Item 1363 - Speech by Mr Nelson R. Mandela as the Chancellor of the University of the North on the Inauguration of Professor Njabulo Ndebele as Vice- Chancellor of the University

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ZA COM MR-S-1363


Speech by Mr Nelson R. Mandela as the Chancellor of the University of the North on the Inauguration of Professor Njabulo Ndebele as Vice- Chancellor of the University


  • 1993-09-17 (Creation)

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Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

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(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

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Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

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  • English

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Professor Ndebele, the Chairperson of Council, your Excellencies, members of Council, members of Senate, teaching and research staff, students, workers, comrades and friends, sisters and brothers:

Today we celebrate!

We celebrate change. We celebrate transformation. We celebrate the coming victory in the struggle for democracy. We celebrate the coming victory in the struggle for decent education for all South Africans.

In particular, we celebrate the transformation of this University which is emerging from the long nightmare of oppression and putting the evils of apartheid education behind it. In less than two years, we have seen astonishing changes at Turfloop.

The University has a new Chancellor, and I can tell you that he is very proud to hold that office. We now have a new Vice-Chancellor, who is a scholar and a poet, whom any university in the world would be eager to employ. He is our new Vice-Chancellor and Principal and Professor of English. Above all, he is a great South African.

We also have a new Council, legitimately created, which reflects the University's varied constituencies. It is representative of all South Africans. The new Chairperson of our Council, who comes from our beloved sister University of the Western Cape links the north of our country to the south. Its Rector, Professor Gerwel, another distinguished South African scholar, is gracing this ceremony as chairperson of the Committee of University, Principals. We greet you. The link is symbolic of a future in which every university in the country "from the great Limpopo to Robben Island" (one of my own institutions of higher learning!) must become a truly national university.

Negotiations have already seen us take giant steps on the path to national renewal and national reconstruction. We are opening up new frontiers on our long and arduous march to the promised land. We are doing it together as compatriots, fellow citizens, black and white. We are linking hands in the same way, as our destinies are bound together. Brick by brick, we are constructing a new future for our children and grandchildren. A real window of opportunity is opening up and we must not let it be closed ever again. Our new order is slowly but surely taking shape.

Our universities must be, as Professor David Welsh of the University of Cape Town recently wrote: "drastically reformed - transformed if you will." Today marks one stage in the transformation of the University of the North. We have emerged from an education which destined us for slavery, an apartheid gutter education which scarcely deserved the name. We now proudly become a national university, with a crucial role in the reconstruction process, not only of the region, but of the whole country.

This University, like the other institutions of higher learning in South Africa, is a vital national asset. It is a national asset not only in the sense that our country needs educated young people, but also in the sense that it belongs to all of us. It was built and paid for by our people and it belongs to our people, all our people.

As such, we must cherish and develop it. Apartheid, racism and sexism must be eradicated from this and every university. Women and men, white and black, must join together in this struggle. There will be women in significant numbers in all the university councils. Together with their sisters in the kitchens and the factories and the classrooms, they will fight the long fight for women's full rights. They will fight for education for women. They will even find men who will fight for women's rights! When the history of everyone's liberation is written, I hope it will honestly be able to say, all of us fought for the rights for women.

As with the university councils, so with the Senates, and the research staff, and the lecturing staff, and the administration, and the students. There will be women and black people, there will be men and white people, throughout every university in our nation. The transformation we envisage is one where Stellenbosch and Wits will not be white. Pretoria will not be male. Durban Westville will not be black. The nurses' colleges will not be female. There will be no historically white universities and no historically black universities. There will be only South African universities which belong to all South Africans. In the meantime, we must ensure that the present so-called historical black universities, deprived of resources, - physical and human - compared to the rich universities which the apartheid state cherished, are provided with capital to develop their
libraries and their accommodation needs. These must also be omitted to be able to draw staff to develop areas of excellence.

