Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
Esteemed Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Religious and Traditional Leaders,
Leaders of the business community,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is always a privilege to attend these awards, which celebrate the men and women who play such a pivotal role in promoting the interests of our country beyond our shores.
These awards are taking place in the year that South Africa assumes the chairship of the African Union.
This is the second time that we are chairing the African Union.
We first held the position in 2002, when the African Union was launched on South African soil and President Thabo Mbeki was elected as chair.
Our team returned from Addis Ababa earlier this week where we formally accepted the chairship at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
This in indeed an immense honour that has been bestowed on our country.
As before, we are guided in this work by the rallying cry of the Freedom Charter, which says: Let there be peace and friendship.
Chairing the African Union is a great responsibility, and one we intend to execute with diligence and commitment over the coming year.
Supporting our diplomatic machinery will be the men and women gathered here this evening.
It is you who are out there in the capitals of the world, from Helsinki to Washington, from Beijing to Perth, from Ougadougou to Harare, working tirelessly to promote the interests of South Africa and to foster peace and friendship.
Whether it is in business, in sport or in arts and culture, your efforts continue to strengthen our country’s position by acting as global ambassadors and keeping our flag flying high.
You have assumed the task of elevating Brand South Africa in the community of nations.
For we know indeed that South Africa’s exports go beyond goods and services.
We are also rich in the arts, in culture, in sport, in science and in ideas.
During our term as AU chair, we are committed to strengthening the AU and other continental institutions, such as the Pan African Parliament and the African Peer Review Mechanism.
We are going to work with the structures of the AU to deepen the unity of our continent, and to advance inclusive growth and sustainable development.
This we aim to achieve through supporting integration, industrialisation, economic development, trade and investment.
This will become particularly significant when the African Continental Free Trade Area becomes operational later this year.
The AfCFTA will be an important step towards rebalancing global trade relations and levelling the playing field for African businesses.
Through the Continental Free Trade Area, we want to reignite industrialisation, boost intra-African trade and benefit from the largest common market in the world.
Our emissaries for economic diplomacy, many of whom are here this evening, will play an increasingly prominent role.
We will work to strengthen good governance in Africa.
We will work to advance women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion, and intensify the continental struggle to end violence against women and children.
Through the AU Peace and Security Council, the AU Commission and the collective membership, we will focus our efforts on conflict resolution across the African continent.
We will continue to advocate for a fairer, more just, more prosperous and stable world.
We remain firm in our commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict and a multilateral approach to world affairs.
As a global community we confront common challenges – climate change, migration, disease, human trafficking, terrorism and hunger – and we should work to address these problems together.
No country can hope to achieve lasting peace and prosperity for as long as there are other countries mired in poverty, conflict and chaos.
We need to work together to strengthen a rules-based, multilateral approach to global governance, trade, conflict resolution, peacekeeping and all other areas of international relations.
This is the agenda that South Africa will continue to pursue through all international fora in which it participates, from the United Nations to the African Union, and from the G20 to BRICS.
What we are doing here this evening – celebrating excellence in diplomacy – aligns with our broader efforts to achieve these objectives, because conflict occurs only when diplomacy has collapsed.
The various categories of these prestigious awards are indicative of the fact that successful diplomacy is an integrated effort, and one that draws together different activities, qualities and capabilities.
These awards illustrate that being an ambassador for South Africa is not the preserve of any particular group.
It is for the young as much as it for the older, for the musician as much as it for the politician, for the sports players as much as the business person.
I want to congratulate all the winners and the nominees this evening.
The very fact that you have been nominated is a mark of the esteem with which you are held by your peers, and that your country has seen fit to recognise you and honour you.
You have done your country proud.
It is my hope that this will encourage you to fly the South African flag even higher in your various fields of excellence.
Through the efforts of patriotic South Africans such as yourselves, we are getting closer to the better world envisioned by President Nelson Mandela and his heroic generation of freedom fighters.
They envisioned a world at peace with itself, a world that places a high premium on human dignity, and a world that nurtures its young and cares for its elderly.
Your example must serve to encourage others to become part of the forces driving positive change and progress.
We all want to see a more humane and kinder world for ourselves and our children.
A world in which those who have the means are able to do good for the benefit of others expecting no reward other than the knowledge that one has made the life of another just a little bit better.
To paraphrase what Bantu Steve Biko once wrote:
“We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and our brotherhood. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon Africa and the world the greatest gift possible – a more human face.”
Working together, I have no doubt that we will succeed to build a better Africa and a better world.
As members of progressive humanity – driven by the spirit of Ubuntu – let us continue with our noble effort.
Let us spread peace and friendship.
Let us strengthen the bonds of commerce and trade.
Let us give the world a more human face.
I thank you.