Durban City Hall: June 9, 2001

The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor C.R.M Dlamini; the Vice-Rector; Chairman and Members of the Council; Deans of Faculties; Members of the academic staff of the University; graduands; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me congratulate parents and guardians who have sacrificed whatever little they have in order to pay for the education of their children. Let me congratulate the Deans and members of all Faculties for the amount of work they have put in to get you where you are today. I congratulate the Vice-Chancellor for I know the pressures under which he has served this University to ensure your education.

As I take to this podium, I drink in the atmosphere of this auditorium, filling myself once again with the spirit of enthusiasm which runs through the graduating class of the University of Zululand. Year after year, this same spirit of joy, pride and eager hope for the future, infuses our celebration and tempers the solemnity of the occasion. For this reason, I always take great pleasure in addressing the graduating classes of this University as its Chancellor, for I know that in attending this event, I am refreshing my own soul in waters of youthful energy. I wish to congratulate every student receiving qualifications today. This is your moment of glory. This is where every face is turned with pride to witness the victory of personal excellence. Congratulations.

Having said this, I wish to clearly state that your greatest reward lies ahead. Those who work for honours have their reward in the blink of an eye, after which their achievement is forgotten by mankind. It is my fervent hope that each graduand seated here today has learned through their time at the University of Zululand to work for personal fulfilment. Working with this goal in mind, one can achieve the destination again and again and again. Works which spring out of passion and personal excellence are seldom forgotten. It is passion that we remember, more than intellect. It is passion that shapes our world. Be passionate about the future. The future is the undiscovered land for you to conquer and shape.

However, before I say more of what I would like to say, let me congratulate all graduates for having received their degrees on the same day that our Deputy President has received his honorary doctorate. I further wish to congratulate the Deputy President for being honoured in this way by our University. It is an honour he well deserves. We all know that as a young man he was sentenced and sent to prison for his convictions. We know further that he thereafter decided to live in exile for the same reason, to participate in the liberation struggle from abroad. We are also aware of the role that the Deputy President and our Dr Frank Mdlalose did to try and nurse the delicate negotiations that were arrived at to achieve reconciliation between members of the ANC and members of the IFP after the tragic war of attrition that took place, particularly in this Province in the early 90's. I do thank our Council for deciding to honour His Excellency in this way, as this is the highest accolade that any University can award to whoever the University decides to honour.

Today has been a very special day for me, for it was another honour for me to award posthumously an honorary doctorate to Inkosi Albert Mvumbi Lutuli, who was the last President-General of the African National Congress before he was banned by the apartheid regime. He is one of the outstanding heroes of our struggle and was the first South African to be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment, and for the commitment of the ANC, to a non-violent struggle for liberation.

For me he was not only an Inkosi I admired, but he was one of my mentors on whose guidance I depended during the most difficult years of my youth. I arrived here in Durban as a young man of 22 years after my rustication from the University of Fort Hare where I had been a member of the ANC Youth League. For the first time I became very close to Inkosi Lutuli as the ANC office at Lakhani Chambers was a place I visited almost daily, and the President-General was there most of the time I was there. I later attended many of the rallies which he addressed here in Nicol Square, with leaders of the Natal Indian Congress, such as Dr Monty Naicker and Dr Yusuf Dadoo. Inkosi Lutuli, with other leaders of the ANC, urged me to take up my position as Inkosi of the Buthelezi clan, when a lawyer here in Durban undertook to take me to do articles under him to qualify as an attorney.

Inkosi Lutuli, Dr Oliver Tambo and other ANC leaders were subsequently to urge me not to turn down the position of Chief Executive of the Zulu Territorial Authority. They argued that it was in the interests of the black liberation struggle for me to take up that position. Throughout the time he was confined to the district of Lower Tugela by a banning order of the apartheid regime, I visited him to seek his wisdom about various problems that I had at that time, as I was also shadowed and hounded by members of the Security Branch of the South African Police.

One of the great privileges which I will always cherish is that when Inkosi Lutuli died, the Lutuli family and the ANC mission-in-exile asked me to deliver an oration at his funeral. I cannot help recalling these things on a day when I am again so privileged to confer posthumously an honorary degree on this great leader who was everything to me in the formative years of my leadership. From what I have just said, you will appreciate what I meant when I said that it is such a great privilege and honour for you to receive your degrees on the same day that our University has decided to honour this giant of our liberation struggle. It is an honour for the University of Zululand from today to count Inkosi Lutuli as one of its alumni. You will I am sure allow me to say that as parents it is also a very special day for me and my wife, that I have conferred a degree on our last born, Sibuyisele Angela Siphetho. She is the second of our children to graduate from this University.

We must believe that the future can be better than the past, and the new better than the old. Each generation must dedicate itself to and carry forward this belief, which is the only guarantee of progress so that, indeed, tomorrow may be better than today. Learning is the key to improving the future. The essence of learning is discovering that which one does not know and going from the known to the unknown, from the old to the new, and from the comfortable to the uncomfortable. Learning is a process through which people accept to change and society as a whole endures the pain of being transformed into something new. True learning is the product of discovery of new things and therefore emphasis should be placed on learning by experience, rather than through a lifeless transfer of knowledge from books to academics, and from academics to books.

Through my own experience, I know that the process of receiving a university education is indeed a maturing experience for many young people. During this time, sound relationships are established and values are shaped for one’s future. Often it is at university that one flies solo for the first time, without the warm and familiar nest of home, family and community. Independence is at first a heady experience for most young people. It is for this, and many other reasons, that I take pride in the University of Zululand, for I have seen year after year how it catches young fledglings and provides a sense of stability and structure. I believe that the finest achievement of this University lies in its ability to instill within each of its students an unwavering sense of responsibility.

