GRADUATION CEREMONY OF
JUNE 1, 2001
I wish to thank my colleague, our provincial Minister of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, Minister Singh, for extending an invitation to me to attend and speak at this graduation ceremony of the Owen Sithole College of Agriculture. Another milestone of this College has been reached as today we witness a new class of young people officially receive their qualifications. It is a true pleasure for me to participate in this event, for I have always taken an interest in seeing keen young learners achieve personal excellence. Today’s ceremony testifies that the pursuit of an entire graduating class has been that of excellence and, indeed, the goal has been reached. Those who are gathered to celebrate this victory swell with pride as we share your rightful reward.
Nevertheless, as you receive your diplomas today, I wish to impress upon you that this is neither the greatest nor the only reward your studies at this College will bring. Indeed the piece of paper you will hold in your hands after today, is but a piece of paper. May it remind you always what you are made of; that you have the strength of will to persevere and complete what you have started, and the capacity to build a vision which moves you from potential to actual skill. Let your diploma be a constant reminder that you have what it takes. Yet, as you map your life’s path ahead, be careful not to constantly look backwards to this achievement as the greatest height you may reach. This is but the beginning and from here greater things must come. Let your vision be tempered by nothing but the depth of your will to succeed.
Just exactly one week ago, as Chancellor, I awarded degrees at the University of Zululand. I was quite encouraged to award degrees in agriculture to quite a few graduands, although these are by no means anywhere near being adequate in number. When I look at the backwardness of the African people as far as agriculture is concerned, I nevertheless found this encouraging when comparing the numbers last Friday to the one, two or three who have graduated in agriculture over the years.
I believe that a life lived in the absence of a vision is merely an inconsequential sequence of days, months and years. Every successful man or woman in the history of the world has kept before them a vision of what they could achieve, what they might reach and what they most ardently desired to grasp hold of. A vision should look not only to a future far in the distance, but to the intermediate steps which, once taken, will eventually accomplish its destination. There is a difference between day-dreaming and building a vision. Living in the circumstances we find ourselves in, in South Africa, young people are sadly more susceptible to day-dreaming than vision-building because they lack the faith that prosperity may materialise and success may be achieved.
It is true that our country suffers under vast social and economic pressures. It is true that job opportunities are scarce and nothing is handed to young people, even young people with skills and ability. In South Africa, there is just no substitute for hard work and perseverance. A young person who can take the initiative and create their own employment opportunity, developing a niche which they themselves may fill, have a far better chance of being employed. Employment gives man dignity, but employment does not mean being slotted into a large corporation and receiving the standard perks and a fixed salary. In fact, these things are rapidly becoming anachronistic in our changing environment.
Rather, employment means that one is occupied by a task, that one is employing one’s skill or physical strength or knowledge or intellect. It is this form of employment which gives one dignity. Perhaps we should revert to calling a spade a spade, and acknowledging that employment simply means work. From this perspective, there is plenty of work to be found for those willing to apply themselves to uplifting their own community, repairing their own home, assisting their family and building our nation. I am pleased when I meet a young person who wishes to become a history-maker and a leader. Yet, I am inspired when I meet one who is actually leading those around him by making a difference where he lives. It is these young people who will be remembered in years to come.
As a country boy, I know the difference which Extension Officers have made to the lives of our people in rural areas. But I think that more than any other salaried civil servants, the skills you have acquired here can make a very big difference if Extension Officers looked beyond just doing a job 30 days a month from 8 am to 4 pm and getting paid at the end of the month. As I grow older, I am getting sadder and sadder to see the extent to which African people in South Africa have not appreciated that the first industry in any nation is farming. I am further saddened by the fact that as time goes on, a lot of our limited land in our rural areas is allowed to go fallow. When I grew up, our people used land to produce food for the family. When I grew up there were barns in every homestead where our people kept their produce. There were pumpkins and melons under each barn and people had enough to feed their families. Now our children are ravaged by malnutrition because we are a starving nation. We are poor, yes, but there is just no excuse for not using the limited land that is in our possession even merely to feed ourselves. In the past, people could feed themselves on their produce and could sell the excess and get money to buy other things for themselves.
I wonder if this year's graduates of Owen Sithole College could not take a resolution to encourage our people to stop looking for a time when investors will come to our country to create jobs. It is clear that this is not going to happen in the near future. We must accept that even if our economic growth went up to five or even seven per cent, there is no way that the thousands of our young people who are catapulted into the labour market, can hope for an industrial job. It is quite clear to me that our skilled young people like yourselves who have just qualified, need to aim for more than just getting salaries and being satisfied with that. We have a challenge before us to motivate our people in rural areas to return to the land by using the little land they have to produce food. We have the biggest challenge of our times which is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. There is no cure for this scourge, but when one's immune system is destroyed, it is essential even just to extend the lifetime of victims of this disease by ensuring that they get vitamins which they can only get from balanced diets. I would die a happy man if by the day God calls me, I see a return by our people to tilling the soil. I have come here today to challenge you who are graduating today to resolve to contribute with your skills to motivate our people to produce food for themselves and to feed our nation.
