The French ambassador celebrated French National Day and the 224th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille during a ceremony at the French residence in Pretoria on Friday.
Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Public Service and Administration and former defence minister, was the guest speaker at the ceremony. She said that the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, was a big day in the evolution of democracy and freedom, a day which resonates with democracies all over the world. She said that as South Africa is still a young democracy, it is drawing lessons from France.
“We started our long walk to freedom on a day like this 50 years ago,” Sisulu said, in reference to the 50th anniversary of the raid on Liliesleaf Farm on July 11 that led to the Rivonia Trial and the incarceration of Nelson Mandela.
During her speech, Sisulu highlighted the economic, political and cultural ties between South Africa and France and noted that bilateral relations will receive a major boost with a state visit later this year.
Sisulu urged greater defence and security cooperation between South Africa and France, especially given France’s commitment to peace and stability on the continent. France’s intervention in Mali this year is an indication of its commitment to African peace and stability – on Sunday troops from 13 African countries that fought Islamists in Mali took part in the Bastille Day parade in Paris to mark their role in the conflict.
French Ambassador Elisabeth Barbier pointed out the numerous French contributions to South Africa – 1% of South Africa’s GDP comes from French investment and France has some 300 companies in South Africa employing around 25 000 South Africans.
Barbier said that South Africa is a driving force in Africa and that France is eager to support growth and development in the country.
During the ceremony the ambassador honoured South African artist William Kentridge with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters), established by the French culture ministry in recognition of contributions to the arts and literature.
Barbier highlighted the artistic and cultural ties of South Africa and France, pointing out that 100 French events took place in South Africa between June and November. Now it is South Africa’s turn to showcase local arts, culture and tourism, with 150 South African events planned in France for the South African season, which kicked off last month.
Pic: French Ambassador Barbier (l) and Sisulu (r).