Flanders Day 2016
The General Representation of the Government of Flanders and the Flemish Economic Representation in South Africa hosted a reception to celebrate Flanders Day. Dr. Geraldine Reymenants, General Representative of the Government of Flanders in her remarks spoke about Flanders cooperation with South Africa. The cooperation began in the mid nineties and "he cooperation with South Africa, as well as with the region, has always taken local needs and challenges as its starting point. However, those needs and challenges have evolved enormously – and often positively – over the years. In such a way that needs and challenges have now become opportunities. The nature of our cooperation has likewise evolved towards a balanced partnership that focusses on dialogue, exchange, sustainability and impact," said Dr Reymenants.
Photo: (l-r) Flemish Economic Representative Marc Schiltz, Dr. Geraldine Reymenants General Representative of the Government of Flanders, Flemish Development Counsellor Katrien Dejongh and guest speaker Pat Pillay.
Remarks by Dr. Geraldine Reymenants, General Representative of the Government of Flanders at the Fanders Day reception
Pretoria, 15 June 2016
Members of the diplomatic corps,
Ladies and gentlemen,
In naam van de Algemene Afvaardiging van de Vlaamse Regering en van de Vlaamse economische afvaardiging, wens ik u van harte welkom op onze jaarlijkse receptie naar aanleiding van de Vlaamse Feestdag. U weet ondertussen dat we hier in Zuid-Afrika Flanders Day een maand te vroeg vieren. We gaan er – helaas onterecht, zo blijkt - vanuit dat het mid juni nog iets warmer is dan begin juli. Maar we willen vooral de Zuid-Afrikaanse schoolvakantie, waar 11 juli middenin valt, omzeilen. En, laten we eerlijk zijn, we willen ook onze eigen verlofplannen veilig stellen.
On behalf of the General Representation of the Government of Flanders and the Flemish Economic Representation, I wish you a warm welcome to our Flanders Day reception.
We regard Flanders Day – officially on the 11 of July – as the perfect occasion to pay respect to South Africa - our host country -, and to thank our partners, colleagues and compatriots with whom we have collaborated and interacted over the past year. We would also like to thank Ambassador Cooreman and all our colleagues from the Embassy of Belgium for the excellent cooperation and support between our respective offices.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Since the beginning of Flemish foreign policy, in the mid nineties, South Africa and the southern African region have been our priority partners. The cooperation with South Africa, as well as with the region, has always taken local needs and challenges as its starting point. However, those needs and challenges have evolved enormously – and often positively – over the years. In such a way that needs and challenges have now become opportunities. The nature of our cooperation has likewise evolved towards a balanced partnership that focusses on dialogue, exchange, sustainability and impact.
In some areas, this is particularly evident.
Trade and investment, to start with. Flanders has a trade and investment office, based in Johannesburg, that is headed by my colleague Marc Schiltz, who is co-host of today’s reception.
Trade between South Africa and Flanders has been quite productive and intense over the last couple of years. Flemish exports to South Africa have quintupled between 1994 and 2014, with South Africa now being our 37th export market. And whereas the Flemish export to the BRICS countries in general decreased in 2015, the export to South Africa continued to grow. South African exports to Flanders as well increased over the past 20 years, to 1,847 billion euro in 2014, making it the 24th supplier of goods to Flanders.
Flemish companies are in particular interested in some of South Africa’s booming businesses, such as telecommunications, the health sector, tourism, food, water infrastructure and the energy sector.
When it comes to trade relations, Flanders and South Africa indeed have many common grounds, and therefore have a strong base to further build on. Both countries have an open economy and are very dependent on trade and export. South Africa is like Flanders a logistics hub, and is the economic motor of the region. Therefore South Africa is an important gateway to Sub Saharan Africa, just as Flanders is a gateway to the European market.
Secondly, the cooperation between Flanders and South Africa in science and innovation has become very intense. All Flemish universities, and many of the university colleges, have signed institutional or other cooperation agreements with partner universities in South Africa. For the universities of Leuven and Gent, South Africa is a priority country in their internationalisation policies. Most important disciplines of cooperation are: health, biosciences and biotechnology, IT, agriculture and food security, earth observation and environment.
As part of the bilateral agreement between the Research Foundation – Flanders and the South African National Research Foundation, a third call for joint research projects between Flemish and South African researchers was recently launched. Deadline for application – for those who would be interested – is 30 June.
Earlier calls resulted in highly interesting research projects in the fields of Biological sciences and biotechnology, Humanities and social sciences, IT, Good governance, Astronomy and Nanotechnology.
Student mobility between Flanders and South Africa is also on the rise. Earlier this year, representatives of 6 of our higher education institutions, amongst whom our leading universities, attended the Study in Europe Fair, organised by the EU delegation in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. It clearly shows the interest of our universities and university colleges in attracting South African students.
When it comes to culture, we see a growing interest of Flemish writers, choreographers, theatre makers and musicians to come to South Africa to perform. They participate in South Africa’s leading arts festivals, both Afrikaans- and English-speaking. But it is by no means a one-way ticket. In March of this year, two Flemish rap musicians participated in the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in Oudtshoorn, alongside South African rappers. They are now making plans to get the South Africans over to Flanders to perform together there. Such exchanges will hopefully get more intense in the future, so that not only the South African audience is exposed to Flemish arts and culture, but that the Flemish audience also gets to know what is going on here.
Strengthening the economic ties and cooperation in science and innovation, as well as promoting social, cultural and interpersonal exchanges between Flanders and South Africa, will remain the focus of the Flemish foreign policy towards South Africa in the next few years.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Alongside economic, scientific and cultural cooperation, development cooperation was, and is, at the core of what we do in and with South Africa.
Our current programme focusses on job creation through SME development, with a specific aim to strenghten the social economy ecosystem in South Africa.
Economy and the private sector are key for the development of any country. However, with our development cooperation programme, we have deliberately chosen to support entrepreneurship that not only values financial returns, but equally prioritises social and environmental value, as we recognize the role played by the social economy and small and medium enterprises as catalysts for socio-economic change. We are therefore delighted that the Economic Development Department, together with the ILO, and with the support of Flanders, will shortly start working on the development of a social economy policy in South Africa.
The Government of Flanders has recently decided to shift our development cooperation programme for the next five years towards the effects of climate change and the green economy. We will, however, build on our past experiences, as it is our conviction that entrepreneurship which combines economic, social and environmental goals will contribute significantly to solving sustainable development challenges.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you have read on the invitation, today we also bid farewell to our development cooperation attaché Katrien Dejongh, who will return to Brussels at the end of this month. Katrien has been the driving force, the mind and the heart behind the shaping and reshaping of our development cooperation programme over the past years. She will be missed by our office, and – I am sure – by all the partners with whom she has worked. We wish her all the best in her future endeavours.
On the occasion of Katrien’s farewell, we have invited Mr Pat Pillay as our guest speaker. Pat is a teacher and social entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of LifeCo UnLtd SA, a social enterprise that – amongst many other things – develops, funds and supports social and environmental entrepreneurs. We hope to work more closely with LifeCo in the future.
Dr. Geraldine Reymenants
General Representative of the Government of Flanders