On the 27th April 2019 when South Africa was celebrating Freedom Day, it was voting day for South Africans living abroad. This coincided with the silver Jubilee commemoration of the first democratic elections in 1994.
In honouring 25 years of South Africa’s independence, His Excellency George Johannes, South African Ambassador to the Holy See, organised a special evening on the 22nd May, on the same day as the first sitting of the 6th democratic parliament in Cape Town. It was the first public event organised by South African envoy to the Holy See. Joined in the celebration were two prelates from South Africa, Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town and Bishop Duncan Tsoke, the Auxiliary Bishop of Johannesburg, who were in Rome for meetings.
During his speech Mr Johannes spoke about the unforgettable year of 1994, when South Africans stood in long queues to vote for their very first democratic government. He said the event was also organized to celebrate another important milestone, 25 years of diplomatic relations between the government of South Africa and the Holy See.
The diplomatic relations between South Africa and the Holy See began on the 15thJune1994, when the then Pope John Paul II and President Nelson Mandela signed the diplomatic protocol to establish formal diplomatic relations between the two. Previously the Holy See had no relations with apartheid regime. It always supported the struggle for freedom in South Africa.
“South Africa’s decision to have a permanent embassy to the Holy See is a reflection of our goRomevernment commitment to consolidate and elevate our relations with the Holy See into a powerful and strategic partnership”, said the ambassador. He further noted that the embassy is working towards deepening cooperation in all spheres with Holy See institutions; among the few focusing on the fight against HIV/Aids, poverty eradication and peace mediation.
Giving attention to the care of the environment the Ambassador said, “The encyclical Laudato Si resonates powerfully with the government’s social and people centred policies and outlook. And we fully support Pope Francis’ call to build bridges and assist our human family wherever we can”. The aim, he added, “is to build respect for each other, to respect and promote our common integral humanity and to make a lasting contribution to the human family.”
Ambassador Johannes also confirmed the South African government’s commitment to fight abuse against women and children, and an effort to take care of the poor and elderly. Talking about peace in the world, Mr Johannes appealed to other countries to abandon their nuclear and chemical weapons to follow the example of decision made by South Africa in 1995.
Mr Johannes ended his speech by proposing a toast to Pope Francis and President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Before Holy See, from 2009 – 2015, Mr Johannes was the ambassador of South Africa to Switzerland. As part of preparations to establish permanent diplomatic relations between the two, Mr Johannes presented his documents of accreditation to Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. He arrived in Rome in May 2017 and on the 3rd of June 2017 he presented his credentials to Pope Francis and took his position as the first permanent ambassador of South Africa to the Holy See.
Prepared in collaboration with Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference Communication and Media Office.
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