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December 7, 2021

South Africa, to celebrate 20 years of Freedom with political and cultural activities throughout the year

Interview with H.E. Thenjiwe Ethel Mtintso, Ambassador of South Africa in Bucharest.

Your Excellency, 2014 is a special year for South Africa. Twenty years of democracy, of Freedom. What can you tell us about this and how is South Africa preparing to celebrate this event?
Firstly, 2014, is   a very important and special year for us because we celebrate twenty years of freedom. It gives us the opportunity to thank the World for the support offered to us as a people, as a nation and as a country to achieve our freedom. It’s an opportunity not only to thank the World but also to commit together with the World community to make sure that no other country and no other people ever go through what we went through. So, we should all work together to build a better world.
Secondly, it is an opportunity for us, as South Africa, to look back at the past 20 years and measure our achievements, failures, lessons and challenges. Having done the review of the past twenty years we can then strategise and plan for the next twenty years especially as we are going to elections on 7th of May 2014.
In 1994 Mandela voted for the first time at the age of 76.  One of the most important and critical achievements is the democracy that ensured the right of each South African citizen irrespective of race, gender, religion, education qualification etc., to vote and be voted into parliament and government.  While this is taken for granted in the whole World in South Africa apartheid denied the black people that fundamental right to vote.

It was only on April 27 1994 after centuries of struggle by the oppressed, were black people able to vote. With that right to vote began the process of restoration of the dignity, integrity and regaining of the identity of black people in South Africa. In these twenty years we have been able to build one South African nation out of the many divided South Africa’s created by apartheid. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission TRC helped us to confront our painful past, apologise to each other for our past heinous actions of the past and begin the healing process. We have built a vibrant, dynamic nation united in its diversity. The nation building agenda is of course not yet complete and we have not yet completely eradicated racism but it is work in progress. We have built a nation that respects human rights and human dignity especially with our values of “Ubuntu”/Humanism… solidarity with the next person, sharing, respect and love for human beings, and their dignity. We have achieved the respect for women and also allowed them to participate in the political processes. We have achieved a lot n that now we have 45% women in parliament rating as number five in the whole World and we have 43% women Ministers including having Ministers of Defence, International Relations and Cooperation, Energy and many others viewed as the monopoly of men. We have achieved a lot in the delivery of services like water, electricity, roads etc. some of the services that are taken for granted in the developed World and yet previously denied to blacks on the basis of their colour. Education is now integrated instead of the previous system that was divided into White, Indian, Coloured and Bantu Education systems. The Bantu education (for Africans) was meant to have them only as perpetual labour force and service to the whites. We have gone a long way in creating a Better life for all in South Africa in the past twenty years. Of course there is still a long way to go and lots of challenges remain. The major challenge is the unemployment, inequality and poverty. All these are the legacies of apartheid.
We are going to celebrate 20 years with political and cultural activities throughout the year.  We are intending to share the good story that South Africa has to tell. Particularly because of our diversity, 11 official languages, diverse cultural groups and dress it is going to be a very colourful and exciting year. It is also an election year during which different political parties as well as the ruling party will bring to the people of South Africa what they have to offer.  Above all the Unity in diversity theme will run throughout our celebrations.
In Romania we shall be holding our National Day celebration at the Hilton on 25th April. We shall also be using events such as the Mandela day, 18 of July, the UN recognized birthday of our late President as a day to celebrate both his life and role in achieving freedom and democracy in our country.
What is the stage of economic relations with Romania? How was last year from the point of view of investments and how do you believe they will evolve in 2014? How do you think they will develop in the next 2-3 years for example?
The economic relations with Romania are very good. South Africa is the 10th largest investor in Romania and at the moment our investment profile between the two countries is EUR 54 million. The challenge is the imbalance with Imports from Romania to South Africa standing at around EUR 30 million but from South Africa to Romania at around EUR 24 million. However, there are many areas that have a potential to improve the trade and investment like in the IT, Agriculture, Tourism, Mining and Energy sectors. The New European Property Investments is the largest South African Company in properties in Romania. URSUS is a subsidiary of South African Breweries, (SAB/Miller) and there are many others. Now we have a group called “Romania – South African Business Association” ROSABA which is embarking on initiatives to increase trade between the two countries. There’s a lot that can still be done in the trade sector. In collaboration with ROSABA we are planning to have business delegations between the two countries to explore possible investment opportunities. We also are planning to have a seminar on “doing business with South Africa”. We are hoping that in 2014 and in the future the investment field with Romania is going to be improved.
Your Excellency, what could you tell us about the political relations?