The government must obviously assist. But I appeal to the private sector to join in the process of reconstruction by assisting those universities deprived by apartheid.

Because our universities are our national treasures, we will protect their right to academic freedom. There will be freedom of thought in a free South Africa. We need diversity in thought and ideas. There will be freedom of speech and writing, as in any democracy. We will not fire people from the universities, for their past writing and activities as some European countries are now doing. This is the road to retribution and revenge. Our path must follow the path to reconciliation.

Only an autonomous university, independent of the government of the day, can become a great university, and great universities are what South Africa needs. Universities are integral parts of civil society. We are proud of the rote that some, only some, sadly, played in the struggle against apartheid. Now, we must prepare for their role in the strengthening of democracy.

We must, however, recognise that we cannot be a university which is alienated from the wider community we are supposed to serve. It is important, therefore, that we be sensitive to such community needs, with special reference to our admission policies, our research - both practical and theoretical - and our curriculum.

I turn to the youth. I salute those who made it possible for me to be able to speak to you today. You are the future. Sitting among you may be Generals of a transformed South African Defence Force.

Sitting among you may be Generals of a transformed South African Defence Force. Among you may be an intelligent future Vice-Chancellor of the University of Potchefstroom. Among you may be a microbiologist who cures the world of Aids or of tuberculosis. Among you may be a Nobel prize winner in physics. Among you may be a future Secretary General of the United Nations. Among you may be a President of free South Africa. I wish all of you the best of opportunities.

Because you are the future, we treasure you. Because you are the future, we listen very carefully to the youth. And because you are the future, we expect you to work extremely hard at your studies!

How is South Africa to hear the youth? The needs of our young people have been ignored in the current debate about future structures of government in our country. This is a pity. Let me therefore make a modest proposal which will harness the energy of the youth, reward them for past efforts and ensure a proper role for them in the future. The way forward is to establish, as a number of countries have done, a system of youth councils, one for each region, and a powerful National Youth Forum. These structures would be unifying agents in a non-racial order.

Significant numbers of our youth must feel it worth their while to participate. Otherwise, it will be a case of another Useless Boys' and Girls' Club, to be sneered at. The lure to participate must be powerful, and the one way to do it is to enshrine the system in the permanent constitution in an appropriate way.

What we are saying is that we must set up a house of youth as one of the elements of our new order. Elections to each regional youth council would be, I suggest, through school and university SRCs, sports bodies, cultural associations and religious institutions. Such regional councils would be the instrument for allocating grants to youth bodies and the voice of the young.

Regional youth councils could elect members to a National Youth Forum which would be in session each year for, say, a fortnight each year. The National Forum would be the deliberative body for all matters affecting young people and should be empowered to see draft legislation, to question and criticise government, to hear and evaluate ministerial policy statements and to perform some of the functions of a legislature, short of approving or rejecting legislation.

In addition, as we work out the structure of the Interim Government of National Unity, we must give urgent and serious consideration for the need for a Minister for Youth who will be the representative of all the aspirations and needs of our youth in the Cabinet.

We have struggled in the streets. We have struggled in the underground. We have struggled in the prisons, in Pretoria Central as on Robben Island. We have struggled in the work place. The struggle now is to educate ourselves so as to build the free South Africa, as a technologically modern state, as a twenty-first century state, as a state that can use science and poetry for the good of all humankind.

You must contribute to the construction of a free South African education now. You must turn to your books, to your libraries and laboratories and computers. You must turn to your studies so that you can contribute to the future.

The Universities will be transformed as I have said. They will be transformed peacefully and by negotiation.

And the essential key, to the great universities we will build, is that the students will study, research and be involved in every aspect of life. The young lions of the North will now work for a free South Africa, a rich South Africa and for a great future.

It is now my great pleasure to call upon Professor Njabulo Ndebele to take up office as Vice- Chancellor and Principal of the University of the North, and to deliver his inaugural address.

I present Professor Ndebele.

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 29/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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