President Cyril Ramaphosa said chairing the African Union is a great responsibility, and one he intends to execute with diligence and commitment over the coming year.
Ramaphosa was delivering his keynote address during the Ubuntu awards on Saturday.
Ramaphosa said a team of delegates returned from Addis Ababa earlier this week, where they formally accepted the chairship at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
"This in indeed an immense honour that has been bestowed on our country. As before, we are guided in this work by the rallying cry of the Freedom Charter, which says: Let there be peace and friendship.
"Supporting our diplomatic machinery will be the men and women gathered here this evening. This is the second time that we are chairing the African Union. We first held the position in 2002, when the African Union was launched on South African soil and President Thabo Mbeki was elected as chair," he said.
Ramaphosa said there are people in the capitals of the world, from Helsinki to Washington, from Beijing to Perth, from Ougadougou to Harare, working tirelessly to promote the interests of South Africa and to foster peace and friendship.
"Whether it is in business, in sport or in arts and culture, your efforts continue to strengthen our country's position by acting as global ambassadors and keeping our flag flying high. You have assumed the task of elevating Brand South Africa in the community of nations.
"For we know indeed that South Africa's exports go beyond goods and services. We are also rich in the arts, in culture, in sport, in science and in ideas," he said.
Strengthening the AU
The president said during South Africa's term chairing the AU, we will commit to strengthening the union and other continental institutions, such as the Pan African Parliament and the African Peer Review Mechanism.
"We are going to work with the structures of the AU to deepen the unity of our continent, and to advance inclusive growth and sustainable development. This we aim to achieve through supporting integration, industrialisation, economic development, trade and investment.
"This will become particularly significant when the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) becomes operational later this year. The African Continental Free Trade Area will be an important step towards rebalancing global trade relations and levelling the playing field for African businesses.
"Through the Continental Free Trade Area, we want to reignite industrialisation, boost intra-African trade and benefit from the largest common market in the world. Our emissaries for economic diplomacy, many of whom are here this evening, will play an increasingly prominent role," he said.
Ramaphosa promised that South Africa will work to strengthen good governance in Africa, to advance women's economic empowerment and financial inclusion, and intensify the continental struggle to end violence against women and children.
Through the AU Peace and Security Council, the AU Commission and the collective membership, South Africa will focus its efforts on conflict resolution across the African continent.
"We will continue to advocate for a fairer, more just, more prosperous and stable world. We remain firm in our commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict and a multilateral approach to world affairs.
"As a global community we confront common challenges - climate change, migration, disease, human trafficking, terrorism and hunger - and we should work to address these problems together. No country can hope to achieve lasting peace and prosperity for as long as there are other countries mired in poverty, conflict and chaos," Ramaphosa said.
He called on a collaboration to work together to strengthen a rules-based, multilateral approach to global governance, trade, conflict resolution, peacekeeping and all other areas of international relations.
"This is the agenda that South Africa will continue to pursue through all international fora in which it participates, from the United Nations to the African Union, and from the G20 to BRICS. What we are doing here this evening - celebrating excellence in diplomacy - aligns with our broader efforts to achieve these objectives, because conflict occurs only when diplomacy has collapsed.
"The various categories of these prestigious awards are indicative of the fact that successful diplomacy is an integrated effort, and one that draws together different activities, qualities and capabilities," he said.
Ramaphosa said the Ubuntu awards illustrate that being an ambassador for South Africa is not the preserve of any particular group.