Thank you all very much for coming to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday with us here today. This year is particularly special as we mark Her Majesty’s 90th birthday. After 64 years on the throne, she is our longest reigning monarch.
Prince Charles birthday message to his mother Her Majesty the Queen included a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry 8th:
She shall be, to the happiness of England, an aged princess;
Many days shall see her,
And yet no day without a deed to crown it.
The quote sums up why the Queen is special to us; because she is clear that her duty is to serve her people and community. She is special to the people of the UK. I know many in Zimbabwe also respect and honour her.
The Shakespeare message is particularly relevant as 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. This truly GREAT Briton may have died four centuries ago, but his legacy lives on today.
As English speakers around the world including in Zimbabwe we quote Shakespeare’s plays, poems and sonnets a hundred times or more each day. We quote him when we detect “foul play”, when we find ourselves “in stitches”; when we “have our teeth set on edge” or are sent on a “wild goose chase”. Ours is a language undeniably shaped by the linguistic brilliance of William Shakespeare.
The British Council are running a whole range of Shakespeare events – One of these is Play your Part where people are filmed reciting their favourite Shakespeare quote. Mine is from the Merchant of Venice and I together with some leading Zimbabweans can be seen reciting our favourite lines on the video screens near the play your part booth. Please go to the booth and Play your Part today.
And that brings me on to our worldwide unique event here in Zimbabwe. I’m excited to say that next week, Zimbabwean friends and staff from the British Mission will be staging his comedy, Much ado about nothing.
This will have a modern twist: the play will be set set as the 1960s are coming to a close – a decade known for cultural and political change, artistic freedom and great British music.You can see the magnificent set almost ready for opening next week. Tickets are on sale here and at various locations but do hurry as not many are left. The opening VIP night is next Thursday the 16th of June and other performances are on Friday and Saturday.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Development remains central to our work here in Zimbabwe. The substantial UKAid programme last year covered health, education, water and sanitation, governance and economic development. There’s a nice infographic in your booklets which sets out some of the results achieved. I am grateful to the many partners working on or with DFID funded development programmes, represented here today, for the excellent work you are doing. With our implementing partners we are now supporting 350,000 people who would otherwise have faced food insecurity.
In recent weeks we have seen a sharp acceleration in the economic difficulties faced by many Zimbabweans. There are no quick solutions, but we encourage the government to accelerate the process of re-engagement with the international community as part of tackling the fundamental economic challenges.
We’ll do what we can to stimulate the economy. Since this event last year we have established the British Business Association. Please do consider joining and benefiting from the many talks with external experts, networking opportunities and corporate social events.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As Shakespeare said “Friendship is constant”, but much like a Shakespearean drama the UK Zimbabwe friendship has had its peaks and troughs. In spite of the difficulties of the last 16 years, the fundamentals of the relationship are strong. A common - if tumultuous – history. A long period of co-operation after independence in 1980. Many familiar institutions. The shared use of English in government and business. Strong people to people links supported by large diasporas and mutual love for sport.
On behalf of the United Kingdom I want to reassure Zimbabweans that we will act to support the process of international re-engagement. Together with the Deputy Foreign Minister I jointly chair a bilateral dialogue between the UK and Zimbabwe where we discuss some of the difficult issues between us. We will continue to hold frank and honest discussions based on mutual respect. On our side we will continue to emphasise the importance of a shared appreciation of the rule of law and human rights.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are on a journey and the destination is one we both want. I hope that during my last two years in Zimbabwe we can cover a great deal of distance in this journey.
We have a shared interest in restoring the best of the people to people and business relationships. In co-operating on the development of Zimbabwe’s prosperity and democracy. And in tackling some of the difficult issues that still hinder the political relationship. With good will on both sides we can see significant progress.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please charge your glasses, it gives me very great pleasure to propose a toast to The Republic of Zimbabwe.