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54th Anniversary of the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago

Remarks delivered by HE Roger Gopaul, High Commissioner designate of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in South Africa

31 September 2016

On Friday 31st August, 1962, in the early hours of the morning, the national flag of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was raised for the very first time signalling the birth of a nation.  Today we pause for serious reflection on our achievements to date and our commitment to our future goals and aspirations.  The journey towards independence was motivated by the ideals for self-governance, to become architects of our own destiny and the craving for every creed and race to find an equal place.  A veritable melting pot of cultural traditions, a mixture of Indian, African, British, Spanish, Syrian, Chinese, French and Dutch traditions; Trinidad and Tobago has been compelled to pursue an equitable political and economic agenda at home and abroad.

Photo: Mr Roger Gopaul, High Commissioner-designate of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to South Africa, Mrs. Gopaul and Dr. Mathume Joseph Phaahla, Deputy Minister of Health of the Republic of  South Africa celebrating the 54th Anniversary of Independence  of Trinidad and Tobago. Photo credit: Shaun Harris - Afrika Moves

Our country’s first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams recognised that political independence was but a beginning.  The real challenge was the achievement of psychological and intellectual dependence.  For this reason, Trinidad and Tobago has prioritized equal opportunity for all in education.  Today, we enjoy free universal education from pre-school to university. As a result, our tertiary education participation rate is 55%.  This strong education focus has allowed us to harness the skills of our people to develop our local content across a spectrum of industries.

Trinidad and Tobago has worked assiduously to develop our manufacturing, industrial and energy sectors, our road and transportation networks, primary infrastructure, social services, public and state enterprises, creative industries, health services, public housing and system of governance. For these reasons, international financial publications like the Economist and the Financial Times have described Trinidad and Tobago as the Caribbean Tiger.

At the time of our formal Independence, Dr. Eric Williams embraced the notion that greater self-determination went hand in hand with greater collaboration and partnership, regionally and internationally.  This remains a key component of Trinidad and Tobago’s foreign policy, the pursuit of strong, meaningful relationships.  As a result of prudent national development and international relationship building:
o    Trinidad has one of the highest per capita incomes in Latin America and the Caribbean.
o    Largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the English speaking Caribbean and second largest in Latin America and the Caribbean
o    Trinidad and Tobago has one of the highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) rates in Latin America and the Caribbean
o    Ranked first for FDI cost-effectiveness amongst Caribbean and Central American countries in its peer group (out of 29 countries)
o    Trinidad and Tobago houses one of the largest natural gas processing facilities in the Western Hemisphere.
o    Trinidad and Tobago is one of the world’s largest exporter of ammonia and methanol

As the new Head of Mission, I am eager to consolidate and leverage the work done by my predecessors and our partners in South Africa.  

Trinidad and Tobago and South Africa continue to fortify our trade and investment agendas in food and beverage.  We continue to collaborate in arts, music, music technology and Carnival.  In the area of energy and energy products, both countries are continuing open dialogue on energy exploitation, knowledge transfer and joint initiatives.  I am pleased to say that both countries are committed to advancing the interests of each other.  

As such, both countries are working together to establish Agreements in the areas of political consultations, arts and culture and energy. It is our firm belief that these agreements will strengthen the knowledge and productive capacities of both nations.  

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Department of International Relations and Cooperation; the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Arts and Culture respectively, and our numerous stakeholders who responded to the Mission’s overtures.  The interactions thus far have been instrumental in reinforcing our programme of action.

As we draw to a close, I wish to assure and encourage Trinidad and Tobago nationals living in South Africa and the wider region at large of the Mission’s commitment to your welfare.  I am looking to working with you and look forward to the valuable contribution you continue to make.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me, as I raise a toast to the Government and people of the Republic of South Africa and the Government and people of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

High Commission of Trinidad and Tobago in South Africa




It is with great honour and privilege that I stand before you this afternoon, on this occasion, that marks the significant milestone in the life of this friendly nation.  It is also my distinct pleasure to convey warm greetings and congratulations on behalf of the People and Government of South Africa.

The magnitude of this day provides hope and optimism as through solidarity, perseverance and unparalleled sacrifice, great strides were made towards the achievement of freedom and independence in Trinidad and Tobago.

