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Supporting representation in a Connected Commonwealth

CSC Alumni South Africa

As part of this year’s Commonwealth theme, ‘A Connected Commonwealth’, on 20 March 2019 the UK in South Africa hosted a roundtable discussion for Commonwealth and Chevening Alumni at the UK Trade Commissioner’s Residence in Johannesburg.

The purpose of this event was to engage alumni in discussions focusing on the state of human rights in South Africa and the Commonwealth. The event was also designed to support alumni in building their local networks and discuss ways to ensure that UK scholarships are more representative of the diversity of South Africa. The discussions were partly motivated by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in April 2018 where all leaders emphasised that the full social, economic, and political participation of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic status, is essential for democracy to thrive.

Sian Price, Counsellor – Politics, Prosperity & Communications, British High Commission Pretoria, opened the event by welcoming alumni and various stakeholders in attendance. She highlighted the purpose of the event in line with the commemoration of Human Rights Day in South Africa. Gail Smith, Spokesperson, South Africa Human Rights Commission, proceeded with a presentation on the work that the Commission is conducting to address ongoing human rights challenges in the region.

Geoffrey Ogwaro, an LGBTI activist working for the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, spoke on their continuous efforts to address discrimination against the LGBTI community. He highlighted that the Commonwealth has a role to play in ending discrimination, harassment, and hate speech against LGBTI persons. This was followed by a talk by Dr Priscilla Mensah, Director for Human Infrastructure Capacity Development (HICD), National Research Foundation (NRF). She highlighted the key initiatives of the NRF aimed at advancing human rights through equal access to scholarships and research funding opportunities.

To wrap up the presentations, Philip Parham, UK Commonwealth Envoy, made an intervention touching on the UK’s commitment to ensuring that the Commonwealth delivers everything that was committed to at the CHOGM in 2018. He said, ‘We want to increase the voice of the Commonwealth in the international community’, and focused his talk on the four key areas that the UK is working in which are linked to human rights – prosperity, sustainability, security, and fairness.

Preceding the open discussion, British Council Country Director, Colm McGivern spoke on the importance of alumni participation in such initiatives, adding that international scholarships are a powerful means of intervention, but there is a need to diversify and increase access to these scholarships. An open interactive discussion then followed which provided alumni an opportunity to respond and comment on their experiences. Dr Sabha Besharati (2012 Split-site Scholar, PhD Psychology, King’s College London and the University of Cape Town) gave a few suggestions on how UK scholarships can be more accessible to diverse students through early advocacy work. Speaking on the value of her Commonwealth Scholarship she noted that ‘The infrastructure in the UK supported me to complete my studies in record time’.

If you are a Commonwealth Alumnus and would like to find out more about CSC events and activities taking place in South Africa, please contact alumni@cscuk.org.uk

Photos on flickr

@commschols on Twitter

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