SPEECH BY THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION, PROFESSOR SME BENGU, INTRODUCING THE DEBATE ON THE RATIFICATION OF THE SADC PROTOCOL ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING - NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, 23 FEBRUARY 1999
This Protocol is an agreement among the SADC member States to co-operate more closely in the area of education and training.
It establishes a legal and institutional framework to facilitate regional integration in specific priority areas of education, training, research and development.
The ultimate objective is "to progressively achieve the equivalence, harmonisation and standardisation of the education and training systems in the Region", within a period of 20 years from the date of the Protocol's coming into effect.
Over 150 member States of UNESCO, including South Africa, are already committed to a similar programme of work on a global scale, and governments have made great progress in bringing their national education and qualification systems into greater harmony with one another. The new global order makes such work a necessity.
The objectives of the SADC Protocol on Education and Training are therefore neither new nor surprising, and this Parliament should support them wholeheartedly.
This is not to say that the objectives of the protocol will be easily achieved.
These matters are not only technically complex. They touch vital interests within our societies. And they take time to implement, as South Africans know only too well.
But South Africans also know that the difficulty of a project is not a sufficient reason to shun it.
There are very good reasons why we should join our SADC neighbours in acceding to this education and training agreement.
Firstly, the world is driving towards convergence, not divergence. There is a de facto global knowledge system, in which national traditions and preferences are giving way to universal interest, and the cultural heritage of mankind is becoming accessible to al peoples on an unprecedented scale.
Even while we struggle to make education and training of good quality available to all our people, we cannot avert our eyes form the challenge to bring this region's education and training systems into closer accord and alignment, as part of the world system of learning.
Secondly, SADC has the complex and challenging mission of building a community of politically stable and economically strong nations, able to serve their peoples' needs and successfully compete in the world marketplace.
One of the region's main challenges is to accelerate the development, prudent management and efficient utilisation of its human resources, in order to achieve sustainable economic and social development, and promote the overall agenda of peaceful regional co-operation and integration.
But SADC citizens have inadequate access to educational services. There is chronic under-investment in education and training infrastructure, including new technologies of learning and communication. There are widespread shortages of personnel in critical skill areas. Learning programmes and labour market demands are poorly matched, and specialist training carries high unit costs. The HIV/AIDS pandemic takes a heavy toll on the most productive and skilled categories of the region's workforce, including its teachers and learners.
If these challenges sound familiar, it is because the region's problems are South Africa's problems writ large.
We South Africans, representing a new and strong non-racial democracy, have a particular opportunity and obligation to join hands with our neighbours in SADC, to help reconstruct and develop the region's human resource capacity, in the course of peace and prosperity for us all. Not least because this country squandered wealth and blood in the wars for white supremacy, minority rule, and control of strategic resources that devastated this region for so long.
Thirdly, it is obvious that the renaissance of our nation and our continent requires unremitting work on repairing, reviving and uplifting our education and training systems to the highest level of excellence of which we are capable.
The SADC Protocol on Education and Training is part of that enterprise, the African Renaissance, to which this government is totally committed, and on which we are already working.
Last April, we hosted UNESCO's all-African conference of Ministers of Ministers of Education in Durban, known as MINEDAF VII. We offered to make South Africa's experience, expertise and existing infrastructure of higher education institutions available to the rest of Africa, as part of an overall programme of mutual co-operation and exchange. I preside over the Intergovernmental Committee responsible for overseeing the implementation of the conference decisions.
Madam Speaker, in a formal sense, protocols are legally binding international agreements and in this case, form part of the SADC Treaty, once they are signed and ratified by the required number of member States.
The Protocol was signed by 11 of the then 12 SADC Heads of State or Government, including President Mandela, at the SADC Summit in Blantyre, Malawi, in September 1997. To date, six of the eleven signatory countries have ratified. When two more have done so, the Protocol becomes effective and binding.
South African delegations were closely involved in the development of the SADC Protocol on Education and Training, and the final negotiation of its terms. Our contribution has been significant. I can state with confidence that the terms of the Protocol are visionary but prudent, and consistent with our Constitution, our domestic policies and our laws. We intend to continue to play our full part in implementation.
Madam Speaker, I am proud to propose ratification.
I thank you.