UNIVERSITY OF ZULULAND
KWADLANGEZWA, EMPANGENI : MAY 26, 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 wish to congratulate both Professor van der Walt and the Reverend du Toit who have been honoured by the University with honorary doctorates. It is always gratifying to see this University recognising the various contributions that some of our citizens have made to society, and bestowing on them this ultimate accolade of any University which is an honorary doctorate. It was a great honour for me to have conferred honorary doctorates on them on behalf of the University.
Year after year, I have the pleasure of seeing a new class of graduands of our University leaving this campus and entering South African society. Year after year, for many decades, I have seen our youth transforming the rest of South Africa. Each class is different from the one which came before it. Each new class of graduands marks the transformation of the whole of our society. The way students change over time is both the cause and the effect of the transformations which are taking place within the greater ambit of South African society and, indeed, the world.
A university campus is not insulated from the rest of society. It is indeed a place where the emerging trends of society, new ideas, and the most pressing aspirations, as well as the greatest conflicts, fears and turmoils of a society, are not only reflected but also magnified. A university campus is a laboratory not only of ideas but also of social emotions which affect our collective psyche. The hopes and fears of our society shape the hopes and fears of our youth which, in its enhanced sensibility, which is proper of its age, expresses them more intensely. For this reason, year after year, I can see in the faces of our youth the mirror image of our society. However, I know that our youth is not only a mirror of society, but is indeed one of the engines of its transformation.
It is the cause of society to change. Any new generation coming to the fore of protagonism within social dynamics brings into the context in which it operates new ideas and a new spirit. They are the strength through which the ever-evolving human spirit grows into the next stage of its long journey towards progress. As time goes by, I see each class of graduands of this University reflecting more and more the change taking place in our society, and being increasingly more different from those which preceded them. This is a reflection of how much the pace of change and transformation has increased within South Africa in the past few years. Change is becoming the only constant element within our society, and will continue to be so for many years to come.
People are being exposed to new ideas, ways of life and knowledge. There are many things in this change which are a cause for concern, and yet we must all accept that change is becoming unstoppable, irretrievable and irreversible. Old paradigms are disintegrating and younger generations feel the stress of having to live without an established paradigm and having to develop through their own limited resources a new framework within which to organise their conflicting aspirations and their seemingly endless options.
We are living in an exciting time filled with opportunities and possible downfalls. There are opportunities because old ideas are proven wrong and are substituted with new and better ones. There are possible downfalls because many of our young people do not have a clear understanding of what is real, what is possible, what is practicable and what is likely. In these exciting but difficult times, it is essential that each young person relies to the fullest extent possible on his or her critical judgement and capacity to evaluate right and wrong, and distinguish between the two.
I hope that one of the most important things you have learned during your stay at the University of Zululand is indeed the individual capacity of critical judgement. The only true foundation of morality and ethics is in the critical capacity of judgement which can identify and distinguish between right and wrong. Increasingly, each of you will be called upon to perform this assessment as a broader range of opportunities are offered to you by a rapidly changing society. The world which circumscribed the life experience of many of your predecessors on this campus no longer exists, and a new world has replaced it for many of you. However, in most cases this new world is made of images, hopes and aspirations which unfortunately will not translate into actual options nor concretise into different conditions of life.
The circumstances of our country are not such that each one of you leaving this University today will find every aspiration immediately fulfilled and every hope matched with a corresponding opportunity. For many, it will be difficult simply to find formal employment and you will need to guard against despairing that what you have studied, you may never use. The skills you have acquired and the knowledge you have gained will always stand you in good stead, for in the process of mastering a specific field you have stirred within yourselves the capacity to reason, comprehend and apply information. You have found your own limitations and experienced the effort of overcoming them. You have learnt who you are and what you are made of, and this knowledge will empower you to take up whatever needs to be done with the sure prospect that you are able to complete it.
