Ladies and Gentlemen,
Education Africa has done a superb job of choosing distinguished prize-winners and excellent teams for the 2011 South African Model United Nations (SAMUN).
As our new democratic tradition dictates, in the spirit of South Africa’s celebration of its heroes and heroines, ahead of the centenary of Africa’s oldest liberation movement, the ANC, in October we celebrate extraordinary lives of Sol Plaatje (born 9 October) and Oliver Tambo (27 October).
Both fought selflessly for freedom, justice, peace, human rights and dignity, the core values whose mandate it is for the United Nations (UN) to promote.
Indeed they are towering epitomes of intellect, talent and genius this country has produced for Africa, a resources-rich continent with endless possibilities, in no way ‘a heart of darkness’ as hitherto implied in colonial discourse.
This gathering of brilliant minds is strategically poised further to advance the regeneration of the continent and consciously to demystify erstwhile misrepresentations of our vast potential for excellence and prosperity.
Looking deep into the dazzling eyes of the winning teams here with us, I see sparkles of genius that gave us the phenomenal OR Tambo and Plaatje. Your sparkling example no doubt bears testimony to the immense contribution and deep devotion of Education Africa to the schools’ debating conference and to liberatory education for all our people.
For some reason, good I presume, sailing here in the ferry, I recalled, fondly, I have been here before, a symbolic act in itself showing that Education Africa and the UN-modelled debate are growing in leaps and bounds.
It is this that affords me hope that things aren’t falling apart, the centre can still hold. And, most importantly, under its sterling leadership, Education Africa does not lack all conviction.
Unfaltering commitment to this country you have shown by sustaining SAMUN debating conferences over the years, which are based on the principles and format of a typical UN General Assembly debate, with a focus on the UN, global issues, international relations and human rights issues.
It’s remarkable to note that you’ve played a tremendous role in this noble venture since its inauguration in 1995 as part of the United Nations’ 50th anniversary celebrations. Then the event was convened by the Ministry of Education with Education Africa called in to assist.
From inception to date, this initiative has been a resounding success giving South African learners a life-changing experience. To its credit, in 1998 Education Africa revived the debating conferences for South African high schools. And so, for the past decade, SAMUN debating conferences have united disadvantaged and advantaged learners from all nine provinces.
Indeed it makes us extremely proud that as we speak over 500 South African high schools participate in the programme on an annual basis.
I can make bold to say by bringing to the SAMUN Cape Town conference the winning teams from each province, including their educators and tutors, to debate against school teams from both Africa and abroad, you are creating a unique learning experience for all participants.
Tying this event to the rich history of Robben Island evokes memories of South Africa’s bitter struggle for human rights. In this way, like the ferry that connects us to this place, SAMUN intricately links our ‘long walk to freedom’ to the UN which at one point characterised apartheid South Africa as a crime against humanity.
I think SAMUN is a lifetime treat for learners and guests who feel the breeze of the Makana Island on which Nelson Mandela spent the better part of his life so that we can all taste the sweet-smelling fruits of freedom.
Most of all, SAMUN affords best performing teams the grandest experience to attend the international debating conference in the US and to visit the United Nations headquarters in New York.
SAMUN enhances the development of well-informed youth with the potential to participate in the economy with a sense of democracy and human rights.
Accordingly, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to congratulate all of you for this groundbreaking accomplishment. Well done to you all!
This really brings to mind powerful images of the illustrious work of Education Africa in education and indeed in the creation of a productive society for a productive economy.
For 19 years, since inception in 1992, Education Africa has mellowed with time and indeed excelled in reaching out to the poorest of the poor. It has played a pivotal role in supporting historically disadvantaged communities in their quest for quality education so that they can, like everybody else, become active players in the economy and in society.
The Walter Sisulu Scholarship Fund, focusing on critical areas of maths and science, and set-up in 1995 by Education Africa together with the late Walter and Albertina Sisulu, has had a huge impact on the lives of many who would have otherwise faced a dark future as the perpetual wretched of the earth.
I’m reliably informed that over 3 500 scholarships have been delivered. You’ve helped remarkably in the creation of an industrious workforce quite critical for furthering the broad goals of the New Growth Path recently adopted by the state as a people-driven development strategy for creating decent jobs and growing the economy.
