Deputy Ministers Present;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Prof. Michael Barber;
Distinguished guests; and
Ladies and gentlemen:
It is my pleasure to address this honourable event, the official launch of the Somafco Prize Initiative.
I thank the Somafco Trust for putting together this pivotal initiative that responds to the critical needs of our country in the sphere of education and socio-economic development.
I am informed that three of the full-time members of this team are former students of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College.
I want to thank them for keeping alive the spirit of Somafco in the incarnation of this Trust.
Indeed they are embodying the crucial link between the present and the past.
From the day when Somafco was established in 1978 the link between education and the struggle for freedom further crystallised.
We may note that Somafco’s creation as an educational institution was occasioned by the influx of school going exiles following the 1976 school uprisings.
Despite the bleak exile conditions this remarkable institution sustained and developed an education based on principles of equal opportunity, non-discrimination and the dignity.
This ethos prefigured the values that would underpin the approach of democratic South Africa to education.
Sharing ideas with the Somafco Trust on their vision back in 2006, I took the liberty to encourage the Trustees to carry forward the legacy of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College.
Overcome by its historical resonance, I appealed to the Trust to look to interventions in the area of education by developing a strategy to make Somafco Trust a beacon for education and youth development in South Africa.
I am therefore pleased to see that the Trust has made good on this undertaking, and today we are all gathered here to witness the launch of this initiative.
As it is this initiative represents a great leap forward recognising the importance of education to empower individuals and their families but also for positioning our country at an advantage.
The concept and practice of Somafco from the exile days has come full circle in democratic South Africa by making real the goal of Somafco becoming a ‘beacon for education and youth development’.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is delightful to note that this initiative was, from infancy, supported by a number of key players.
Among others, I believe the Somafco Prize Initiative was developed through consultation and in partnership with the Trust’s patrons, the South African education experts, and numerous social development initiatives, together with the support of McKinsey & Company.
As a result I would like to express my gratitude for this immense support, knowing that the type and scale of challenges our country faces on the education front cannot be tackled in isolation, or indeed by individual entities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Education is one of the five priorities of government. The other four are: housing, rural development, job creation and fight against crime as well as health.
The prioritisation of education is based on the fact that education is an equaliser to enable us to address the many challenges that bear on the future of our country.
Government is aware that without much progress in the improvement of the quality of education and producing learners with basic skills consistent with the demands of the globalised world our country will remain trapped in economic and technological stagnation.
Equally, addressing these deeply embedded challenges, some of which deal with the sustainable livelihoods and life chances of families and communities, requires a collective effort.
I therefore appreciate the Trust’s effort of initiating education dialogues in partnership with the Department of Basic Education which started in May this year.
I believe that through these dialogues the Trust will bring together students and parents to share the challenges we collectively face in education, discuss the responsibilities and opportunity we each have to improve education, and make commitments around what we each will do to be a part of the solution.
After all, education is undoubtedly the most prized investment skill one can possess in this knowledge-based world economy.
I am convinced that with the close co-operation among all the stakeholders and key players the Somafco Prize Initiative will fill a critical gap in the development of our education system so that all our efforts make a lasting difference in improving the lives of our people for the better.
On this account, I am informed that the Somafco Prize Initiative will conduct an annual competition to identify promising local initiatives in the areas of education and youth development and provide them with support to excel.
As government, we stand firmly behind such initiatives because we deem it a national priority to promote equal education for all of our children.
As the former President of the African National Congress Comrade O.R. Tambo used to say, “a people that does not care for its children, has no future and deserves none”.
In this regard, one of the key challenges facing our country today is to create conditions that conduce to the love for learning and education among our young.
For this to happen we need to devise means to incentivise learning conditions, by among other things, giving the necessary support to deserving schools in order to improve capacity to produce well trained learners confident enough to face the demands of a world driven by high literacy and numeracy skills.
I emphasise social private public partnerships for one main reason.
Without working together to address the structural challenges facing the historically disadvantaged schools, our country will continue to pay the price for the deficiencies suffered at early learning level, particularly manifesting themselves in the post-matriculation of many learners.
I think, therefore, this initiative should be commended and practically supported as it is sorely needed by our communities and the country at large.
I also appreciate the initiative’s stated support networks, the structured planning process with the technical support, increased visibility and more importantly, the announced retreat programme to Mazimbu in Tanzania.
I am sure the retreat to Mazimbu will be the watershed moment defining the vision of this initiative.
Through this act, our past and present will be connected in the mind of the learner in a manner whose symbolic importance is immeasurable.
In essence, it will literally bring our learners to a part of the world where, at least in part, the history that underlies the character of the present South Africa unfolded in actual fact.
I am therefore confident that the content of this retreat will be imprinted by this history, which will in turn enable the learners to appreciate where we come from as a country.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In this way the Somafco Prize Initiative is proving to be not only an agent mobilising for the education of learners but, and more importantly, a center of historical consciousness.
The awareness of our past as part of our collective heritage is crucial and will in this instance be activated by activities such as the Mazimbu retreat as mentioned earlier on.
This is a wholesome approach that supports educational objectives, the financial support systems as well as the values infused in our history upon which our society is built.
If you will recall, these values propelled the lives of figures such as Solomon Mahlangu in the making of our history, for which he, along with many others, lost their precious lives while in their prime.
This sort of pedagogic approach produces rounded human beings who understand their historical roles in society and appreciate how the past formed present conditions.
Our country needs agents of transformation who appreciate the role of education as a great equaliser and a mechanism to uplift the lives of people.
Finally, I have been informed that the Somafco Prize Initiative Launch Event is just the beginning for the Somafco Trust.
The real work begins with the conducting of a successful programme in the following year.
Let me say without hesitation I am confident in your capability to rise to the height of the challenge ahead and I am confident you will do a remarkable job.
I am hopeful that in 2011 I will be able to join you one more time for the occasion marking the first batch of winners of this historic development, the Somafco Prize Initiative.
Once again I thank you very much and wish you everything of the best in your efforts.