LAUNCH OF THE HEWLETT PACKARD COMPUTER CENTRE

UNIVERSITY OF ZULULAND


REMARKS BY

MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI, MP

CHANCELLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY AND MINISTER OF HOME AFFAIRS

UNIVERSITY OF ZULULAND, KWADLANGEZWA : MARCH 22, 2000

I must thank the Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University, Professor Charles Dlamini, for having asked me to participate in this important event. The launch of the Hewlett Packard Computer Centre at our University represents a further milestone in the growth of our institution. I must wholeheartedly thank the Hewlett Packard Company for this important donation. It is essential that our University strengthens its information technology backbone, and makes information technology more readily available to our students.

I wish that I could proudly state that by opening up this important computer centre our University is making available the technology of the future for its students. Even though the equipment supplied to us is undoubtedly state of the art, we must accept that instead of moving into the future, we are now beginning to catch up with the past. Our University must move further and faster in developing greater information technology to assist the training of its students. Today, the world of knowledge is no longer contained exclusively in libraries located in certain prestigious universities, but is becoming a world in itself which exists and constantly expands in cyberspace.

In today's world, successful learning requires having one's feet on the ground, as it always has, but also the ability to reach into cyberspace. Computers have become the link between individuals and the world of knowledge, with immediate access. Computers are the passports to be carried by citizens of the global village of knowledge and information. By giving our students access to computers, our University is providing them with a passport which identifies them as full rights citizens of the global village in cyberspace.

I believe that we must rely on constant technological improvements to bridge the enormous gaps which still exist between rich and poor. The fast development of technology has great potential for speeding up the pace of social justice. Information technology enables a young person born in a remote rural area to access the same information and share the same horizons as a child born in an affluent environment of an urban area. I hope that this computer centre will offer our students the same advantages that students have across the world.

I believe that we must rely on constant technological improvements to bridge the enormous gaps which still exist between rich and poor. The fast development of technology has great potential for speeding up the pace of social justice. Information technology enables a young person born in a remote rural area to access the same information and share the same horizons as a child born in an affluent environment of an urban area. I hope that this computer centre will offer our students the same advantages that students have across the world.

In the past years I have advocated in Parliament that the whole of South Africa should make massive investments in information technology and new emerging technologies. In fact, technology remains the fastest and most secure way to bring about the human upliftment of our population and the accelerated growth of our economy. I have always been impressed by how the Taiwanese people had the wisdom to stake their future on technological investments. They started with a population with a low level of skills and education which was constrained by the contingencies of war, on a relatively small island with no natural resources. They invested in the most important of all resources which is the human brain and the ingenuity of mankind. They dedicated themselves to social discipline and embarked on a long journey supported by a long-term vision of development. They leapfrogged over the technology of the time to invest in the emerging technology of the future. Instead of focusing primarily on the steel and other industries, they turned to computers.

South Africa must operate on the same basis. We need to develop a long-term plan which can educate our people to master present and future levels of technology. We have a unique opportunity to begin directing our efforts towards the implementation of such a long-term plan. In fact, government will be promoting one of the most massive programmes ever undertaken on our continent. From this year, 0.5% will be lifted from the salaries of each and every South African which amount will be increased to 1% next year. This money will be used to train people. However, we must ask ourselves what we are training people for and how we must train them. Training people will take between five and ten years and, therefore, they should be trained not for today's world, but for the world of tomorrow which we wish to create through our efforts.

I have indicated in Parliament that I believe people should also be trained in the use of computers and, when possible, should be trained by computers themselves. Nowadays, computers can train people as well as people used to do, if not better. I was pleasantly surprised to see that in South Africa we even have a virtual university in which students may enroll to receive a fully fledged university degree. Each student is monitored through each stage of his or her education and is tested before and after each chapter of his or her curriculum. Specific programmes are tailored for each student to remedy his or her weaknesses and to reinforce information and knowledge where and when needed. All this is done, not by people, but by an online internet service. What is most fantastic and extraordinary, is that we are just at the beginning of this new world of training and education.

It is obvious that as the world develops, one of the most important divides between people and nations will be that which separates those who are technologically clued up from those who are technologically clueless. Today, we are making a commitment to ensuring that our students can stand tall amongst those who will be technologically clued up. It is important that all role players in our society, as well as internationally, make a personal contribution to ensuring that our future generations can keep up with the pace of technology. In the world of tomorrow, the lost generations will be those which have received training and education which does not match the technological requirements of the day.

In fact, the flip side of fast technological improvements is the fact that large segments of the population are left behind. For this reason in South Africa, as in the rest of the world, government will be forced to expend significant resources in trying to bring back on a technological par those who have been left behind. The responsibility of raising the technological platform of each country cannot rely on the efforts of government alone. All role players within society must make a contribution.