It is this responsibility which must characterise your progress today, as you move from the closed classroom into the open world of ideas. Indeed, a whole new world is opening up to this generation. Today, the access to information which you already enjoy surpasses by such great strides that of my own generation, that the difference in fact and value cannot be measured. The Internet has released enormous potential across the globe. Anyone surfing the net requires little more than the discipline of filtering information and the will to seek knowledge in order to increase their own understanding of the world we live in. Acquiring information is no longer a restricted benefit. It is quick to find and easy to assimilate. It is already formatted and cross referenced. The groundwork has often already been laid.

Undoubtedly, this is a miracle of technology and surely a step towards victory for our own country. I have always spoken of the need to educate in order to liberate, and I still believe that education is the only tool with sufficient leverage to throw off the yoke of ignorance, complacency and superstition. However, there are serious pitfalls to the information age which I would wish every young person here today to be aware of as you walk into this world. I know that there will be very few young people in this auditorium who have not experienced the joys of fast food. With no mother to prepare your meals and no fixed family schedule to make you sit down and eat, I know that you will have discovered the convenience of hamburgers and pizza. Yet, I also harbour no doubt that in time you also discovered the nutritional shortcomings which compromise fitness, endurance, well-being and health.

I believe that the same danger exists in fast information. Our minds are not built to retain every image and fact thrown at us. If that were the case, we would in all probability be burnt out before our first birthday. It is essential therefore that the proper amount of time is taken to assimilate information, to study related disciplines, understand the background, comprehend the implications and follow the line of thought to its logical conclusion. There is no value in picking up haphazardly bits and pieces of information, enough only to complete the immediate task. Within a few hours the information will be pushed out by other pressing thoughts, and nothing will have been learned. For academic institutions, even the value of setting projects in order to critically engage learners will be entirely lost.

This is a danger we must guard against as we celebrate the unparalleled opportunities and potential of information technology. I believe it is particularly relevant to South Africa, for we are increasingly looking in the right direction to achieve our collective goals of social development. More and more, we are looking to education, training and skills development to improve our economy in the long-term and create employment in the present. This is a route I have always espoused and I am pleased to see it becoming the path of conventional wisdom. Yet we could lose the value of knowledge if we settle for a fast-food education system. We need to create a culture of learning, not merely a short-lived climate of information.

On this occasion, it is my privilege to congratulate another graduating class of the University of Zululand on having persevered in the discipline of attentive study. You have opted to build your knowledge and skills over a number of years, first laying a solid foundation of awareness of the world you live in. It is because of this effort that your education will never be taken away from you. No man can remove from another what he knows to be true. Anyone can challenge a system of belief pieced together overnight with limited information. But no storm of intellectual misperceptions, mass illusion or social dogma can shake what is constructed on a solid foundation of knowledge. As with anything, the wider the base, the better the structure will stand.

The responsibility which rests upon our universities in South Africa today is to encourage students to have the courage to think. A University does not teach one what to think, but how to think for oneself. Young people must dare to analyse their own circumstances without bowing to the common beliefs circulating among their society. One such erroneous belief is that the past held greater potential than the future ever will. Having emerged from the severe historical legacy of apartheid, the younger generation desperately needs to develop a sense of individual self-worth. By exploring one’s own mind, one’s beliefs and critical processes, one begins to trust the outcome of individual thought. This is a lesson that we in South Africa must demand from our institutions of learning.

It has never been true that an established system can think for the individual. No government in the history of mankind has been so much wiser than the people it governed that individual liberty of thought could justifiably have been suppressed. Until every South African thinks for him or herself, liberty will be an illusion we can never quite reach. It is vital that ordinary men and women question their leadership. Question the current policies on all important matters. Question what is being done and what is not. Question how things could be better.

Each of us has the power to improve on the world around us by finding ways and means to do things better. This requires critical judgement and independent thinking, as well as the goodwill to become an agent of transformation and improvement. I have often spoken of a revolution of goodwill as something necessary to bring about a groundswell of transformation which betters our communities, work-places and institutions of civil society. Such a revolution of goodwill must be driven by the intellectual avant garde produced by universities such as ours.

It is only when young people begin to take up a role as active protagonists of their own future that the future we envision will actually emerge. The vision we share as people of goodwill is that of a prosperous and free South Africa. The vision includes everyone. It is the vision of an African Renaissance established by forever looking outwards and learning more. Today, I wish to challenge the young graduands of the University of Zululand. Take ownership of your country, beginning with your own family and community. Take hold of your future by grasping the present and understanding the history from which today has emerged. Know yourself. Know your thoughts, and mould them into a different form wherever necessary to allow you to shape your own destiny.

This is a destiny determining generation. The choice is in your hands; will we ride the surface of infinite information further and further away from a genuinely liberated South Africa, or will we truly get to know the world around us and make an informed decision on where South Africa should go? Together, we can move our country towards social stability, economic prosperity, individual liberty and collective goodwill. Yet we must have the courage to take things in hand and change whatever is holding us back. Do not waver. Do not wait. Let us dare to know our country’s shortcomings, and have the courage to address them. This is how we will win a future worth living for. Let us change tomorrow, today.

I wish for each one of you a future of your own making and a passionate contribution which South Africa will never forget.


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