All-Round Collaboration

A representative delegation of parliamentarians of South Africa led by the speaker of the South African National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, paid a visit to Belarus, the first official visit of this level. President Alexander Lukashenko met with the speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa
The historians that will study the progress of relations between Belarus and South Africa will certainly call 2006 the “crucial point”. In August Belarus’ Foreign Minister Sergey Martynov paid an official visit to Pretoria, and in September the bilateral relations reached the top level: President Lukashenko negotiated with his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki during the Havana summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. After he returned from Cuba, the president said a new foreign political arc was being developed by Cuba, Venezuela, South Africa, Iran, Malaysia and many other countries of the world. The distance between these countries cannot diminish the immense potential for cooperation. The important task for the near future is to implement the agreements reached at the summit.

According to Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’ foreign policies are gaining new elements, one of them being cooperation with South Africa. “Actually, we are developing a new foreign policy,” the press service of the head of state quoted the president as saying.

The president noted that the meeting with President Thabo Mbeki in Havana contributed to the general atmosphere of confidence between the two nations.

Belarus and South Africa share the same approaches to modern problems. Economic cooperation should become the basis for intensification of bilateral relations.

Baleka Mbete appreciated the results of the talks in Minsk. The most promising sectors for cooperation are agribusiness, science and education, she said, adding that the key segment was the development of information technologies.

Baleka Mbete started as a school teacher, and took up politics after she emigrated. She could be called an expert on Belarus: five years ago the then vice-speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa met with the speaker of the lower chamber of parliament, the House of Representatives, Vadim Popov, at the 105th Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, or the IPA. This year she met with Foreign Minister Sergey Martynov, and seemed very eager to meet with Vladimir Konoplyov, the speaker of the lower house of Belarus’ parliament. Although she had to wrap up in her warm coat, the South African speaker liked Belarus a lot. Baleka Mbete told President Alexander Lukashenko she was especially impressed by the culture of this country.

I spoke to Baleka Mbete about the prospects of Belarus’ participation in the Non-Aligned Movement after her meeting with the president.

The speaker said “Belarus and South Africa share common approaches to world problems and the way the world order should be, so the ultimate goal of our cooperation is to implement our visions. A more intensive dialogue between the two parliaments is vital.” As for the initiative of President Alexander Lukashenko to enhance the economic component of the Non-Aligned Movement, she believes the governments should play the main role here, but parliaments can also do a lot. “We represent the interests of ordinary people of our countries. If we are speaking about economics, the struggle against poverty should be the top priority.”

In the near future the presidents of Belarus and South Africa plan to exchange visits. Alexander Lukashenko said Belarus was ready to cooperate with South Africa in all areas, so the program of the visit is being prepared very thoroughly.

Irina Trofilova
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