Grad­u­ates should help change so­ci­ety

Pos­sess­ing a de­gree does not make you bet­ter…

Post - - COMMENT - De­van is a me­dia con­sul­tant and so­cial com­men­ta­tor. Share your thoughts with him on: yo­[email protected] YOGIN DE­VAN

TENS of thou­sands of men and women owe their ca­reers to the vo­ca­tional train­ing re­ceived at the for­mer ML Sul­tan Tech­ni­cal Col­lege in Cen­te­nary Road, Dur­ban.

Through full-time and part-time classes, “Tech” as it was com­monly re­ferred to, pro­duced wait­ers, chefs, book­keep­ers, teach­ers, mo­tor me­chan­ics, sec­re­taries, car­pen­ters, brick­lay­ers, en­gi­neers, plum­bers, elec­tri­cians and diplo­mats in a host of other pro­fes­sions.

When it was es­tab­lished more than six decades ago, ML Sul­tan Tech­ni­cal Col­lege for the first time pro­vided new ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties which hith­erto had been de­nied to peo­ple of colour, thus ac­cord­ing them pride through mean­ing­ful liveli­hoods.

Iron­i­cally, the man who opened the doors of higher learn­ing for the com­mu­nity had him­self re­ceived very ba­sic for­mal ed­u­ca­tion.

Yet Malukma­homed Lappa Sul­tan, who rose from poverty through dint of hard work to amass a for­tune which he be­queathed to de­serv­ing causes, used his deep re­li­gious and moral con­vic­tions to ad­vance him­self in life, all the while dis­play­ing great em­pa­thy for the hu­man con­di­tion.

I re­flected on the life of Ha­jee ML Sul­tan when news broke that the DA had pro­posed that only an MP with a uni­ver­sity de­gree be con­sid­ered for the po­si­tion of chief whip.

The de­gree pro­posal erupted into mud-sling­ing be­tween DA chief whip John Steen­huisen and the EFF whose lead­ers mocked Steen­huisen for not pos­sess­ing a post-ma­tric qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Steen­huisen re­torted that the EFF big wigs’ de­grees had only equipped them to “steal from the poor and the down­trod­den”.

The party-po­lit­i­cal squab­ble begged the ques­tion: Does a de­gree make you a bet­ter per­son? Is uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion a pre­req­ui­site for suc­cess?

The an­swers came to me when I looked at the life of ML Sul­tan. He was born in Quilon (now re­ferred to as Kol­lam) in Ker­ala, South In­dia, on Fe­bru­ary 15, 1873.

He re­ceived his early ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia but, on the death of his fa­ther, left school at the age of 14.

He worked long hours dec­o­rat­ing and pol­ish­ing brass­ware but, find­ing his earn­ings in­suf­fi­cient for his needs, he de­cided to emi­grate to Cey­lon (now Sri Lanka).

The ship’s en­gines broke down, leav­ing him stranded in Triti­c­urin. His mea­gre funds were soon ex­hausted.

He was ap­proached by the agents re­spon­si­ble for the re­cruit­ment of In­dian im­mi­grants and brought to then-Natal in 1890.

A pe­riod of steady work in the gov­ern­ment ser­vice fol­lowed. As a porter at Berea Road sta­tion in Dur­ban, he met many pioneer per­son­al­i­ties of Natal and im­bibed some of their ster­ling qual­i­ties.

When his con­tract ex­pired, he was at­tracted to the then-Transvaal where he worked as a waiter in a Jo­han­nes­burg ho­tel.

He re­turned to Natal af­ter three years to take up farm­ing. He cul­ti­vated ba­nanas, paw paws and pineapples and es­tab­lished a dairy in Es­combe where he spent the ma­jor por­tion of his life.

He mar­ried Mariam Bibi in 1905 and they were blessed with four sons and six daugh­ters.

ML Sul­tan’s long ex­pe­ri­ence of hard­ship and dif­fi­cul­ties made him an acute busi­ness­man.

Re­al­is­ing the ad­van­tages of com­mer­cial en­deav­our, he opened a whole­sale and re­tail pro­duce busi­ness in Vic­to­ria Street, Dur­ban, while at the same time grow­ing be­tel leaf at Stam­ford Hill.

A busy man, he pros­pered, re­turn­ing most of his prof­its to his busi­nesses and also in­vest­ing in prop­erty. He be­came wealthy, with deal af­ter deal prov­ing suc­cess­ful.

An or­a­tor in Tamil, he read widely, broad­en­ing his spir­i­tual life while not ne­glect­ing the prac­ti­cal as­pects of busi­ness.