Political relations between Romania and South Africa have always been good and these date to period before 1994. During the Communism period, we had a very large number of South African students in exile who were members of the now ruling Party, the African National Congress (ANC), who studied in several Romanian Universities.  These relations strengthened with the opening of Embassies in each of the two countries after 1994.   Recently, President Traian Basescu met with our Minister of International Relations and Cooperation in Brussels. They had a lot of discussions including a possible visit by the Romanian President to South Africa later this year. In 2012, Prime Minister Victor Ponta met with our Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in Cape Town where discussions centred on strengthening relations between the two countries. Last Year our Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Hon. Marius Fransman visited Romania and held discussions with various government and business officials. ROSABA was launched during that visit. We are also working on having a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or protocol to elaborate the political relations and provide a framework for relations and a Joint Bilateral Commission. We hope that the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Titus Corlatean will visit South Africa and sign this MOU. We also have agreements and exchanges between Universities such as the University of Bucharest with the University of Pretoria; Cluj Napoca with Stellenbosch and Pretoria etc.
And what official visits have you scheduled for the upcoming period?
I have in plan to visit the entire country. I have already been to Timisoara and Cluj-Napoca. Each time I go to a new city I feel more and more in love with Romania and I find these cities very friendly and warm. I intend going to Constanta, because there is an agreement between the two ports, Constanta and Durban. We are also exploring cultural and youth exchanges in the next four years and that’s why it is important for me to visit all cities. This will allow the Embassy to decide on those that can have twinning agreements as well as youth and cultural exchanges. I am also interested in youth development as the future is for the youth and they have to start building it now. Young people should understand the need for respect of human rights and that can only be through their movement beyond their borders and interaction with others.
What were your thoughts when taking over as Ambassador to Romania?
Because of the beauty and history of Romania I was excited to be appointed. I felt I could contribute to deepening the political and social relations and strengthen trade and investment in the two countries. A few days ago I went to a concert and I am feeling that I am going to enjoy my posting as it will not only be work with no play. But till now I haven’t had the possibility to visit many cities and attend cultural activities but am sure as I settle down  and summer sets in,  I will have opportunity to do so  . One of my preoccupations is developing a better economical relation because it is not as strong as we desire and we can do more.  I also want to bring the bilateral relations to a higher level. This is a challenge because we have a very, very small embassy and financial constraints are quite frustrating. But we have to work with what we have to achieve more.
What were the conclusions of your meeting with former Romanian Premier Emil Boc?
I met the former Prime Minister, Mr. Emil Boc, as a Mayor and not a former Prime Minister. It was a very, very pleasant and politically fulfilling encounter. He was also a very pleasant host. As Cluj-Napoca has been declared the European Youth City in 2015, we have the opportunity of exploring youth exchanges, because in my view that status should benefit not only the Youth in Romania and Europe but the Youth all over the World. It is incumbent on us to teach our youth the values of Ubuntu, which I referred to above, to teach them about human rights and respect for the dignity, identity and integrity of the other.  Young people of today don’t know very well what every country went through and with this occasion young people may exchange experiences about history of their countries, cultures, about friendship and discover commonalities. And if we want to build a better world it is important for our young people to come together, to interact and begin contributing to that Better World. In that regard we can avoid some of the sicknesses of today like, racism, sexism, xenophobia etc. These are sometimes caused by ignorance of each other. And of course sometimes the media acts in negative way as they project some countries and Continent as backward. For instance, the way that Africa is usually negatively projected, creates an anti-African culture of a Continent that is much despised and undermined. We also discussed at length possibilities of twinning arrangements with some cities in South Africa as well as increasing the university exchanges
What can you tell us about the number of Romanian tourists to South Africa last year? And what is the outlook for 2014 in this sense?
Tourism to South Africa is a little bit difficult, especially for central and Eastern Europe countries because of the distance. Secondly, we do not a have direct flights and travelling to South Africa is both cumbersome and expensive. It also looks like Romanians prefer either travelling inside Europe or to the North of Africa. Be that as it may last year we had about 2292 Romanian visitors to South Africa. This year we hope to have a higher number as there are many interesting events in celebrating of the twenty years of freedom.  South Africa is a very beautiful vibrant, dynamic and colourful country. It offers very different scenarios because of its diversity and the differences in its nine Provinces. Also because of its well-oiled travelling infrastructure such as flights to different countries and good roads one can hop from South Africa to several countries in the Continent as well as to different provinces.

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