South Africans demonstrate a traditional ¡°Tin Dance¡± before the Korean children at the Seoul Youth Center for Cultural Exchange, or MIZY center in Seoul, on April 17. / Korea Times
By Kim Se-jeong
South African Ambassador Stefanus J. Schoeman can proudly and honestly say there's been much progress in the relationship between Korea and South Africa over the last few years.
Trade volume between the two nearly doubled from $1.8 billion in 2004 to $3.5 billion in 2007. There have also been improvements that can't be measured by figures.
The Korea-South Africa Consultative Forum took place for the first time in December last year, and business has begun to pick up.
Schoeman has also seen South African wine, jewelry and arts and crafts gain wider exposure among Korean consumers thanks to his support. A South African celebrity on a popular TV talk show was also a big help.
In promoting South Africa, the month of April is a booster because the country celebrates Freedom Day today.
This year, the celebration has been exceptional thanks to the preparation the country is undertaking for a sports festival next year. The 2010 FIFA World Cup will take place in South Africa, and the ambassador hopes it draws a stream of Korean football fans and tourists to his country.
Meanwhile, on April 18, a flock of Korean children and South Africans gathered for a South African festival at the Seoul Youth Center for Cultural Exchange, or MIZY center, located at Seoul Youth Hostel.
The three-hour session, put together by the embassy and the center, introduced the South African spirit to the children through a film featuring South Africa's savanna landscape and animal lovers, and an exhibition of the country's arts and crafts.
Registration has already closed, illustrating the interest among children and mothers, a staff member at the center told The Korea Times.
``You will experience the real South African culture¡¦ the exhibition features South African arts and crafts" Schoeman said in his letter. Beaded works made by women in rural communities will be on display as a special highlight.
One surprise was a turnout of South African citizens, a facet that wasn't expected.
Mostly living in Korea teaching English or studying, nearly 30 South Africans came either to be part of the performing groups or to support their friends and families.
They said they had heard about the presentation through Facebook, an online social network.
South African performers presented poetry, dance and singing, an exotic spectacle and eye-opening experience for the children.
The presentation was also part of the center's embassy-adoption program.
Since 2007, it has invited staff from various embassies to visit its premises, having them talk about their countries and teaching the children about their culture. Australia, Switzerland, Greece, India, Turkey, Israel, the Philippines and Canada have been invited.
Freedom Day commemorates the post-apartheid election held in 1994. Ending racial discrimination in local elections, all South Africans above voting age ¡ª regardless of their race ¡ª were able to vote on this day 15 years ago. Previously, non-whites had only limited voting rights.
This week, the embassy will be engaged in public outreach programs. South African professors are in town to give lectures about the country's history, culture and politics.
Professor Van der Walt from the University of South Africa and Professor Faire-Wessels from the University of Pretoria will run a series at five universities in Korea starting today.
They will visit Seoul National University, Sogang University, Sangmyung University, Sungkyunkwan University and the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
``I hope that many Korean students can take the opportunity to be exposed to South African culture,'' the envoy said with hope that those who get a taste of his country this year will be motivated to visit in 2010.
Meanwhile, later this year, South African music group ``Lady Smith Black Mambazo,'' winner of three Grammy Awards, will come to Korea, for which the embassy plans a celebration.