work is far from over and our journey continues. We are a country in development.

As South Africans we realise that our hard won freedom is not ours alone. We share it with the peoples of countries across the globe who fought alongside us, and many represented here tonight. The people of Jamaica are no small exception. You struggled and fought side by side with South Africans during our long and arduous road to freedom.

Long before the inception of your own democracy and independence, you raised your voices in opposition to the tyranny that our country was forced to endure. You stood firm where others crumbled. You rallied, sang, prayed and fought for our freedom. Nelson Mandela became your father, brother and icon in much the same way that Marcus Garvey, Norman Manley, Michael Manley, PJ Patterson, Edward Seaga became our own. So this year we celebrate far more than just 20 years of freedom with the people of Jamaica. We celebrate generations of support, brotherhood, sisterhood and solidarity with you. I therefore would like to recognise and pay a special tribute to the Jamaican activists, many are here tonight and Prof Rupert Lewis; thank you for helping us reach out to them.

Today is the 10th of September. Exactly 20 years ago, our two beautiful countries established diplomatic relations. We are therefore happy that on this day in 2014, we could celebrate the 20 years of diplomatic relations.

In the next three days we will be celebrating this partnership through music and song. Tomorrow, we will be doing a musical workshop at the Edna Marley School of Performing Arts. On Friday, we will be hosting a free concert at Emancipation Park with HHP. He is a well-loved SA artiste who has won a host of awards, national and international including a prestigious South African Music Award, and an MTV Award. He will be joined in song by our dear brother and friend Tony Rebel, our dear sister Queen Ifrica and Jah Bouks.

Dear guests, as with Jamaica, music served as a weapon to liberate. Music has indeed been a source of inspiration for all of us in the darkest of times. The melodic sounds of stalwarts such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Ladysmith Black Mamabzo, and many more alerted the world to our struggle. These men and women sang of the hardships that were endured by the average South African. They rallied people to fight for their freedom. But these were not the only voices of struggle. Alongside our own, were your very own Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, Carlene Davis, Mikey Bennett, Bunny Wailer, Brigadier Jerry, and many others. Their songs of freedom unlocked the desire for the people of South Africa to be free. Indeed, they sang of freedom, of oppression, injustice and pain. They sang a song to our hearts -- when it was tough, they gave us hope.

In closing, I would like to once again thank you for your support in the past 20 years, before and beyond. We believe that South Africa indeed has a good story to tell. And it is with humility and gratitude that I can today say with pride that due to the support of your great country we do not...nor we hope we will ever...walk alone.

I thank you, kea leboga.

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