You’ve invested notably in early childhood development, which is one of government’s key priorities for turning around the schooling system. I therefore think I’m speaking for everyone when I say ‘thank you’ to Education Africa and its partners.
Collaborative partnerships are extremely valuable. South Africa battles still with the monster of unequal educational and economic opportunities as seen in the poverty of rural and township schools and the well-endowed ‘look and feel’ of schools in best-elected cities and suburbs of the elite.
This is in spite of the fact that the South African Schools Act of 1996 (Preamble) emphatically calls upon us to “redress past injustices in educational provision” and to “provide an education of progressively high quality for all learners” and a “strong foundation for the development of all”.
Today we celebrate great minds and rising stars in the wake of ‘a new-type’ scramble for Africa which, like a hurricane, has torn North Africa apart, leaving behind untold accounts of misery, families blown apart, and a devastating ‘climate of fear’.
It’s a relief that SAMUN strives to introduce learners to the UN system, to democracy, and to the ‘cool web’ of international relations. Even as we elevate ‘our hope’ for a better Africa and a better world, the ravenous cloud hovers above tattered Libya and her people like death.
It is in these tear-jerking images of a country torn apart wherein is deafeningly echoed Wole Soyinka’s indictment of humanity’s inhumanity to fellow humans. In another context, this first African to be honoured in 1986 with the Nobel Prize for Literature said in Climate of Fear (2004: 80):
“There is nothing in the least delicate about the slaughter of innocents. We all subscribe to the lofty notions contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but, for some reason, become suddenly coy and selective when it comes to defending what is obviously the most elementary of these rights, which is the right to life.”
It is this climate of fear, coupled with metaphors of a continent and a developing world under siege, that renders all your efforts quite critical.
Perhaps we must cite as a source of comfort and a site of hope what many called after 1994 the miracle of ‘a rainbow nation’ slouching from ‘a state of war’ towards reconstruction and a promise of a better life for all.
Such is the South African example best characterised in the most lucid of terms by Soyinka when he says:
“The oppressed black people of South Africa did not pronounce the outside world guilty of the crime of continuing to survive while a majority race was being ground to earth by an implacable machinery of racist governance.”
This is the scenario I’m trying here to paint by which we can reimagine the reconstructive and developmental role of education. Soyinka says:
“There are hidden lessons in these studies in contrast, lessons that may enable us, after acknowledging the principal sources of the current climate of fear, to seek remedies that go beyond the rectification of the glaring and sustained conduct of global injustice.”
We’ve got to ramp up all our efforts for change to occur, rapidly, effectively to close the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’. Only in this way can we narrow markedly the widening gyre that makes it cumbersome for the falcon to hear the falconer.
It would be a travesty of justice not to pay tribute to all the teachers and schools under whose care our children are entrusted. While this may not be said very often, you are the backbone of all professions. We appreciate your dedication and wish you the best of what is left of Teachers’ Month.
I trust that all your efforts will take us closer to meeting the challenges of delivering high-quality education for the technology-driven economy of the 21st Century and firmly place our countries on a trajectory of growth and sustainable development.
I thank the adjudicators for taking on the most difficult job, choosing a winning team from winning teams.
I have noted with keen interest private-sector support for this initiative. That is most welcome. All thanks to the MTN Foundation for caring. Ayoba!
With the agility of a San-hunter, it is today’s successful teams that must rewrite the history of Africa as a prosperous and productive continent of a people redeemed from centuries of social injustice, human rights violations, economic exploitation and abject poverty.
Then shall we all proudly discard our regrettable construction as the hunted in history unjustly chronicled as a continent of backward ‘savages’ who crawl on all fours for water (Conrad’s Heart of Darkness).
I challenge all of us to rededicate our efforts to the humanisation of excelling young people such as these that we have at this luncheon. And to the youth I say, ‘you are the future’, and good luck in your final exams.
It is our historical task to produce, in Wole Soyinka’s words (2004: 54), “individuals in every field of human endeavour who have pursued their vision, and in a multiplicity of fields – to the benefit of millions and tens of millions around the world.”
To all the learners who travelled from the continent and abroad, I hope you experienced the warmth of ‘the rainbow nation’. I hope you take home good memories of our beautiful country and that you will come back soon.
I thank the organisers for making it possible for all of us to be here. Together we can and must “make real change happen”.