Today, Hewlett Packard is giving an example by donating this computer equipment to our University. Their contribution is of enormous importance. As a computer company, Hewlett Packard may be in a better position than other companies to make such a contribution, for they can receive fiscal advantages and broaden their markets. However, I believe that government should create similar incentives for each and every corporation to make contributions towards the raising of the technological platform of our country. It is essential that large corporations donate technology and work beyond the confines of their workplace to improve on the technological infrastructure of communities.

Universities remain one of the most important centres of a necessary technological revolution. It is essential that people in all fields become more technologically aware and that universities shape technologically astute professionals, irrespective of their future field of activities. People of my generation have been left behind and now experience difficulties even in operating household equipment such as a VCR, which is now directly connected to numbers coding each of the programmes shown on TV so that one can preset to record them.

Because the access to technology is unequally distributed in our country, it is the responsibility of universities to bridge this gap at least in respect of their own students. Our University is surely not doing enough, but is moving fast towards trying to do more in this respect. We need to receive more assistance and encourage more donors. Donations in technology made to a university are indeed a long-term investment in the future of our country and will translate into tangible economic growth.

Our University must also become pro-active in soliciting donations and encouraging businesses to be more present in the life of our University. Many businesses have products which are relevant to the future lives of our students, both as professionals and as citizens of our country. We should encourage such businesses to make their products available to our students while they are with us, so that they can appreciate them also after their graduation. We must especially focus on technologically demanding products.

As students confront a new world of information, they will need to learn how to appreciate this blessing and avoid its evils. At times there is the erroneous perception that technological training should reduce critical capacity because it moves people from the world of relative concepts into that of objective certainties. It is the duty of centres of learning, such as our University, to stress that even in a technological world, the most important function remains that exercised by the human brain and its critical capacity. No knowledge should ever be received as a certainty. Even technological knowledge is constantly challenged. The history of mankind proves that not one single theory or piece of knowledge is an absolute. Each of them has been requalified and transformed by further knowledge acquired through critical thinking on the existing knowledge.

Critical thinking is especially needed when dealing with an enhanced world of information which tends to level down differences amongst the sources of the knowledge and the criteria for the verification of their truth. Those who access the internet will find an endless amount of information on any given topic. It will all look equally credible and equally impressive. However, students must learn how to differentiate between what is true and what is not, what is reliable and what is not, and what is credible and what is not.

Furthermore, as the length and breadth of information increases, the issue of its relevance becomes critical. Students must learn to understand and pursue relevance so as to narrow the scope of their interest. This consideration proves that the question of the method remains as relevant now as it was 600 years ago when this question planted the first seeds of the human renaissance and the development of the scientifically based world in which we now live.

We approach a rapidly changing world with the spirit and the wonder of those who first laid down the pilasters of a new world order based on knowledge, critical thinking and the pursuit of individual and collective happiness. Knowledge, technology and information are to serve the cause of human happiness and growth. The renaissance began half a millennium ago when the most revolutionary statement was made that each individual, the single man, is the measure of everything. By carrying this statement forward into the third millennium, we shall ensure that machines and technology serve mankind and not vice versa.

Therefore, I invite our students to learn about machines and to use machines to learn about themselves. As was written in the most important source of all knowledge to the ancient world, the Temple of the Oracle of Delphi, the source of all knowledge is in "know thyself". I invite our students to ponder on this eternal truth because in the end, we all stand before our own image reflected in the mirror of life, and every step we take to grow and become more aware of the world surrounding us, should lead us to gain a better understanding of ourselves.

Today, the Hewlett Packard Company and our students have begun a journey in the most exciting of all territories, which is that of human growth and upliftment through knowledge. We thank the Hewlett Packard Company for their generosity and we invite them to continue this journey with us for many years to come. A partnership has been forged which shall continue. Our students and our University take pride in having the sponsorship of Hewlett Packard and wish to continue to take pride in having this generous company as our partner in development and human upliftment. The communities to which our students belong and to which they will return, are going to be equally appreciative of what Hewlett Packard has done for their growth and upliftment.

Our University needs more and greater support and we hope that the example of Hewlett Packard will be followed by other corporations. We also hope that Hewlett Packard can be conducive to opening more of such doors for us within the corporate world, both in South Africa as well as in the United States where Hewlett Packard's parent company is based. Our University is very thankful for all the help it has received and wishes to all its donors the success which their generosity has rightfully earned them.

With these few words, I wish to state once again that it has been a pleasure and a privilege for me as Chancellor of this University to participate in the official opening of the Hewlett Packard Computer Centre at our University.

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