UNIVERSITY OF ZULULAND
KWADLANGEZWA, EMPANGENI : MAY 25, 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.
I must congratulate those who have been honoured by the University with honorary doctorates this morning. All the recipients of this accolade are well known to me and some of them I regard as very close friends.
It came as a pleasant surprise to me that Princess Constance Magogo Mantithi Sibilile Ngangezinye ka Dinuzulu would be honoured posthumously this morning. As you are all aware, she was my mother. I thank those who made the decision to bestow such an honour to her even 18 years after she departed from this world. As many of you will understand, it was a deeply moving thing for me as her son to confer an honorary doctorate on her on behalf of the University. It is very difficult for one to sing the praises of one's parent but although she was not a person of letters, I do perfectly understand why she was honoured in this way.
I learnt my politics on her knee. Her grandfather, King Cetshwayo ka Mpande, had to face a war - the Anglo-Zulu war - which he tried so hard to avoid. And yet Zulu warriors distinguished themselves on the 22nd of January 1879 at Isandlwana in defeating what was the mightiest army in the world, the British army. King Cetshwayo suffered when he was arrested and exiled from his Kingdom. He met Queen Victoria in London in an effort to negotiate his return to his Kingdom. We know how he was humiliated and was allowed to return to a Kingdom that was in tatters, torn by strife engineered by the Imperial powers on the basis of divide et impera. The Princess was bought up by her grannies, some of King Cetshwayo's widows, and she owed to them her deep knowledge of history, Zulu culture and folklore.
Then when her father, King Dinuzulu, tried to settle old scores with those who had humiliated his late father, he suffered a worse fate. He was deposed from the Zulu throne at a young age, shortly after he took over, and returned from exile in 1897 only to be again charged with the crime of high treason in 1906, after the Bambatha Rebellion. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and when the first Prime Minister of South Africa, General Louis Botha, released him from Newcastle prison in 1910, it was not a release to his home but a release to exile in Middleburg in the then Transvaal where he died in 1913.
I know that the Princess was not honoured for the trials and tribulations of her grandfather and father, but for her own attributes and achievements, which I will not repeat as some of them appear in her C.V. But I think she derived great inspiration for her songs and deep religious life from that background of her family. In 1957 she herself led women, together with her daughter-in-law, my wife, against the imposition of dom passes on African women.
It is a wonderful coincidence that she is being honoured together with someone like Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo, one of the greatest composers and musicians of our time. And that this should occur at the very time when Professor Khumalo is engaged in writing a libretto of an opera based on the life of the Princess. It was such a great honour for me to have conferred a doctorate on Professor Khumalo, who has few peers in his sphere, and who has enriched our Nation with his compositions, such as USHAKA.
I also congratulate Mr Mthiyane who deserves the honour the University asked me to confer on him for the various contributions he has made to the progress of our Nation. The same applies to Professor D.Z. Ntuli. These sons of KwaZulu Natal are highly respected by us all for their various contributions.
With each passing year I take to this podium with a sense of honour and privilege, to witness the young leaders of our country receive their right of passage from the limited context of lecture halls to the broader world classroom of ideas. The horizons which seemed to delineate where opportunity and possibility end, are today transformed into signposts directing the way into a future much larger, much wider and far more inspiring than any conceived thus far. It is my sincere hope today that the vision which stirs these young people to action, is not based merely upon what they have achieved in the past. Indeed, a vision which fails to make one tremble just a little, is hardly a vision at all. If the young people before us are content to plod their way forward step by weary step, surely they will never match pace with the runners who push the boundaries forward and map the world we live in.
It is my greatest desire that the graduating class before us will accept the baton being extended to a new generation, and run with it. Africa was not born to forever follow in the footsteps of others, but we must map our own way and navigate with such perspicacity that others begin to follow. I believe this to be the true meaning of an African Renaissance; that we begin to see ourselves as the head and not the tail. Our African tradition has much to offer in the way even of social engineering. Our lives have always found expression in collegiality, and we define ourselves according to community. While the rights of the individual must have their place in any civilised society, many societies are today struggling to maintain a harmonious social existence. With ubuntu as its product, Africa can make its contribution to a rapidly globalising world.
As we nurture an African Renaissance, we are not building out of nothing, but upon the wealth of ideas, philosophies, cultures and knowledge of mankind’s long and complex history, which we must now fully learn, absorb and metabolise as part of our own being. Our young people need to immerse themselves in the historical world context, grasping on to knowledge as though it were the lifeblood of a future more malleable and more generous, simply for being in the hands of those who comprehend the dynamics of their world. The time has come to remove the shackles binding the minds of our younger generation, so that we do not shuffle into a new era of historical and cultural illiteracy, wallowing in ignorance, superstition or intellectual complacency. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "If [we] expect to be a nation ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, [we] expect what never has been and never can be."
