Remarks for South Africa’s National Day Ceremony


Heather Higginbottom

Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC

May 15, 2014

Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the people of the United States, I extend heartfelt congratulations to you and all the citizens of the Republic of South Africa as you celebrate your National Day, your Freedom Day.

I appreciate the gracious invitation to be your Guest of Honor and thank you for welcoming me to your newly-renovated chancery.

My last visit here was in December. That visit was for a somber occasion – to sign the condolence book for South Africa’s beloved son, former President Nelson Mandela.

In fact, that was my first official act as Deputy Secretary of State and it was an honor to be able to pay my respects to such an extraordinary man with such a remarkable legacy. He was a leader, an inspiration, and the father of a great nation.

Madiba’s spirit lives on in the people of South Africa, who once again reminded the world of their commitment to democracy during last week’s elections. This was the fifth time the people of the Rainbow Nation have elected their leaders since the end of apartheid.

As we celebrate with you today, we are reminded of that historic election in 1994, one filled with tremendous hope, goodwill, and the promise of a better future. We reflect on South Africa’s tremendous transformation over the last 20 years – a transformation that is a testament to the power of reconciliation and of determination.

During a Freedom Day celebration in 1996, perhaps in a setting not unlike this one, President Mandela said: “A bright future beckons. The onus is on us, through hard work, honesty, and integrity to reach for the stars.”

It is with an eye to that future – a shared, bright future – that we work together as Americans and South Africans to strengthen the relationship between our governments and between our people. It is a relationship built on the shared values of democracy, justice, equality, and the fundamental rights of all people.

Our partnership is mature, broad, and strong. We share goals of expanding economic prosperity, enhancing peace and security, and strengthening democracy and opportunities for all.

South Africa continues to play a pivotal role in achieving and maintaining peace, stability, and security across Africa and beyond.

Recognizing the strength and the potential of our partnership, in 2010, the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue was launched. This dialogue is a signature element of our bilateral relationship and reflects the importance and depth of our cooperation in health, trade and investment, law enforcement, climate change, energy, and nuclear nonproliferation. The last Strategic Dialogue in Pretoria in August 2012 was tremendously productive and Secretary Kerry looks forward to continuing the conversation in Washington, DC later this year.

I am especially proud of our close and collaborative work on health issues, including under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR. Through this partnership, we have invested more than $4.2 billion in South Africa’s HIV and TB response. This investment has allowed us to provide life-saving prevention and treatment services to millions of men, women, and children.

Of course, the success of the program ultimately lies in its sustainability. Already, South Africa has done important work to develop robust, sustainable health systems, and, through the new Country Health Partnership launched by Secretary Kerry last year, we will continue to support these efforts. By 2017, South Africa will be the first country in Africa to fully manage its care and treatment program under PEPFAR – a tremendous achievement.

We are also committed to strengthening the ties between our people, especially young people. We are thrilled that we will welcome young leaders from South Africa to Washington to meet President Obama this summer through the Young African Leaders Initiative. These leaders represent not just the future of South Africa, but also the future of the political, cultural, and economic ties between the U.S. and South Africa.

Our countries already enjoy a robust economic relationship, with billions of dollars in trade. More than 600 American companies operate in South Africa, employing thousands of people. But we all understand that we are just scratching the surface here: We must work to break down barriers to trade and investment, for the benefit of both of our nations. We can and will create more investment and more jobs in both of our countries. We owe that to our citizens.

Finally, this August we will hold the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first of its kind in the United States. The Summit is intended to not only spark new ideas and deliver results, but will also allow for a candid, open discussion between President Obama and his African counterparts. Leaders will discuss efforts to advance economic growth, trade, and investment; good governance and strong democratic institutions; inclusive development; youth engagement; and peace and security. These are big topics – and there are big challenges, but also valuable opportunities, and we look forward to working with South Africa to drive an agenda of forming productive partnerships. This Summit will be an historic event for Africa and for the United States.

Nelson Mandela said it best: a bright future beckons. It beckons for both of our nations. We are democracies, we are free, and we are partners. Together, we can deepen the U.S.-South Africa partnership and bring all of our people a little closer to the bright future he envisioned, one where prosperity and opportunity abound.

Mr. Ambassador, it is my great pleasure to convey Secretary Kerry’s congratulations to you on your celebration of Freedom Day.

Thank you very much for your invitation and allowing me to celebrate this very special day with you.