Graça graces Gra­ham­stown


Idon’t lec­ture; I hold con­ver­sa­tions,” was Graca Machel’s open­ing dis­claimer at her talk in Gra­ham­stown on Thursday 5 Oc­to­ber. Her con­ver­sa­tion on this oc­ca­sion dealt with what African iden­tity looks like in both a busi­ness and so­cial con­text un­der the topic, ‘Re­boot­ing a value-based so­ci­ety’.

Machel de­liv­ered the Thabo Mak­goba De­vel­op­ment Trust an­nual lec­ture hosted by the Rhodes Univer­sity Busi­ness School crowd to a large au­di­ence of Rhodes Univer­sity stu­dents, school­child­ren and mem­bers of the pub­lic.

The School’s Di­rec­tor Pro­fes­sor Owen Skae in­tro­duced her, along with an ex­ten­sive list of ac­co­lades.

The for­mer first lady be­lieves African iden­tity is a ‘col­lec­tive’ one. The essence of Ubuntu, she said, means, “I do not ex­ist with­out you.” She had reached this un­der­stand­ing through work­ing with large groups of peo­ple, she said, and jok­ingly con­fessed, “Don’t be im­pressed: I don’t do things my­self, I get other peo­ple to do things. I be­lieve in a net­work of peo­ple to get things done.”

As a hu­man­i­tar­ian, a politi­cian, and the cur­rent Chan­cel­lor at the Univer­sity of Cape Town, her ex­pe­ri­ences of so­cial in­jus­tice has built her so­cial ac­tivism pro­file.

This has gained her a place on the Africa Progress Panel, a group of 10 dis­tin­guished in­di­vid­u­als who ad­vo­cate at the high­est lev­els for eq­ui­table and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment in Africa.

Machel said through­out the of­fices she had held, she had learned that fam­ily, school, and ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions help cre­ate our value sys­tems. The Free­dom Char­ter, she be­lieves, lays the foun­da­tion for a demo­cratic so­ci­ety and im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life for all.

Her fo­cus ranged across sev­eral of South Africa’s cur­rent big is­sues.

“How many cases do we hear of women and chil­dren be­ing as­saulted? Ev­ery three days a child is killed from abuse and ne­glect,” Machel said. “Ev­ery eight hours a woman dies at the hands of her part­ner.”

She asked where our value sys­tems had de­vi­ated from the ideals of the Free­dom Char­ter. “We hear these things and we carry on with our lives as if it has noth­ing to do with us,” she said.

She said HIV in South Africa had robbed a gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren of their par­ents, dis­tort­ing value sys­tems and desta­bil­is­ing the very foun­da­tion of fam­ily. “This leaves us with gen­er­a­tions that have no sense of what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Machel, “We have gained a tol­er­ance for vi­o­lence, cor­rup­tion and un­con­sti­tu­tional be­hav­iours.”

Machel went on to dis­cuss the #FeesMustFall protests, point­ing out that the youth cur­rently at ter­tiary level are the ones most af­fected by par­ents who were lost to HIV. She en­cour­aged protest­ing for the free ed­u­ca­tion that so­ci­ety wants - but said stu­dents should be pro­gres­sive in their protests.

“If you burn when you’re an­gry, it plays against your­self,” she said, re­mind­ing her largely stu­dent au­di­ence of their broth­ers and sis­ters who would come af­ter them.

She put the chal­lenge to stu­dents at ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions to come up with ways to com­bat in­jus­tice and build mean­ing­ful move­ments against it.

Her clos­ing ad­vice, “Dream big and con­sider what kind of South Africa you want to live in,” was met with ap­pre­cia­tive clicks and “Amens” from the mes­merised crowd.

Photo: Stephen Pen­ney

Rhodes Univer­sity Vice Chan­cel­lor Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Graca Machel, Lun­gelwa Mak­goba and Di­rec­tor of the Rhodes Busi­ness School Owen Skae at Rhodes Univer­sity last night. Machel de­liv­ered the key­note ad­dress at the third Arch­bishop Thabo Mak­goba...

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