It is re­puted that ML Sul­tan was most widely re­spected for his hon­esty. His word, once given, thus be­came a bond stronger than any de­vised by a lawyer.

It is said that, at the age of 80, he walked 20km to keep an ap­point­ment af­ter a land­slide had dis­rupted the train ser­vice.

Such was the man who rose from hum­ble be­gin­nings and earned hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds. He was un­af­fected by wealth yet knew its value and power.

His per­sonal needs were small; he felt that the needs of his fel­low man were greater. In the name of God, he gave back to the poor all that he pos­sessed.

While ML Sul­tan gen­er­ously do­nated money to schools and re­li­gious bod­ies, his benef­i­cence lives on most con­spic­u­ously through the £33 000 he gave for the es­tab­lish­ment of the ML Sul­tan Tech­ni­cal Col­lege (now merged with Natal Tech­nikon and known as the Dur­ban Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy).

He strongly be­lieved that young In­di­ans should have op­por­tu­ni­ties for ed­u­ca­tion to pre­pare them­selves for em­ploy­ment in in­dus­try, busi­ness or a pro­fes­sion of their choice.

ML Sul­tan was a prod­uct of the uni­ver­sity of life. His ex­em­plary life has shown that a de­gree does not de­fine suc­cess.

Hav­ing a de­gree does not mean you are smarter, bet­ter, more qual­i­fied, or harder-work­ing than a per­son who doesn’t have one.

I know of many lead­ers in all walks of life who never ac­quired ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, but through hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion be­came suc­cess­ful and lived a happy life.

Chief Al­bert Luthuli, Africa’s first No­bel Peace Prize Lau­re­ate and pres­i­dent of the ANC for 15 years un­til his death in 1967, was the most widely known and re­spected African leader of his era.

While he com­pleted a teach­ing course, he turned down a schol­ar­ship to study at the Uni­ver­sity of Fort Hare, opt­ing in­stead to stay as a teacher so that the £10 monthly salary would help pro­vide for his aged mother.

How­ever, in to­day’s com­pet­i­tive world you need a de­gree for al­most any job. Em­ploy­ers have be­come ob­sessed with the idea that hav­ing a piece of pa­per with your name on it makes you more qual­i­fied than those who work ev­ery day to make a bet­ter life for them­selves but do not have a de­gree.

Over cen­turies, the uni­ver­sity has evolved from a place that a select few at­tended to be­come aca­demics and fur­ther hu­man un­der­stand­ing to a place where stu­dents go to get a de­cent job.

Pos­sess­ing a de­gree does not make you bet­ter at per­form­ing at a job. It does not over­ride qual­i­ties such as hu­mil­ity, au­then­tic­ity and in­tegrity.

I of­ten see em­ploy­ees who have lim­ited for­mal school­ing run­ning cir­cles around their bosses who have mul­ti­ple de­grees.

Uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion has be­come one of the big­gest eco­nomic bur­dens on so­ci­ety. Most stu­dents are spend­ing at least three years learn­ing some­thing they’ll never ap­ply in their lives. Most of what peo­ple learn in a job is learned on the job. Fresh grad­u­ates learn al­most noth­ing at uni­ver­sity that is use­ful to them at work.

Nonethe­less, the act of ap­ply­ing your­self to get­ting a de­gree by work­ing hard and dis­ci­plin­ing your­self can make you a more well­rounded per­son.

Since many em­ploy­ers still think that hav­ing a de­gree means you are fun­da­men­tally smarter, a de­gree is, by far, the best way to get a higher-pay­ing job. And for that rea­son alone, hav­ing a uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion is, for most peo­ple, in­cred­i­bly use­ful.

But if there is one thing that a de­gree should do, it is to give grad­u­ates an ad­van­tage in terms of their ca­pac­ity to par­tic­i­pate in civil so­ci­ety.

With their gained skills, cre­den­tials and knowl­edge, they should have a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to de­velop their so­cial cap­i­tal, which in­cludes their so­cial net­works with friends, neigh­bours and ac­quain­tances through par­tic­i­pat­ing in or­gan­i­sa­tions and as­so­ci­a­tions.

Grad­u­ates must use their ac­quired skills to fun­da­men­tally change so­ci­ety for good.

The writer refers to the ‘mud-sling­ing be­tween DA chief whip John Steen­huisen and the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers’.

LEFT: The orig­i­nal ML Sul­tan Tech­ni­cal Col­lege. RIGHT: ML Sul­tan


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