Each one of you is equipped to make a difference in your family, community and nation. You have the tools of skill and knowledge, acquired at the Owen Sithole College of Agriculture. Moreover, I believe many of you have the essential ingredient for success, which is the capacity to build and follow a vision. Our world is rapidly changing and the paradigms which framed the thinking of generations past no longer applies to the younger generation. This is a generation of individual excellence where young people demand more for themselves and for their lives, and in which they play a more active role in shaping our society. I believe it is time for young South Africans to speak up and impact our country in the spheres of politics, philosophy, culture, economics, medicine, agriculture, social development and even recreation. For you, speaking is not enough, because you are trained to do. You are trained to make things happen.
This is the young person’s millennium. With technology moving us ever forwards, it is the dynamic vibrancy of youth which will prosper, for it takes a young-thinking mind to move at the pace our world requires. These changes are influencing every building block of our society. It is not merely in the city that the global village is forming, but across all boundaries of economic status, population density and historical progress. Even in our remotest rural areas the signs of change are being seen. New methods of agricultural activity are developing. Today, we do things better and faster and with more impressive results than older generations have been doing for decades. We have really retrogressed from a subsistence economy, which existed when I grew up, to be a nation of hungry people.
There is certainly wisdom to be gained from tried and trusted methods, but young people must not be afraid to build on what is already known to explore a new avenue and discover what could become tomorrow’s norm. There is always information for those who choose to access it. While not every community has a computer, books are yet to be replaced as one of the most valuable sources of information. The best advice I may give to the young people graduating from this College today is to never ever stop learning. Read, read, read. Speak to those who have been in your chosen field for years. Work hard and try new ways based on what you observe as you meticulously steward whatever work your hands find to do. These are things you can do for yourselves, and for our nation you can wake people up from their present life of starvation, to be a nation of those who help themselves.
The field of agriculture offers perhaps the most honourable and dignified employment of man. It is a timeless profession which mankind shall need for as long as we require food to eat and clothing to cover ourselves. The manufacturing of countless products depends upon the initial industry of farming. Even bricks require straw. Farming is indeed the most fundamental employment of man, for even a philosopher must eat to be strong enough to think. It is my sincere hope that every young person graduating today will carry within themselves the rightful pride of being skilled in agriculture, and will operate in their daily lives according to the dignity which such skill bestows. Let this knowledge support you even as you struggle and work: as you put your skills to use, you become the giants upon which our world may turn.
This College has a long history of perseverance, the spirit of which I believe is contagious among its students. The Cwaka College of Agriculture was first opened in 1968 as part of the former KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Forestry. During the late 1980's, Cwaka College assumed the name of Minister Owen Sithole, who was a colleague of mine when I was the Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government. In 1990, the Owen Sithole College of Agriculture was incorporated into and managed by the Mangosuthu Technikon in Durban. Following a temporary closure, in 1996 it was re-opened by the KwaZulu Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs. Today, the Owen Sithole College of Agriculture continues to bring forth a high standard of graduates, delivering to our province able young people, ready to work, work, work.
There is nothing our province thirsts for more than this. There is a vast ocean of need to be met within our communities. Our poorest of the poor continue to suffer under the sustained burden of poverty, appalling living conditions, insufficient and inappropriate nutrition, and sickness. Much of this suffering is the direct result of ignorance. Too many people lack information on how to maintain a properly balanced diet. Too many people do not know that a piece of land cannot be worked and worked and worked again with the same measly crop of vegetable. Too many people cannot tell when their livestock are sick, or understand that a sick animal cannot be eaten. These are all things which you may teach and every bit of information will serve to alleviate a degree of suffering among our people.
Our people are fast becoming a nation of thieves. Just two weeks ago, thieves stole 17 head of cattle from my herd. And yet I breed Nguni cattle in order to make them available to whoever wishes to breed their own cattle. Hundreds of the King's cattle have also been stolen. Are we going to be a nation of starving people and thieves, merely because we have lost interest in tilling the soil and breeding our own cattle?
A new South Africa cannot be built while the average South African still lacks the strength, the know-how or the resources to develop their own piece of land. Our collective vision for a prosperous and liberated South Africa is not a day-dream of the masses. I refuse to believe that. I know that the young people of our country, workers such as we see before us today, have what it takes to build a vision which has practical and implementable steps, which gives a clear direction, and which finally can reach what it sets out to achieve. The first step upon this vision starts in our poorest communities, for if we are to move forward as a nation we cannot leave anyone behind. If we sacrifice our poorest on the altar of prosperity for the few, ours will be nothing more than just another pitiable and desolate third world country.
Our vision needs to be wholly inclusive. It needs to extend a challenge to our younger generation which they may rise to and conquer. I believe that the greatest challenge before us is that of leading our people out of the bondage of ignorance by teaching them, showing them and helping them. The graduates of the Owen Sithole College of Agriculture have a unique role to play as we face this challenge. You are equipped to lead, equipped to conquer adversity and equipped to educate our people. I do not harbour a single doubt that this generation may become history-makers in our country. If you rise to this challenge, surely nothing can stand against you for very long. But the road ahead is going to be tough and you will need to spread the spirit of perseverance which you have caught while attending the Owen Sithole Agricultural College.
Teach your community. Educate your people. Assist your families. It is from the soil that a tree grows which may one day touch the skies. Let us start from the ground, from the basics, and keep our eyes on the vision of a prosperous future which we all may reach. I believe that under God’s guidance, this generation can do it. As you leave this College today, I wish you everything of the best. May your futures be bright and your vision unclouded.