Prime Minister Prodi;Your Excellencies;Ladies and Gentlemen,
I should like to thank you for this wonderful evening. For me personally and for my fellow South Africans it has been a great joy to be in your company with so many friends. This splendid setting and the ancient traditions of your city that we witnessed today make this a truly unforgettable occasion.
We know that the challenges facing South Africa today are in many ways like those that faced Italy after the Second World War. In 1995 we celebrated with you the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Sole and the liberation of Marzobutto and Bologna.
At that time, we were still in the first dawn of our freedom, but already tackling the gigantic task of reconstructing our country from the ashes of apartheid.
In as much as we benefited immensely from the support of the Italian people in our struggle for freedom and in our political transition, we are keen to draw on your experience in reconstruction and development.
It is therefore only natural that democratic South Africa should place such a high priority on developing all-round links with Italy. We appreciate Italy's contribution to the consolidation of our democracy. Your initiatives in health, education, housing, communications and the promotion of small business are a significant boost to our efforts to build a better life for all our people.
Although economic links have grown at a remarkable pace in the short time since we achieved democracy, we have barely begun to exploit the full potential for trade and investment between our two countries.
We are confident that our sound economic policies, coupled with far-reaching programmes of reconstruction and growing regional integration, create the basis for an economic and development relationship that brings substantial benefits to both our countries.
That this judgement is shared by Italian business is reflected, we believe, in the conference on industrial co-operation that the Confederation of Italian Industries hosted in Johannesburg two years ago and by the investment decisions of major Italian enterprises, most recently that of Aeroporti di Roma.
However, South Africa can enjoy sustained growth and development only if Southern Africa does so as a whole, and integrated regional development is of critical importance. We are therefore strongly committed to working with the Italian Government to promote development in Southern Africa.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Our visit, brief as it has had to be, will strengthen a valuable relationship that will guide us into the 21st century, as partners for peace and prosperity In all the meetings and encounters that we had today, we have been left in no doubt that in the government and the people of Italy we have true friends indeed.
I ask you now to rise, and raise your glasses in a toast to Prime Minister Prodi and to the people of Italy, and at the same time to toast continuing good relations between our countries.
Issued by: Office of the President