Man­dela a lodestar for ‘his’ var­sity

The univer­sity’s new chan­cel­lor draws on her per­sonal links with uTata to drive her mis­sion

Mail & Guardian - - Education - Geral­dine Fraser-Moleketi

Iam deeply hum­bled by the con­fi­dence that the coun­cil and com­mu­nity of Nel­son Man­dela Univer­sity have shown in me to lead this key in­sti­tu­tion at such a crit­i­cal time for higher ed­u­ca­tion and for our trans­for­ma­tive, de­vel­op­men­tal na­tion.

Many years ago, as one of the younger mem­bers of Nel­son Man­dela’s Cabi­net, I an­swered to him, and I must con­fess, to­day, I can­not help but still feel ac­count­able as I am in­stalled as the chan­cel­lor of Nel­son Man­dela Univer­sity.

Where are we headed? We’ll draw some of our inspiration from Africa’s rich aca­demic tra­di­tions that can be traced back to Egypt, Morocco and Mali dur­ing what Europe self­di­ag­nosed as its me­dieval pe­riod. Fifty-five years ago, in de­fi­ance of the then gov­ern­ment’s best ef­forts to sti­fle our African her­itage, Man­dela un­der­took an African re­con­nec­tion odyssey, trav­el­ling through 16 countries in­clud­ing Tan­za­nia, Ethiopia, Al­ge­ria, Morocco, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Kenya — and then on to Bri­tain be­fore re­turn­ing through Botswana. It was on this trip that our for­mer pres­i­dent led an ANC delegation to the Pan African Free­dom Move­ment for East, Cen­tral and South­ern Africa (later to be­come the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for African Unity) and he of course used it for much more. Dis­tinct foot­steps, again …

So, hum­bled, in­spired, ac­count­able and one more: res­o­lute ... I am res­o­lute in my con­vic­tion that this univer­sity — our univer­sity — will soar from its rock-solid foun­da­tions to be­come a gi­ant African-based ed­i­fice of in­tel­lec­tual in­quiry and ad­vance­ment … a trans­dis­ci­plinary cen­tre of ex­cel­lence.

As the tit­u­lar head, I look for­ward to work­ing with the vice-chan­cel­lor, Pro­fes­sor Sibongile Muthwa, a woman of the highest aca­demic cal­i­bre and in­tegrity, and the chair­per­son of coun­cil, am­bas­sador Nozipho Jan­uary-Bardill, another role model. This is the only univer­sity to have a trio of women — strong women, un­apolo­get­i­cally so — at the helm.

So where should our fo­cus lie, as a na­tion, as a higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor — and closer to home — as Nel­son Man­dela Univer­sity?

Our name­sake de­scribed racism as “a blight on the hu­man con­science”. He said: “The idea that any peo­ple can be in­fe­rior to another, to the point where those who con­sider them­selves su­pe­rior de­fine and treat the rest as sub­hu­man, de­nies the hu­man­ity even of those who el­e­vate them­selves to the sta­tus of gods.”

Many years later, just last month, in fact, a white woman be­came the first South African to be sen­tenced to a prison term for the use of racist lan­guage of a na­ture rem­i­nis­cent of the worst pe­ri­ods of our past. The sad re­al­ity, we all know, is that Vicki Momberg is by no means the last bigot in our midst.

But it’s not just the big­otry that should alarm us; it’s the af­flic­tion of entitlement to con­tinue en­joy­ing the best re­sources our coun­try has to of­fer — to the con­tin­ued ex­clu­sion of the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of cit­i­zens — that is of greater con­cern.

Non­ra­cial­ism is a key prin­ci­ple of the Free­dom Char­ter, our Con­sti­tu­tion and univer­sity. This prin­ci­ple should not be con­fused with colour-blind­ness, the post-race so­ci­ety, or the ex­punc­tion of dif­fer­en­ti­ated racial ex­pe­ri­ences. Rather, it should be un­der­stood as a re­lent­less, in­ces­sant prin­ci­ple that an­i­mates our work against racism, in a de­cid­edly racist and racialised so­ci­ety and world.

If we fail to ac­cel­er­ate, com­pre­hen­sively, ad­dress­ing apartheid power re­la­tions in our land — so­cially, psy­cho­log­i­cally, ed­u­ca­tion­ally and eco­nom­i­cally — we ren­der non­ra­cial­ism vul­ner­a­ble and run the risk of threatening the re­al­i­sa­tion of a trans­for­ma­tive de­vel­op­men­tal state, be­sides fail­ing the le­gends in whose foot­steps we tread.

Our uni­ver­si­ties have a crit­i­cal role to play in this re­gard. Now is not the time for anger or ag­gres­sion; as an in­sti­tu­tion we must grasp the op­por­tu­ni­ties that real trans­for­ma­tion presents.

One of the chal­lenges we face is a pub­lic dis­course that some­times re­flects trans­for­ma­tion as only par­tially de­sir­able. Let’s be very clear about this: trans­for­ma­tion is not about charity; it does not equate to a low­er­ing of stan­dards, cor­rup­tion, or the pun­ish­ment or ex­clu­sion of any par­tic­u­lar group. It does not in­fer in­fe­ri­or­ity or a low­er­ing of stan­dards, but su­pe­ri­or­ity, progress and sus­tain­abil­ity. It is a process we must en­gage, and we must emerge fairer, more com­pas­sion­ate, and with a greater sense of pride, eq­uity and jus­tice when we are done. It is not just de­sir­able; it is a ne­ces­sity.

