The Herald (South Africa)
BRA HUGH HONOURED
Mabizela also slams lack of ethical leadership
TRUMPETING HIS VIEWS: If African people were so concerned about colonialism they would have to give up their largely colonial lifestyles, jazz legend Hugh Masekela said when he was presented with an honorary doctorate in music at Rhodes University in Grahamstown yesterday. Masekela was commenting on the current campaign to remove or destroy colonial-era monuments. He commended the youth for their activism, but said there were more pressing issues that needed tackling
RHODES University vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela yesterday cautioned against the “ad hominem” – or personal – attacks that had characterised calls for the removal of all remnants of colonialism, such as the Cecil John Rhodes legacy.
He also lambasted the leadership vacuum in the country, saying people of questionable moral and ethical character had been elevated to positions of leadership and responsibility.
Opening the university’s three-day graduation period, Mabizela said the recent outcry over colonial statues and yesterday’s fall of Rhodes’s statue from the University of Cape Town highlighted the lack of transformation at universities.
The university – named after the British colonialist – holds its graduation at a time when Rhodes and colonialism have become a highly contentious topic as calls mount for the removal of all things reminiscent of the period.
With Rhodes University’s own students now calling for a name change, Mabizela cautioned against the personal attacks and name-calling that had marked the campaign.
“We welcome the open- ing that has been created by our students to engage, debate and discuss our complex and uncomfortable past in earnest in order to forge a new and shared future,” he said.
“However, in order for us to advance the creation of the kind of society envisioned in our constitution, we must refrain from making sweeping, unhelpful and hurtful generalisations. We should never try to delegitimise, trivialise or be dismissive of each other’s views and experiences.”
He said the outcry over colonial and apartheid remnants brought to light the “unfinished project of fashioning, out of a society kept apart by centuries of colonialism and decades of apartheid . . . a more humane . . . and inclusive society.
“The recent events point to the sad reality that the political transition of 1994 has not been accompanied, in any tangible and meaningful way, by economic and social upliftment of the poor and marginalised majority of the country.
“More fundamentally, these events point to the lack of transformation in society and our institutions of higher learning.
“Central to the issue of transformation [in universities] are the key questions of: what we teach, who teaches, how we teach, how we assess, recognition and appreciation of different lived experiences that students bring with them to class.”
Turning to the national leadership, he said the country had lost the plot envisaged for South Africa when millions took to the polls in April 1994, with the political power change-over not having yielded meaningful transformation.
He decried what he described as the crass materialism, rampant corruption and a complete lack of integrity and morals that characterised the country’s leadership.
“We have lost our direction . . . and, above all, we have lost our moral compass. We have elevated to positions of leadership and responsibility some people of questionable moral and ethical character.
“People who have no sense of the difference between right and wrong, just and unjust,” he said.
“We have become a society in which obscene and unbridled opulence exists alongside debilitating poverty and deprivation, a society that relentlessly promotes a culture of untrammelled greed and conspicuous consumption above the public and common good, a culture that judges one’s worth by the amount of personal wealth amassed.”
Mabizela said “the noble qualities and values of personal integrity, honesty, humility, compassion, respect for each other, fairness, forgiveness, empathy, selfless dedication and willingness to put others first, that were so beautifully exemplified by President Nelson Mandela, have given way to venality, a complete lack of integrity, moral decadence, profligacy, rampant corruption, deceit, and duplicity”.
According to Mabizela, South Africa was still struggling to find a common set of values and had yet to forge a shared sense of national identity.
“The maturity of our 21year-old democracy will be tested as we engage, debate and discuss our painful, complex and uncomfortable past.
“It will also require mature and visionary leadership . . . leadership that is guided by principles and that eschews populism.”– Additional reporting David McGregor
‘ We have elevated to positions of leadership some people of questionable moral and ethical character