Address by Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, at the US Embassy lunch-time reception in Bishopscourt, Cape Town
3 Jul 2012
Your Excellency, the Ambassador of the United States of America, Donald Gips
Your Excellencies: Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Consul General Erika Barks-Ruggles
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps
Ladies and gentlemen
Your Excellency, Ambassador Gips, thank you for inviting me to join you at this celebration on the eve of the 236th Independence Day of the United States of America. It is truly an honour for me to address you on such an important occasion.
The word “independence” conjures up images of courage, commitment, and perseverance. These are attributes displayed by a nation that has had to sacrifice and endure a great deal in order to move from dependence on another nation to self-determination. “Independence” implies liberty, freedom and equality, all of which are the rights deservedly enjoyed by a nation that has striven for, and achieved, autonomy.
The Philadelphia Convention ultimately resulted in a Constitution that has served the people of the United States for over two centuries. Although our own South African Constitution is a junior one by comparison, we already guard it as jealously as if we've had it for centuries.
Our respective Constitutions, the one an old wise man on the mountain, the other a sometimes precocious new kid on the block, infused with youthful idealism and vigor, both guide and protect us, both set frameworks and parameters, both empower and safeguard us.
Many events in our respective histories have had a profound impact on how we live today. But one event that occurred in Boston 236 years ago I think deserves special mention. With only two accomplices and a borrowed horse, Paul Revere galloped through the streets of Boston, warning the residents of an imminent night-time invasion by British troops. His brave actions irrevocably altered the course of history, and the American independence we are celebrating here today, is a consequence of this bravery, which emboldened thousands of others to stand up for their freedom and independence and to declare, as Patrick Henry so famously first did in March of 1 775 in Richmond, Virginia, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
The founding fathers of the United States of America were valiant enough to rise against seemingly insurmountable odds, and declare themselves free of colonial rule. The struggle waged by these courageous lion-hearts ultimately led to the freedom American citizens enjoy to this day
Today, 236 years later, we should remain inspired by these acts of courage, and pursue the vision of a world in which all countries are independent, and where all people are free of the burdens of poverty, hunger, illiteracy and all forms of oppression. Today, as we rightfully celebrate independence, we should at the same time consider our interdependence, and think of ourselves as part of a common humanity, and be bold enough to assume collective responsibility for the future of the planet on which we all live.
To quote Barney Mthombothi, in a recent Financial Mail editorial note: "It's a simple, yet daunting challenge - how democracies can get their people to look beyond, or even sacrifice, their self-interest for a greater good."
On the 26th of July 1 775, a man by the name of Benjamin Franklin opened a post office at what is now 316 Market Street, in Philadelphia. At the time, the newly opened post office didn't fly an American flag, because America wasn't yet a country. Fast forward to today, and whilst there is still a need for post offices, faster and cheaper ways of getting messages to one another are being invented almost by the day. Also about 236 years ago, the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta invented the first electric battery. Fast forward again, and both constitutional democracies and electricity are part of our everyday lives, certainly in our two countries.
History is, of course, not just about dates, events and consequences –it’s also about one’s identity and one’s sense of belonging. While we familiarise ourselves with history by looking backwards in time, knowing the outcomes, it is our human nature to constantly look forward, unsure of what lies ahead, but ready to confront the uncertainties and unpredictable events, but at the same time shaping the outcomes that still have to unfold.
Ladies and gentlemen, our two countries are partners in many areas. Trade and investment between South Africa and the US have continued to grow despite the global economic slowdown. US companies operating in South Africa continue to offer employment to thousands of people who otherwise swell the ranks of the unemployed. As Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, I can tell you that the bilateral science and technology agreement between South Africa and the United States was signed on 5 December 1995, not long after the arrival of democracy in our country. The agreement provides for cooperation in energy, agriculture, the environment, health and mathematics and science education.
In September last year, Minister Naledi Pandor led an astronomy delegation to the United States. Accompanied by South Africa’s Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, and the Director General Dr Phil Mjwara, Minister Pandor met with Dr Robert Hormats, the US Under-Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs, in an attempt to revive bilateral discussions and to highlight the growing partnerships between researchers, institutions and private sector companies in both of our countries. Needless to say, Dr Hormats was very keen to assist. During this visit, Dr Mjwara also held a meeting at the US Congress with Ms Leslee Gilbert, Chief of Staff of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Now, with South Africa recently having won the right to host the Square Kilometer Array, the largest radio telescope in the world, there are even more encouraging signs of growing interest between South Africa and the United States of America to work together in astronomy sciences. I myself could sense this new-found enthusiasm just a fortnight ago, when I had the privilege of visiting the Smithsonian Museum’s African Cosmos Art Exhibition, which focused on the links between African art, science and astronomy.
Our various astronomy initiatives and this extraordinary Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project have created a perfect platform for us to strengthen institutional linkages and joint research efforts between our two countries, and we have exciting partnerships to look forward to.
To conclude, Ambassador, on behalf of the South African government, I would like to once again affirm the strong bonds of friendship and solidarity that exists between our two countries and our people.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
3 Jul 2012
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