It is with a profound sense of pride and respect that we honour this day of true liberation. As Trinidad and Tobago celebrates its 54th anniversary of independence, we look with fondness and humility on the journey traversed to nationhood.

The historical links between the Caribbean and Africa dates back to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in which several Africans were forcefully captured and transported across the Atlantic Ocean.  Many of our brothers and sisters were lost during the so-called middle passage.  

Although separated by vast oceans, the bond between Africa and its descendants in the Caribbean diaspora remains strong.

The current day population of Trinidad and Tobago is comprised of peoples of mixed colours, united in their diversity. While the Africans were brought in as slaves, the Indians were brought in as indentured labour. It is therefore commendable that the country managed to forge unity to pull forward as one people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests,
This was exhibited by the likes of Henry Sylvester Williams a lawyer, councillor and writer from Trinidad and Tobago, who practised as a barrister in South Africa, becoming the first black man to be called to the bar in the Cape Colony. He is considered one of the fathers of Pan Africanism, providing the foundation to the linkages between our two countries.

In the 1950’s, the English-speaking Caribbean countries, though still British colonies, boycotted the importation of South African products to protest the institutionalisation of apartheid in South Africa as well as a series of laws that stripped black people of their rights, enclosed them into invented reserves, exploited them as cheap labour and banned their political organisations.

We recall with affection the words of the First Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, H.E Eric Williams, while addressing students from the McGill’s and Sir George Williams Universities in Montreal’s in 1964, emphasising that he associated himself and his government with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, with the words “Stand solidly with [your] African [Brothers/Sisters] against racial discrimination”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests!
We South Africans particularly look back at this with pride and recognise the role that Trinidad and Tobago played in the fight against Apartheid and the support that we received in our transition to Democracy.

When one of our own left the shores of her motherland to pursue the struggle against Apartheid in exile, she met a fearless Trinidadian revolutionary who was at the time active in the American civil rights and the global Pan African movements. This encounter was to bring revolutionary lyrics to her music which inspired many across the globe to heed to the call of isolating the Apartheid regime.

I am talking here, ladies and gentlemen, about the relationship between Miriam Makeba and Kwame Ture (otherwise known as Stokely Carmichael) who met in Guinea in 1958; and whom later got married.

It is therefore no coincidence that the historical relations between our peoples at individual level have translated in bonds of friendship between our countries.

Trinidad and Tobago has shown resolve as it was part of the Commonwealth countries that in 1986 condemned the then Apartheid government and its racial policies.
During this period Trinidad and Tobago was part of the Caribbean countries that boycotted the 1986 Commonwealth games, which were hosted in England, in solidarity to the cause.

It has demonstrated its commitment to the values of human rights and to the idea of global humanity by adopting an uncompromising stance against apartheid and racism.
Trinidad and Tobago consistently and unambiguously opposed apartheid and supported United Nations' decisions aimed at its elimination.

Since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between our two friendly nations in 1994, both governments have worked tirelessly to deepen and solidify the relations that have hitherto been historical. This is being done through the negotiation of a number of Agreements in the fields of arts and culture, energy, air services and political consultations.

These agreements are the cornerstones and a foundation to build on as we explore other areas of co-operation. In this regard, efforts are being made to intensify trade relations between our countries.

Engagements between the High Commission and our Department of Trade and Industry, among others, promise to place our trade relations on a new trajectory.

Similarly, exchanges in the fields of culture and education have the potential of promoting people to people contacts. In this regard, it is heartening to see efforts being made to take advantage of opportunities available in Trinidad and Tobago for capacity building in the areas of hydrocarbons and petroleum engineering. We will be encouraging our Ministry of Higher Education to explore these opportunities.

Trinidad and Tobago has been our trusted ally in the multilateral fora. From the time of isolating the Apartheid regime to the modern day global issues, Trinidad and Tobago has demonstrated its commitment to the multilateral system. She remains an important and influential player in CARICOM whose regional positions translate into positions adopted in other multilateral forum.

South Africa will continue to partner with Trinidad and Tobago to advance the agenda of the South in common membership to such formations as the NAM, Commonwealth and G77 + China.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please join me in raising our glasses in toast to the Government and People of Trinidad and Tobago on this momentous occasion when they celebrate 54 years of independence and to the prosperity of this remarkable country.

National Department of Health of South Africa




February/March 2020








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