President Cyril Ramaphosa says South Africa and Belgium’s respective histories, which share some similarities, should form a basis for greater dialogue between the two countries.
Delivering his opening remarks during official talks at the Union Buildings in Tshwane, President Ramaphosa said that the two countries have a lot to learn from each other.
President Ramaphosa is hosting Their Majesties King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of the Belgians on a State Visit.
“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,” the President said.
President Ramaphosa told his Belgian counterpart that he remains most encouraged by his interest in developments in South Africa, and by their common desire to deepen relations between Belgium and South Africa.
He reflected on how South Africa was deeply moved by King Philippe’s first Christmas address in 2013, where he paid tribute to the father of South Africa’s democracy, President Nelson Mandela.
“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,” he said.
The President expressed his 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.
The President highlighted that today Belgium is a partner 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 President said.
President Ramaphosa said South Africa was encouraged by the growth of trade and investment between the two countries, and that their respective tourism links are also developing.
There has also been good cooperation between the two countries when they were both members of international bodies such as the United Nations Security Council, and currently, on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
President Ramaphosa emphasised that he believes that much more can be done for the two countries’ bilateral relations to grow and expand.
President Ramaphosa also touched on the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine saying it is of grave concern to everyone.
“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,” he said.
The President told his counterpart that it is also important to consider the impact of the conflict on the international economy, especially with regards to global food and energy security.
Source: South African Government News Agency