Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s Remarks at the Ministerial Imbizo with Gauteng Learners, OR Tambo Building, 17 September, 2010

Programme Director, Ambassador Dumisane Khumalo
Director of the United Nations Information Center, Ms Petrus-Barry
Principals and teachers
Participants in the UN Mock Debate
Learners
Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen

Today has been a great day for us here at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) – and indeed for me as a mother and a former teacher.  Today we witnessed young learners – future leaders of our country – take the floor to challenge each other on important questions of our world in a debate that is a dress rehearsal of what world leaders will be doing next week at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York.

You have already been welcomed to the home of DIRCO.  This is your home, because we are in this building to serve you, the people of our country.  Your presence here today is one way of claiming this building as yours and your home.

This debate we have just witnessed is very important to us as DIRCO.  First, it is part of our Outreach work to take our foreign policy to every corner of our country, including our schools.   I am happy that this debate among the learners has taught us so much not only about the United Nations and its important role in world affairs.  The debate has also taught us about what our country does out there in the real world of international politics.

The second thing that this debate has helped us with is to give all of you – learners and teachers… all South Africans – ownership of the important work that our department (DIRCO) does.  After today, after being part of this exciting debate, many of you will now feel closer to our work.  You will understand us better, and in doing so, you will appreciate better the important work being done by our country across our borders.

Finally, I hope this debate has inspired some of you to consider a career in international relations.  Our country is in need of good diplomats.  What this debate demonstrated to me today is that we have talent in abundance in this country.  What is needed is for us is to nurture this talent to harvest it in the future.

Please allow me to commend the principals and the teachers who have worked so hard to prepare the learners for this debate. We received 67 essay entries from four schools: that is - Kgomotso Comprehensive, Saulridge High school, H.F Verwoerd and Clapham High school.

These learners all wrote an essay on the topic “Why is it important for South Africa to have missions abroad?” I am told that the quality of the essays was impressive and in line with our expectations.

Notwithstanding the important role played by teachers to make today’s event a success, I think you will all agree with them that a big applause must go to our learners who played “delegates” and “excellencies” with shining distinction!  Please let’s give them a big round of applause!

You made all of us very proud! You made us very proud to be part of this country!

Of course, you know that our adjudicators, consisting of staff who recently completed our Diplomatic Training course, have been watching and assessing you carefully for the grand prize of a trip to New York and Addis Ababa to witness debates at the United Nations and Africa Union. The other two prizes are for the winners to be hosted by DIRCO at our next Budget speech in Cape Town next year!  You have all done your best to impress the adjudicators!   To me, all of you are winners today!

I also want to acknowledge and welcome learners from other schools in the Gauteng region, as well as students from our local universities.

Friends,

When we formed our new democratic dispensation in 1994, we made a promise and a commitment to our people, and that commitment was to create a “better life for all” of our people. And for us in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation we took on that promise by making sure that our mandate reflects all our domestic priorities of the creation of jobs, improvement of health, quality access and education to all, eradication of crime, and the upliftment of our rural communities. We can see that we are making progress, but that there is still much more to do.

These priorities of our government lie at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the topic that brings all of us together here today.  This topic will be debated next week by Heads of State and Government of all nations of world at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York.  Your debate today is a big debate – a debate about things that matter to our people in their daily lives!

The task we have ahead of us as a country is harder because of the many challenges we face, and that is why it is so important for us to engage with you, the youth and our future. Because we want to make sure that you are equipped to take up the challenges that face us, we want to make sure that we develop and grow the voices of young people as we tackle the challenges that still beset our young democracy.

You are the ones who will shape our future. Indeed, the future is in your hands. So we want to work with you now, to help shape that future for the better. And so we meet here today to consider achievements and challenges that countries face in implementing the MDG’s.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the most broadly supported, comprehensive and specific development goals the world has ever agreed upon. These eight time-bound goals provide concrete, numerical benchmarks for tackling extreme poverty in its many dimensions. They include goals and targets on income poverty, hunger, maternal and child mortality, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality, environmental degradation and the Global Partnership for Development.

Adopted by world leaders in the year 2000 and set to be achieved by 2015, the MDGs are both global and local, tailored by each country to suit specific development needs. They provide a framework for the entire international community to work together towards a common end – making sure that human development reaches everyone, everywhere. If these goals are achieved, world poverty will be cut by half, tens of millions of lives will be saved, and billions more people will have the opportunity to benefit from the global economy.

Your debate focused in particular on MDG Goal Number Three that calls for the Equal Representation of Men and Women in Political and Public life. This goal is particularly important for us as a country, because as you know, gender and the protection of human rights are key drivers of our foreign policy. This is also reflected in our domestic priorities, and that is why we see that South Africa now stand third globally when it comes to the numbers of women in political life. So we are doing relatively well when it comes to women’s representation in political life, but the private sector still lags way behind. This is also why the Ministry for Women, Children and Persons with Disability are currently working on a draft bill that calls for 50 percent equal representation of women and men in all political and public life.

AS DIRCO, we have made the MDGs part of our work in international forums that we participate in and in our bilateral relations with other nations of the world.  What we always emphasize that is that the achievements of MDGs goes hand-in-hand with the work of government in delivering on our priorities as a country.  Every achievement we make towards reaching the MDGs puts us closer to the goals we have set for ourselves in our country for a better life for all our people.

We also emphasize that MDGs are important to Africa to help us realize our dream of a better Africa - free of hunger, want, disease and wars.  This is an Africa we want in our lifetime and for our future, our children.

It is for this reason that our department, DIRCO, places Africa, including our neighbors in SADC, at the center of our foreign policy.  We call the pursuit of this central pillar of our foreign policy the African Agenda.

Our foreign policy rests on other three important pillars – namely: our work with countries of the South like China, Brazil and India; our partnership with countries of the North; and our active participation in multilateral institutions like the United Nations that was the center of our debate today.

Friends,

Today’s debate has given me a lot of ideas of what we need to do and say as a country next week at the United Nations MDG Summit!  You have also inspired me in my commitment to our country’s international work.  We will be thinking of all of you when we take the podium next week in New York to speak for our country on the MDGs.

Programme Director, I want to pause here and invite our guests to pose whatever question they may have in mind.   All I can say for now is to say Thank You for being here today, and Congratulations to our learners who participated in the exciting debate!

I thank you

 

                                                                                                                                                                           

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