The Inaugural Meeting of the 7th South African National Commission for UNESCO (NATCOM) took place at the Department of Basic Education (DBE) Building in Pretoria on 16 September 2021.
President of the NATCOM and Basic Education Minister, Mrs Angie Motshekga, welcomed the new Commissioners and said their acceptance to be NATCOM commissioners was an indication if their commitment to serve South Africa’s interests.
Your acceptance is an indication of the will to serve the structure you are appointed to, and the interests of the country you are citizens of. UNESCO’s ethical mission guides South Africa’s behaviour as a country involved in the reconstruction of all facets of social life to enhance cultural heritage and promote living cultures.
The South African National Commission for UNESCO was established by Cabinet Decision 9 of 1996 and placed under the auspices of the then Department of Education, with the purpose of promoting UNESCO’s objectives regarding Education, Sciences, Culture and Communication.
Professor Hubert Gijzen, Acting Director for the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa, explained that, the role of National Commissions is determined by the missions or aims of UNESCO to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law, and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language, or religion.
It is now important for the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA) to develop a new model to improve programme effectiveness of the Regional Support Strategy based on the pillars of Programmes, Partnerships; Resource Mobilisation; and Communication and Visibility for an integrated strategy fit for the future.
Prof. Gijzen said the NATCOMs were a ‘mirror image’ of UNESCO’s mandates in governments and should be agile in facilitating and supporting UNESCO’s work against the backdrop of a changing operating environment.
He said an ideal NATCOM should help position UNESCO with governments, partners, private sector and support UNESCO in advancing the sustainable development agenda.
He added that the NATCOM should be UNESCO’s gateway to government that engages in advocating UNESCO’s mandates in the country. Prof Gijzen further said the NATCOM should help raise UNESCO’s access to donor and private sector resources (via respective line ministries) as well as to self-benefitting funds from the government.
Minister Motshekga used the opportunity to thank two outgoing NATCOM Sector Committee Chairpersons, Professor Mandla Makhanya, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Africa (UNISA), who chaired the NATCOM Culture Sector Committee, and was with the National Commission from 2001 to 2019, the longest-serving member of all times; and Mr Joe Samuels, the former CEO of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), who chaired the NATCOM Education Sector Committee.
Minister Motshekga also congratulated the Executive Director of the PUKU Children’s Literacy Foundation, Mrs Elinor Sisulu, the winner of the 2021 UNESCO International Literacy Prize as she handed over the prestigious Diploma and Medal.
In his remarks, the Chairperson for the South African National Commission for UNESCO, Prof Ihron Rensburg, called upon the newly appointed Commissioners to protect the name and logo of UNESCO.
As we give effect to our roles, let us give effect to shaping the influence of those roles in building a bridge that connects all partners for improved dialogue, consultation and participation.
UNESCO is the only United Nations (UN) Agency to have a global network of national cooperating bodies, set up by their respective governments and known as National Commissions for UNESCO. Presently, there are 199 National Commissions for UNESCO across the world.