Now is the time to look towards the great thinkers of our world, seeking their inspiration of wisdom to give power to our passion for prosperity. Nowhere is there another quite like this generation, vivid with the desire to see equality and individual liberty prevail, and determined to move South Africa out of intellectual bondage and into the dawn of a new age of reason. I speak of a new age of reason as our destination as I reflect on how no greater change in the history of mankind ever took place than the one which sprang out of the belief that all men are created equal by virtue of a shared God-given rationality, which was entrenched in the first Age of Reason sprung from Cromwell’s revolutions and the French Enlightenment. In Africa, we need a similar impetus to close the past and begin with the future. Indeed, the capacity for reason qualifies man to live morally within a social compact. In South Africa, where our tradition expresses itself in the social context through ubuntu, we still need to rationally cultivate a goodwill which extends across cultural boundaries, to willingly embrace the fraternity which springs from a recognition of equality.
Jean-Jacques Rosseau, whose philosophical genius fuelled the French Revolution, declared it is reason which enables man not merely to think correctly, but to act correctly. Such correct action encompasses the pursuit of the common good; a pursuit which I believe should occupy every revolutionary of goodwill within our country. Harmony is created within a society when the willing aim of each is to pursue and serve the interests of all. The common good is not merely what we ought morally to aim at, but is indeed the general will of rational man to seek such common good. When we aspire to this ideal, our actions promote liberty and equality, while our aspiration both arises from and promotes a spirit of fraternity.
Seeking this spirit, we must guard against feeling the psychological legacy of our historical circumstances so keenly that it becomes an excuse to say ‘I am more deserving than my brother’. Equality demands that one views oneself as equally deserving at entry level, yet perhaps more qualified or capable because of one’s skills or talents, and perhaps more valuable because of a constant and conscious intellectual evolution which one has personally undertaken. For this reason, I believe that education should impart knowledge first, and grow, develop and mature the aspects of one’s character only as a consequence. I take pride in the University of Zululand as it strives to achieve this ideal.
As they leave this University, I seek to encourage this class of graduands to think even beyond the limitations of circumstance. While we may not all elevate ourselves out of the economic and social conditions in which we find ourselves as South Africans, every one of us is capable of elevating ourselves above and beyond intellectual and spiritual poverty. However, we cannot close our eyes to the tangible realities of life; that one must work to live, one must produce to find dignity, and one must create to achieve self-expression. The only path to improving our tangible world is that of hard work, which is a source of human dignity and self-expression. Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers who crafted the Declaration of Independence, spoke of work as an integral facet of civilised man.
Jefferson’s vision of a nation both highly educated and highly evolved, equally steeped in the values of work and intellectual pursuit, expresses perhaps the highest ideals of any society. This University maintains an excellent standard of inspiring students to take pride in the product of their labour. Whether it be a purely intellectual pursuit, the solving of a logical quandary, or a manual task requiring physical expenditure, it is my hope that the young people seated here today shall always consider their work worthy of wholehearted engagement. The product of our labour expresses our dignity, and the doing of it, our character. Man must aspire to fulfil his dignity, and work is what gives dignity to man.
For this reason, I am concerned about unemployment which I regard as the greatest social plague affecting our society. Each of you must take up the tools at your disposal to defeat unemployment, by creating opportunities to work even where formal employment does not exist. Do not let any day of your life go idle or unproductive, but ensure that each day is blessed by some form of work, be it only reading a book which enables you to grow, doing repairs to your house, or voluntary work in your communities. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with diligence and passion. May today’s graduands find favour in the eyes of man by the excellence of their work.
I feel that the vision of Thomas Jefferson perhaps applies to our situation today more than any other time in our history. Through his powerful words he sought the reinvigoration of choice and a renewed sense of the aspirational. His were the famous words that all men are created equal. Martin Luther King was to argue that these words were a promissory note issued by the founding fathers which, even today, has not yet been fully paid. There is recognition also in our own country that our constitutionally entrenched equality has not completed the journey from the page into reality. It will require an effort of will to translate this legality into the every-day reality of South Africa’s people.
Yet it is no longer a struggle of fundamental concepts which engages us, but a struggle for genuine liberation from the yoke of poverty, ignorance for lack of education, unemployment, criminality and need, under which too many of our people continue to suffer. Our struggle today is one which engages us all equally as South Africans. No longer do we juxtapose one race against another, for our shared victory is dependent upon the cohesiveness of our vision of a liberated South Africa. In this pursuit, we have learnt perhaps to tolerate one another in our vast diversity. Yet we cannot maintain the artificial lines which separate us into cultural, linguistic, religious, racial or historical boxes. Unity is precipitated by knowing one another.
Until we reach across these divides and embrace the richness of an as yet unexplored experience, until we speak to one another, eat with one another, work with one another, live with one another and share with one another our daily experience, the muscle of our critical faculties will also remain weak. As thinking beings, we need to expose our ideas to opposition, so that we may challenge our belief systems and prove them worthy to uphold or in need of adjustment. Living in such a diverse society as ours, South Africans are privileged to have their ideas challenged daily. Indeed, I believe it is essential that the individual subjects all his beliefs to criticism and accepts nothing purely on so-called authority or popular belief. This generation must learn to think for itself and use its capacity for critical reasoning.