Knowing within yourselves that you are capable, will strengthen your resolve to attempt that which others balk at. The ocean of unmet needs within our country and within our poorest communities, requires merely one man or woman of action and intellect to chart a way forward towards a solution. Whoever dares take on the challenge of working for the common good of our people, rather than for selfish interests, accepts becoming a person of destiny and a source of inspiration. Things are changing in such a way that a hero is no longer one who stands apart from his fellow man, but one who stands for those who cannot, and amongst those who have not, and works, works, works. In our changing world, we are increasingly able to interact with and impact our world.
The only path to improving our tangible world remains 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. Man must always aspire to fulfil his dignity, and it is work that gives dignity to man.
For this reason, I am deeply concerned about the crisis of 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, creating opportunities to work even where formal employment does not exist. Never let a 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. It is my hope that today’s graduands will find favour in the eyes of man because of the excellence of their work.
A mere fifteen years ago the world of students on this campus was confined to the experience they could gather from within the parameters of our culture and the experience and knowledge of our region. We are now in the middle of a genuine renaissance in which the barriers of the past are collapsing, disintegrating ancient dogmas. In this new age of enlightenment, bigotry, superstition and erroneous information disappear like mist before the rising sun when confronted with the overwhelming amount of readily available information. The world which circumscribes your experience now includes an unlimited amount of knowledge and information, to which you may be exposed if you so wish.
You are true and rightful citizens of the global village which is in the process of being formed and which you now can access as easily as clicking on your computer’s mouse while browsing the Internet’s world wide web. In this process, we as Africans bear the responsibility, and have the unique opportunity, of making a point in the history of the world which can indeed signify the emergence of an African Renaissance. In order to do so, we need not only bring ourselves up to par with the knowledge, information and awareness of the most advanced and progressed segments of the world, but we must also rise to the challenge of going beyond, to provide our own contribution to bringing the human spirit one step further on its path of growth towards progress.
The African Renaissance requires of us to go where everyone else has gone before and where, because of historical circumstances, we have never been. However, a genuine African Renaissance requires us also to go where no one else has gone before, to chart the path towards future progress. We must dare to conceive a dream in which our Renaissance is not only about catching up with the progress of the rest of mankind, but also to one day lead its further evolution. These are great dreams which are beyond the horizons which circumscribe your immediate preoccupations, and yet they should be part of what you carry away from your university experience.
As a nation, we need to have a clear notion of our mission and what the new generations are to conquer and bring about. As you leave this University, you will be confronted by the often overwhelming preoccupation of finding an employment opportunity in a job market which has little to offer to young people. You will also go back to your communities with the awareness of the gratitude that you must bear for the sacrifices that your parents and families have made to make it possible for you to receive an education. As you return to your communities, it is important that you do so with the right attitude and frame of mind. Your university education does not place you above those who have not known such good fortune in order to disdain their struggle against ignorance, lack of skill and lack of knowledge, but in order that you may lead and raise the standard of life amongst those with whom you live.
I believe that each one of you seated here today has the capacity to impact your families, your communities and your nation in a manner which takes us one step closer to our goal of an African Renaissance. You are the young leaders and nation builders our country thirsts after, and in your hands rests the responsibility of directing a change which cannot be stopped. As the world of ideas is flooded with new additions and new directions, the possibility exists that we will merely float on the surface enjoying the richness of an intellectual expansion. However, I urge the young people graduating today to dive down deeper and seek those ideas which are worthy to take hold of and worthy of implementing in South Africa’s society.
Let us seek the wisdom developed throughout the long and complex history of mankind, not merely to build a better future, but to build more smartly. This generation has the capacity to do it. You are the torchbearers of a new spirit which is moving across South Africa. It is the spirit of intellectual revolution. Year by year, the signs of change point increasingly towards a young people who are active participants, ready to take the stage rather than merely watch. This year is no different. I see before me a class of young people more determined than the last to prepare the way for the next generation.
For now, the spotlight shines on each one of you as you make your entrance into the greater world of ideas. South Africa waits expectantly to see what role you will perform. Whatever you may choose, I wish you well. May your performance be remembered and honoured in the years to come.