In welcoming the Minister and his high-level delegation to the University of Pretoria, Prof. De la Rey reiterated the University's commitment to the advancement of knowledge production and human development through strategic and sustained productive international collaborations. She singled out the University's much-valued and longstanding relations with various Belgian institutions, including five institutional agreements and thirty-seven collaborative research projects, and added that the University is also participating in the Erasmus Mundus Project coordinated by the University of Antwerp.
Minister Vanackere's address to staff and students proved to be a highlight of the visit. He had specifically requested to address students at UP, referring to them as the "young and bright generation" and concurring with Alfred Whitehead's assertion that "the task of a university is the creation of the future". He encouraged the students to start 'shaping tomorrow today by being committed to their studies' and by allowing their enquiring minds to explore the world. He acknowledged the wide-ranging and progressive academic and research relationships that exist between the University of Pretoria and various Belgian universities but expressed the wish and commitment to help deepen such academic relations even further.
In this spirit of enhanced cooperation, he announced a Belgian Government grant of euro 300,000.00 (almost R3 million) to support a new Mediation Centre within the University's Faculty of Humanities, and specifically within the Department of Political Sciences. "For several reasons I was impressed by the objectives of the centre, even more so since peace building, especially in central Africa, has been one of the priorities of Belgium's foreign policy in the last decade. It is especially in this area that Belgium and South Africa find synergy on the African continent and that the cooperation between both countries has added value", the Minister said.
In acknowledging the generous support to the Mediation Centre, Prof. Maxi Schoeman, Head of the Department of Political Sciences, mentioned that the funding will go a long way in assisting her Department to build the institutional and academic capacity to contribute to peace and stability in Africa and further afield. The Mediation Centre will enable staff and students to interact with fellow African scholars as well as international mediators to understand, and help resolve, conflict in Africa and at the same time advance the subject of mediation within the academic programmes of the University.
The Belgian delegation also included His Excellency Mr. Jan F. Mutton, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Belgium to South Africa; Ambassador Frank De Coninck, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region; Mr. Karl Dhaene, Advisor for Africa, Mrs Petra Vankeirsbilck, Director Communications and External Relations, Mr Bart Ouvry, Minister’s Spokesperson as well as other Belgian diplomats and journalists.