Immanuel Kant, one of the last and greatest of the Enlightenment thinkers, elucidated the meaning of enlightenment by saying that it is the "emergence of man from his self-imposed infancy. Infancy is the inability to use one’s reason without the guidance of another. It is self-imposed, when it depends on a deficiency, not of reason, but of the resolve and courage to use it without external guidance. Thus the watchword of enlightenment is Sapere aude! [dare to know]. Have the courage to use one’s own reason." Ignorance, superstition and bigotry are easy, while knowledge and enlightenment are difficult and demanding, being for this same reason wholly worth pursuing.
Accordingly, I exhort every young person graduating from this University today to dare to think. Become agents of transformation and renaissance. Become active nation builders and intellectuals. Give your contribution, not because you have been told it is morally correct, but because it is reasonable to take ownership of your families, work-places, communities and country, being a good steward, and delighting in the precious gift of being born a son or a daughter of African soil.
The circumstances of our country and our people are not yet those of prosperity, stability and reconciliation. We struggle against many dire needs and insufficiencies. Yet this does not justify either an active or a passive desertion of South Africa by educated, skilled or professional young people. This generation cannot give up. Francois-Marie de Voltaire said: "It has been maintained in many countries that it was not permissible for a citizen to leave the country where chance has caused him to be born. The sense of this law is visibly: ‘This land is so bad and so badly governed, that we forbid any individual to leave it, for fear that everyone will leave it’. Do better: make all your subjects want to live in your country, and foreigners to want to come to it." The creation of such a better alternative is not merely the task of government, but of the people who elect that government; the ordinary citizens who seek to transform their country out of need and into a future of prosperity.
Each one of you seated here today is capable of raising the level of prosperity in South Africa. You are able to do so by applying your university education to meet needs that extend past your own. With every day of work, an educated young South African brings our country as a whole closer to the vision of genuine liberation. Where there is no formal employment, there is no shame in using one’s skills and talents simply to solve a problem, repair a fault or build hope. Our poorest communities suffer because those who have risen above intellectual poverty feel removed from those who continue to be oppressed by physical hardship. The more knowledge we have, the more fiercely our passion should burn to lift others out of their need, beyond their limitations and above the self-imposed ceiling of ignorance.
Albert Einstein said that the most puzzling thing about the universe as it unfolds before our reason, is that it is so comprehensible to us. His intuition completed the journey opened by the fundamental declaration of Pico della Mirandola which sprang the renaissance into action, proclaiming that man is the measure of all things. Even though our reason can measure the universe, by itself it does not have the power to make life any better for anyone, unless it is translated into action. Benetto Croce, the ethicist philosopher, stated clearly that reason and understanding which does not translate into action, is nothing but useless volition.
In South Africa, we understand poverty, we understand oppression, we understand inequality, we understand fear and we understand despair. But we do not accept it. We must turn our understanding into action. It is once again the words of Thomas Jefferson which remind us that "He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who receives his taper at mine receives light without darkening mine". I warn this generation not to become possessive of your knowledge nor so guarded in what you know that a deep suspicion of sharing ideas keeps you isolated from your brothers. What you know now is a pittance. When you stand on the highway of ideas, ready to move in one direction or another, you place yourself in the path of intellectual growth.
It is upon this highway of ideas that I dare each one of you to embark. Become runners and pioneers of thought, for every action finds its origin in thought. To be men and women of action, indeed you must be thinkers. The African Renaissance we seek for South Africa and our African continent, will surely begin as an intellectual revolution, for when young people begin subjecting their world to critical analysis, the truth emerges from the illusions created by popular belief. The stark truth is such that it reveals what is most desperately lacking in our approach to the conditions we find ourselves in. It exposes those areas where clear vision was previously blurred by social dogma, the powerful influence of mass media, and uncritically accepted notions of fact. Our world no longer leaves place for any dogma or absolutes, for the modern man is indeed multi-faceted, if not multi-dimensional, as dramatically highlighted by Herbert Marcuse.
I believe that as the young people seated before us today take the reigns of their lives and conduct a passionate pursuit for truth, they will begin to understand their world perhaps for the very first time. Crime will no longer exist as a grey area of unlawfulness, but emerge in the morally rigid terms of right versus wrong action. The veil of complacency and acceptability which protects and slowly generates substance abuse, will fall away as young people begin to demand excellence from their own bodies, clarity of thought, optimal functioning of their critical faculties, and the fullest measure of life. Employment shall no longer be seen in terms of what is owed, but what is to be sought as an outlet of self-expression and community-mindedness. Indeed, even the concept of social responsibility will rise from a dead echo and spring to life, charged with passion, vision and idealism.
As this intellectual revolution takes root, it is my fervent hope that I shall recognise young revolutionaries from among these faces I see here today. I believe that the University of Zululand has imparted a sound education upon which you may build throughout the years to come in a personal quest for growth. I know that each one of you can make a profound difference to the future of our country and I pray that in your individual efforts you may all become history-makers in this land. I urge you not to despise your youth, but to aspire to all that your destinies may hold, taking forward an African Renaissance even into the next generation.
Together with my sincere congratulations, I therefore wish you everything of the best.