Item 360 - Address by President Nelson Mandela at the installation of Professor C A Abrahams as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape

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Address by President Nelson Mandela at the installation of Professor C A Abrahams as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape


  • 1996-04-12 (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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ANC Website

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Installation of Professor CA Abrahams as Vice-Chancellor

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  • English

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Chairperson and Members of Council;
Members of Senate and of the Faculty Boards;
Members of the Administrative and Service Staff;
President and Members of the Students Representative Council and of the general student body;
Honoured guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The University of the Western Cape holds a very special place in our national life. It is therefore a great honour to share in this august event in its own life. I feel privileged to be the first to congratulate Professor Cecil Abrahams and wish him well following his formal installation as the seventh Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, you come to the institution, and return to your motherland, with an established reputation as a scholar and administrator. You were chosen for this high and esteemed office with the participation and consent of all sectors of the university community. You have been elected to head and lead an educational institution with a proud history and reputation, both locally and internationally. We salute and congratulate you, wishing you and the University of the Western Cape everything of the best for the challenging years and decades that lie ahead.

The quality contribution this university has made to our country can be seen merely by observing the presence of so many former staff members and students in public life.

Behold the numbers in the ranks of our national Cabinet, deputy ministers and provincial MEC's; in national and provincial legislatures; in the diplomatic corps; on the bench of the Constitutional Court; in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Human Right Commission; and as national and provincial directors-general and in other senior civil service positions. They are to be found in the Public Service Commission; as mayors of town and local government councillors; in trade union leadership and in the professions. My own office is no exception, and perhaps this is the fitting occasion to thank the university for availing to us my Director-General and Secretary of Cabinet, Dr. Jakes Gerwel.

In every sphere of society, UWC students and staff from every section of our population are to be found. And if one travels to neighbouring Namibia the story is repeated. It is indeed an institution that has attracted and produced men and women of highest quality.

UWC was a model in ways far beyond its immediate concerns. The nation drew inspiration from its defiant transformation of itself from an apartheid ethnic institution into a proud national asset; from its concrete and manifest concern for the poor, for working people, for women and rural communities; and from its readiness to grapple with the kind of problems that a free and democratic South Africa was to deal with later.

Even in the midst of Apartheid, you conceptualised and, in many respects realised, a condition of openness and freedom. You experienced how the replacement of authoritarianism by openness and democracy brings its own challenges: robust debate and internal dissent; heightened expectations confronting severely limited resources; the tensions that sometimes come with creating a social space in which those previously separated come together.

However, what stands out when one thinks of what has happened at UWC, is the far-reaching educational and intellectual transformation which it led. UWC changed in fundamental ways the way we think about and act on important educational and intellectual issues.

Your courageous response to the question of university admissions in the face of gross educational inequality was gradually adopted by others. Your focused institutional mission enhanced intellectual quality as you rose to become the country's fifth-highest publisher in the social sciences and enriched intellectual life by a whole range of new centres and projects.

Your experience in utilising limited resources remains a towering example to many institutions. This is still pertinent today. Despite the many improvements introduced by government, the reality is that there are limited resources available for all the developmental work to be done. Already we spend a percentage of our national budget on education that compares with the best in the world. The question therefore is one of productive use of existing resources, of building quality education for greater numbers of our people with the means available.

Kanselier, laat my afsluit deur kortliks te verwys na een van die kwessies waarin UWK weer eens leiding gegee het, en wat vandag weer 'n brandpunt is op hierdie kampus en in die streek. Ek praat van die verhouding tussen kleurlinge en Africans van Wes-Kaapland en in die Wes-Kaap.

I wanted to speak in Afrikaans on this matter tonight. But I also want to speak so that every person here clearly understand me. And I beg the indulgence of the native speakers of Afrikaans when I switch back to English for that reason.

I remember receiving reports about my present Director-General - who now bosses me in ways I hope he never did with you when he was your Vice-Chancellor - extolling non-racialism by explaining, and I quote him verbatim:

"Non-racialism is the most precious gift of the African people to this nation. There is no objective reason why, as a majority, they should have continued to defend and promote this vision for our society, except that they believed it to be a morally superior vision of a society. It is that generosity of spirit which is the future of this nation." (Unquote).

Let me respond by stating that it was very generous of him and his colleagues to say that. And for people like to actively set about making a former Coloured institution open to the entire nation, along with Afrikaner compatriots like Jaap Durand; such figures as your chancellor Archbishop Desmond Tutu and one-time vice-rector Njabulo Ndebele, and others like Professors Adam Small, Daan Cloete and many more in this institution.

In the face of the demeaning imposition of ethnic identities on institutions, it was courageous and patriotic to transform the institution in that way.

We all have a new challenge to our generosity today: how to be non-racial and yet accommodate and give expression to the wealth of our diversity.

I am sure that nobody would want to return to the insulting situation of ethnic institutions. At the same time there are compelling historical and cultural reasons why Coloured communities should never be made to feel alien, particularly in this part of the country where they have such deep roots.

Finding institutional arrangements and ways of relating to one another which combine non-racialism with the accommodation of tho this is one of the challenges that you are charged to face creatively and in a spirit of generosity.

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor: I wish you and your institution well.

Thank you.

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 21/11/06 by Helen Joannides




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