SOUTH AFRICAN STATEMENT
214TH SESSION OF THE EXECUTIVE BOARD
4 April 2022
Chairperson of the Executive Board
President of the General Conference
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a distinct honour and privilege for me to present this statement on behalf of the government and people of the Republic of South Africa.
One of the key outcomes of the 41st Session of the General Conference was the adoption of the Operational Strategy for Global Priority Africa for the period 2022 to 2029. The Strategy identifies five Flagship Programmes with objectives, activities, outputs and performance indicators, and we are looking forward to its rigorous implementation and monitoring across the various sectors. Importantly, more resources will be required from both the regular and extra-budgetary sources for the successful implementation of these programmes.
One of the flagship programmes of the Operational Strategy is Fostering Cultural Heritage and Capacity Development. As we are all aware, this year marks the 50th Anniversary of the 1972 World Heritage Convention, a universal instrument for the identification and protection of the world’s natural and cultural heritage that are of outstanding universal value. While much has been achieved in the past 50 years in implementing this Convention, much more still needs to be done, especially in regard to the African continent.
The persistent under-representation of Africa on the World Heritage List and conversely, its over-representation on the World Heritage List in Danger, calls for urgent attention. The Operational Strategy for Priority Africa highlights this challenge and identifies capacity building as one of the crucial activities to be undertaken to address this gap.
While we appreciate that the World Heritage Centre continues to train a number of African experts, there is a need to ensure that those experts are effectively utilised on the African Continent and beyond. In this regard, closer collaboration between the World Heritage Centre and regional institutions is necessary and encouraged, particularly with the African World Heritage Fund. We welcome the efforts of the new Director of the World Heritage Centre, Mr Eloundou-Assomo, to enhance this collaboration.
We furthermore believe that we should use the 50th Anniversary not only to reflect on the progress achieved over the past 50 years, but also to raise the level of ambition for the next 50 years. It is for this reason that South Africa has decided to host, in December of this year, the closing event to celebrate this significant milestone. We do hope that the Director-General will be able to grace this celebratory occasion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the cultural and creative industries sector, not only in South Africa but also on the African continent and beyond; reversing many of the gains made in the last two decades. In South Africa, the cultural and creative economy provides our communities, especially women and the youth, with a significant level of employment opportunities and contributes approximately three percent to our Gross Domestic Product. To address the challenges of unemployment and poverty now faced by those working in the creative industries, our government has embarked on numerous relief programs to assist these creative workers.
During the recent regional consultations on cultural policies for the African region in preparation for Mondiacult 2022, South Africa presented proposals for its consideration. Firstly, we highlighted the fact that Covid-19 has propelled the sector to speedily move towards the digitization of the creative industries economy. Secondly, we recognise the need to work together to create international demand for African cultural and creative work, and we should consider establishing a continent-wide export council for African cultural exports. This, in the long run, we believe will mitigate the impact of the pandemic and increase the demand and value of Africa’s cultural products.
In this regard, we commend the initiatives undertaken by UNESCO, under the leadership of the Assistant Director-General of Culture, in the creative industries sector. UNESCO undertook a mapping exercise of the African Film industry and together with Netflix, initiated a film project entitled “Folktales Reimagined”, to provide opportunities for African filmmakers to partner with film production companies. This is a perfect example of how the implementation of UNESCO’s projects can have a catalytic impact on cultural renewal and production at grassroots level, and where countries, cultures and communities can experience the brand of UNESCO more tangibly.
We are pleased to note that a similar, specialised mapping exercise has also been initiated focussing on designers in the African fashion industry, including South Africa, Kenya, Burkina Faso, and the Ivory Coast. We believe that if fully implemented, this initiative has the potential to facilitate the integration of the work of African fashion designers in the global fashion value chain. South Africa stands ready to partner with UNESCO in this regard.
COVID-19 has impacted the education sector and redefined the way teaching and learning takes place. Among others, digital tools are being utilised to bridge educational gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this has at the same time exposed and brought to the fore the digital divide between the connected and the unconnected, revealing just how far behind many are with access to digital technology. People without robust internet access are being left behind intellectually, academically and economically.
Although we are not yet certain of how much learning has been lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, nor how wide the gaps may be for disadvantaged children, we do know that learners from poorer countries have experienced a significantly higher loss of learning; that earlier grades were more susceptible to learning losses; that losses were higher for mathematics and reading; and, that girls were more affected. Previous gains made in achieving SDG4 have thus been negatively impacted.
We are therefore looking forward to the upcoming Transforming Education Summit to be hosted during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2022, as well as the Ministerial pre-Summit that will be hosted by UNESCO in June. It is crucial that the declarations of this Summit should commit member states to concrete plans and actions, including commitment on resources required to bridge the gap.
Global Priority Africa has highlighted the importance of higher and TVET education on the African continent and commits UNESCO to developing quality assurance instruments to support the capacities of national authorities to transform these institutions, and to improve the quality of qualifications.
South Africa has identified TVET colleges as key institutions to address youth unemployment by equipping young people with the competencies and skills which will enable them to thrive in the transforming economy. In this regard, South Africa has embarked on a process of remodelling and redesigning the curricula of its 50 TVET colleges with a particular focus on STEM. We welcome UNESCO’s continued partnership in this regard.
During the 41st session of the General Conference held in November 2021 the Recommendation on Open Science was unanimously adopted by States Parties. South Africa recognises the important role that the natural and social sciences sectors play in building equitable societies. As you will recall, South African researchers demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic the importance of sharing with global partners the results of their rigorous research and vitally important insights into the fast evolving virus. It is only when we advance international cooperation in science, technology and innovation that we can address the challenges that we all face today.
In this regard, South Africa is proud to host and fund the African Open Science Platform, a database which will provide access to research, policies, and technologies. If there is one thing we have learnt from the pandemic then it is the need and the urgency of sharing information. The Open Science Platform provides an opportunity to share scientific knowledge between governments, the private sector and the scientific community.
In December 2022 South Africa will host the World Science Forum with a theme “Science for social justice”, which demonstrates our desire to intentionally cross the divide between the natural and social sciences. The conference will discuss the important role of science in addressing social issues such as poverty, unemployment, inequality, climate change and global cooperation in the natural sciences sector. We welcome UNESCO’s role and participation in this conference.
With 2022 declared the International Year of Groundwater, we acknowledge the role that UNESCO is playing on the African continent and appreciates the important mapping exercise that is currently being undertaken on Africa’s groundwater resources. The availability of potable ground water is critical for Africa’s survival and development, especially given that much of the continent is water scarce or water stressed. It is therefore extremely important to develop responsive and impactful programmes in this sector. We were furthermore pleased that the 9th World Water Forum was recently hosted in Dakar, Senegal, the first time that an African country hosted this Forum.
In conclusion, Madam Chairperson,
As we move towards the end of the International Decade for People of African Descent, we must redouble our efforts to fight against the dual scourges of racism and related intolerances. As the Secretary General of the United Nations recently said, and I quote: “Racism plagues our world. It is abhorrent, it is ugly, and it is everywhere. We must reject it and condemn it without reservation, without hesitation, without qualification”.
It is for this reason that South Africa welcomes UNESCO’s Roadmap against Racism and Discrimination, pursuant to the General Conference Resolution 210 EX/Decision 5.I.B. We urge the Director-General to lead the efforts in putting anti-racism and anti-discrimination at the heart of UNESCO’s programmes.
I thank you.
Ambassador Tebogo Seokolo