Flanders' Pretoria office blows out 20 candles
On the 14th of February, our office celebrates 20 years in South Africa!
A trade office for Flanders had already been established in Johannesburg and Cape Town as early as 1 January 1994. It would however take another 5 years before the first General Representative of the Government of Flanders (known as the Counsellor for the Flemish Community), Mr. Yves Wantens, took up the post in Pretoria. He reminisces about that Valentine’s Day opening: "I know we started on the 14th, a Sunday, which coincided with an official visit of the then Belgian Prime Minister. On that 14th of February, I flew with the South African Ambassador to Belgium and the EU, H.E. Eltie Links, from Johannesburg to Cape Town in the jump seats in the cockpit, because due to a change in programme there were no other seats available." A memorable start to the 20 years in which we have represented the Government of Flanders in South Africa.
Yves Wantens had been working in South Africa since 1991 and participated as a monitor of the first democratic elections in 1994. He says opening the Flemish office, in the last months of the Nelson Mandela Presidency, was an honour and an experience he treasures deeply. He held the post for the next 9 and a half years, and was succeeded by Mr. David Maenaut, whose mandate ran from September 2008 to July 2014. David arrived as the then President of South Africa, Mr. Thabo Mbeki, was recalled by the ANC, and David’s posting saw further momentous events in South Africa, including the inauguration of the first Mandela Day in 2009, the FIFA World Cup in 2010, and the passing of former President Nelson Mandela in 2013. David and his family took the time to travel intensively in South Africa and they developed a genuine love for the country and its people, which was greatly appreciated by local colleagues and friends.
His successor, since July 2014, is Dr. Geraldine Reymenants. Reflecting on the past 5 years, Geraldine especially cherishes her contacts and conversations with local people. Whether it is students who have received a scholarship to study in Flanders, social entrepreneurs whom we have supported through our development cooperation projects, researchers and academics cooperating with their Flemish counterparts, South African and Flemish artists working together on a production, or youngsters involved in the Flemish-South African youth volunteering programmes, it is motivating and heart-warming to see how our work can have an impact on individual lives. After all, diplomacy is not just about politics and trade; it is also – or even more so – about people.
We want to thank the past and current staff of the Flemish Representation in Pretoria (Christel, Anna, Jean-Jacques, Seema, Monique, Natasja, Katrien, Michelle, Nadine, Katrien, Zvi) for their hard work, commitment and support, as well as all the partners and stakeholders in South Africa and Flanders with whom we have collaborated since 1999. Needless to say, this anniversary is the ideal opportunity for opening a bottle of bubbly!