Main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo — be it eco­nom­i­cally, in the own­er­ship of land, the de­mo­graph­ics of our in­sti­tu­tions, or op­por­tu­ni­ties for our chil­dren — is tan­ta­mount to booby-trap­ping our na­tion’s fu­ture, be­sides be­tray­ing the prin­ci­ples of our leg­endary el­ders and the an­ti­a­partheid strug­gle.

The trans­for­ma­tion re­quired that our uni­ver­si­ties strad­dle ev­ery as­pect of their ex­is­tence, from ad­mis­sion poli­cies, fields of study and cur­ric­ula to ped­a­gog­i­cal ap­proaches, the de­mo­graph­ics of staff and stu­dent bod­ies, and the qual­ity of their out­put.

We must con­front the is­sue of gen­der and fem­i­nism as well. As Nel­son Man­dela Univer­sity, can we as­so­ciate our­selves with Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie, who said: “My own def­i­ni­tion as a fem­i­nist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a prob­lem with gen­der as it is to­day and we must fix it, we must do bet­ter. All of us, women and men, must do bet­ter.”

In the words of our Dr Pumla Di­neo Gqola: “While there are many fem­i­nist strands, which is to say dif­fer­ent kinds of fem­i­nism, there are also many core prin­ci­ples. The commitment to ac­tively op­pose and end pa­tri­archy is one. The recog­ni­tion that pa­tri­archy works like other sys­tems of op­pres­sion, like racism and cap­i­tal­ism, to value some peo­ple and bru­talise oth­ers, is another area of agree­ment. Like other sys­tems of op­pres­sion, it also re­quires the sup­port of many mem­bers of the groups it op­presses.”

Changes to our race and gen­der poli­cies and at­ti­tudes are part of the re­bal­anc­ing and rein­ven­tion act that we must ad­dress prag­mat­i­cally and fear­lessly because it’s about se­cur­ing a col­lec­tive fu­ture.

By way of ex­am­ples, we would like to de­velop a higher pro­por­tion of black, and women, post­grad­u­ate stu­dents at Nel­son Man­dela Univer­sity with­out re­duc­ing the number of white, or male, post­grads.

And we’d, for ex­am­ple, like more of them to be en­ter­ing the au­dit­ing pro­fes­sion, and con­tribut­ing to the de­vel­op­ment of a new global and na­tional en­vi­ron­ment of eth­i­cal gov­er­nance — to span both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors.

Nel­son Man­dela Univer­sity is very well po­si­tioned to lead the de­vel­op­ment of new knowl­edge and re­duce de­pen­den­cies on re­ceived doc­trine. This re­flects the work of my pre­de­ces­sors at the then Nel­son Man­dela Metropoli­tan Univer­sity, Chief Jus­tice Pius Langa and, most re­cently, Santie Botha, who were highly com­mit­ted to this in­sti­tu­tion. They laid strong foun­da­tions on which I in­tend to build.

We have a bold and dis­tinc­tive foot­print, na­tion­ally and glob­ally, in trans­dis­ci­plinary en­deav­ours in­clud­ing the ocean sciences, where our work is re­garded as pi­o­neer­ing. By con­tribut­ing as we are to rad­i­cally deep­en­ing un­der­stand­ing of sus­tain­abil­ity, across the broad spec­trum of nat­u­ral sciences, we ad­vance democ­racy and so­cial jus­tice.

As Pro­fes­sor Der­rick Swartz, our for­mer vice-chan­cel­lor, suc­cinctly put it: “The re­search we do is an im­por­tant tool to help gov­ern­ments, in­dus­tries and com­mu­ni­ties to make de­ci­sions in an in­formed, so­cially and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able man­ner.”

Fly­ing the flag for Nel­son Man­dela, in our val­ues and prin­ci­ples, comes with mas­sive nat­u­ral ad­van­tages, too. By em­brac­ing di­verse knowl­edge and tra­di­tions, and hu­man­is­ing ped­a­gog­i­cal ap­proaches, we stim­u­late a vi­brant in­tel­lec­tual cul­ture deeply em­bed­ded in our roots and cul­ture. We are re­con­nect­ing with Africa, fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar path to that of our name­sake across the con­ti­nent in 1962, and then on to Bri­tain and across the globe.

I think we can pat our­selves on the back for both an ex­cep­tional body of stu­dents and an ex­cep­tional en­rol­ment value chain en­hanc­ing stu­dent ac­cess and nur­tur­ing suc­cess.

Through cur­ric­ula and co-cur­ric­u­lar in­ter­ven­tions we be­come the ci­ti­zen-mak­ers we aspire to be, de­vel­op­ing grad­u­ates as re­spon­si­ble and demo­cratic hu­man be­ings who con­trib­ute to ad­dress­ing global chal­lenges in in­no­va­tive and trans­dis­ci­plinary ways ... cit­i­zens who con­trib­ute to our coun­try and our chang­ing world.

“The power of ed­u­ca­tion,” Man­dela said, “ex­tends be­yond the de­vel­op­ment of skills we need for eco­nomic suc­cess. It can con­trib­ute to na­tion­build­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Our pre­vi­ous sys­tem em­pha­sised the phys­i­cal and other dif­fer­ences of South Africans with dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects. We are steadily but surely in­tro­duc­ing ed­u­ca­tion that en­ables our chil­dren to ex­ploit their sim­i­lar­i­ties and com­mon goals, while ap­pre­ci­at­ing the strength in their di­ver­sity.”

Now is not the time for anger; we must grasp the op­por­tu­ni­ties that real trans­for­ma­tion presents

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.