However, it was not just the prospect of escaping those winters that caused me such excitement when I learnt my next assignment was to be Sao Paulo.
What got my adrenalin going was the prospect of playing a part, however small, in the building of a historic relationship.
What Brazil and South Africa and our other partners in the so-called south do together in the years and decades ahead will, I am confident, mean better lives for untold millions of our people.
Together, we are striving for a system of global governance which is more democratic and which more accurately reflects the world as it is, rather than as it was half a century ago.
Together, we are working to achieve a new set of international trade rules that will empower the hitherto disempowered to lift themselves out of poverty, for the betterment of all.
Our countries share many daunting challenges, but we also share a capacity to innovate and find solutions..
For example, who could fail to be profoundly impressed by Brazil’s achievements in the fields of alternative energy or combating HIV?
South Africans, too, are ingenious people. A third of our petroleum needs we furnish from coal. With the pebble bed modular reactor we are on the threshold of revolutionizing the economics of nuclear power. In Paris this week we are showing off what could well be the world’s first truly affordable electric car. .
Technological problems are not the only things we are good at. We have successfully confronted political and social problems that have left less fortunate societies in ashes.
Many have called the way we brought down the curtain on apartheid a miracle or they have attributed it to the greatness of one undoubtedly great man, Nelson Mandela.
But our democratic transition was neither miracle nor the work of any individual. It was a testament, like Mandela himself, to the content of our people’s character. .
Yes, we have a serious crime problem in South Africa. Paulistanos would be the first to admit that theirs is not the safest community in the world, either. We share with you the reality of being rapidly urbanizing economies characterized, as such economies always are, by major disparities in wealth. These are harsh realities that breed crime.
But the criminals are not representative of who we are, Brazilian or South African. The fundamental spirit of South Africa is captured in the word ubuntu. It is a difficult world to translate but is closely akin to the quality the Roman philosopher Seneca called humanitas or humanity.
This he defined as ”the quality which stops one being arrogant towards one’s fellows, or being acrimonious. In words, in actions, in emotions humanity reveals herself as kind and good natured towards all. To her the troubles of anyone else are her own, and anything that benefits herself she welcomes primarily because it will be of benefit to someone else.”
Like every young democracy, we have our good days and our bad days, but the good preponderate and sometimes observers mistake for bad days that are in fact very good.
Some have been alarmed by our recent change of leadership. But I would urge you to consider this. Our ruling party’s decision to recall President Mbeki was no different that the British Labour party’s decision to replace Tony Blair while in office or the Conservative party’s to replace Margaret Thatcher. Nobody for a moment thought that Britain’s democracy or its institutions were under threat at those junctures. No one should think that about South Africa, either.
Our democracy and our institutions – our judiciary, our robust free press, our financial system — all are solid, rooted in what I believe is one of the most stable societies anywhere. One of our newspaper columnists last week compared South Africa with a pond when you throw a stone into it. There is a splash and there are ripples, but calm always returns. South Africa, he wrote, was not a piece of glass that shatters.
We are also a very practical, results-oriented people. You can see that in our economic policies and you can see it in our diplomacy. I very much hope my own tenure here in Sao Paulo will serve to further illustrate this. I am looking forward to reaching out and far and wide as I possibly can in this great region and working to build partnerships that will make a real difference in people’s lives.
Thank you for your warm and generous welcome.