Speech at the installation banquet of Prof Ramashala as Vice Chancellor, UDW – 1998/05/09

Master of Ceremonies,
Premier of the Province, Dr Ben Ngubane,
Chancellor of UDW, Judge Hassan Mall,
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ramashala,
Distinguished Guests,
Academics and Students,
Ladies and gentlemen;

I am privileged to have this opportunity publicly to congratulate Prof Ramashala on her assumption of the Vice-Chancellorship of the University of Durban-Westville and to wish her all the success in her new and challenging job. She joins that special cadre among the leadership of our country and people, the principals who head our institutions of higher learning.

Within this group, we have the Vice-Chancellors of the historically black universities and technickons, who are faced with particularly acute problems relative to their historically white counterparts, with the shortage of finance and other material resources looming large among these problems.

I am pleased to note the presence at these installation activities of a substantial number of these important leaders from both the historically black and white institutions and thank them for coming to the UDW to extend, like all of us, their best wishes to the new comer to the block, Vice-Chancellor Mapule Ramashala.

If you asked many of these chief executives of our institutions of higher education to make three wishes, my guess is that the first would be – let there be more money for our institutions of higher learning!

The second wish would be – let there be more money for our institutions of higher learning!

The third wish would be – let there be more money for our institutions of higher learning! Those who do not know would be led to believe that a special qualification required of all applicants for the post of ViceChancellor is that they must be intensely greedy for money and more money.

Fortunately, all of us present here know the reality that, indeed, our institutions of higher learning do need more and more resources properly to discharge their responsibilities.

This problem is compounded by the persisting apartheid disparities in this area. The following statistics graphically illustrate the depth of this problem.

The historically black universities are said to have 50 per cent more students above the capacity capable of being catered for by the existing physical infrastructure and equipment, while the white universities could accommodate 20 per cent more students than are actually enrolled.

The latter, with 35 per cent of the students absorb 65 per cent of government funds allocated to universities while the former, with 30 per cent of the student population, receive 25 per cent of these funds.

The historically white universities better their black counterparts in terms of the staff-student ration by a startling 50 per cent, in a situation where the relatively weaker pre-university preparation of the majority of the students at the black institutions would suggest that we need a higher concentration of educators relative to the student population.

Therefore there can be no doubt about the reality of the need to devote more resources to the task of redressing the apartheid imbalance.

The other reality however is that we are caught in the horns of a cruel dilemma. On one hand there is the pressing need;

  • to meet the increasing demand for access to higher education;
  • to work urgently to increase the pool of properly qualified people in all areas of knowledge;
  • to address the racial and gender imbalances among the strata of qualified people; and therefore,  to provide the necessary resources to ensure the accomplishment of these goals.

On the other hand, the fact of the matter is that there is absolutely no social need in our country which is not both massive and pressing. And there is an expectation that each of these can and must be addressed immediately through adequate disbursements from the national budget.

Very few will pay any attention to the fact that, in real terms, the revenues flowing into the national public accounts are little changed from those collected into the revenue account during the years immediately, preceding our transition to democracy. The apartheid state poured resources into its racist project of the upliftment of, at best, 15 per cent of our population.

The democratic state has an obligation to spread virtually the same volume of resources among 100 per cent of our population.

And yet the expectation persists that the government will somehow find it within its power rapidly to bridge the yawning gulf between black and white by raising the standard of living of the former to equal that attained by the latter, and that in a short period of time.

All logic points to the fact that however understandable this expectation, it cannot be realised, however intense our desire and fervent our prayers for this expectation to be met.

All I am trying to say is that the stark fact is that we are set on a long and difficult road to the goal of meeting our wish and commitment to ensuring a decent quality of life for all our citizens.

The legitimate needs of the people cannot be met within the short time frames which those who are deprived are perfectly justified to dream of and plead for.

Without seeking to subtract from the joy of this particular moment, when we celebrate the accession of a black women to a high post in an important institution such as the UDW, this we must say, the equally legitimate needs of especially the historically black institutions of higher learning cannot be met within the short time frames which all of us are perfectly justified to dream of and plead for.

At the same time and despite what we have said, the great historic project of rebuilding South Africa as a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, peaceful, prosperous and advanced African country of joy, culture and individual fulfillment dare not fail.

Least of all should it fail because the poor and the wretched lose faith in the capacity of the democratic order to help them extricate themselves from the desperate condition of poverty, which the wealth of some in our society seems to mock every passing hour and towards whose alleviation the thieves and robbers offer a criminal solution of social disorder, anarchy, a descent into the dark world in which all are obliged to be a predators to ensure that they do not become prey to the predators.

Our situation demands of all of us that we accept the fact that the legacy of apartheid has left us with an entrenched social disaster of immense proportions.

This is represented in particular by the millions who are poor, starving, unemployed. It finds expression among the victims of HIV/AIDS, of rape and physical abuse.

It informs the behaviour of the millions who lead lives without hope and will therefore kill easily or be killed easily, because life is without meaning and death bright with the prospect of rest and eternal peace.

This pervasive condition of a powerful social stench, which infuses the entirety of our society cannot be wished away.

It demands that we recognise the reality that, whatever the outward glitter of any of our neighbourhoods, we are immersed in a long-term national emergency out of which we cannot escape unless we adopt emergency measures.

As South Africans we are called upon to perform new miracles.

The cynics sit everywhere in the theatre. Their voices are trained loudly to proclaim – no miracles are possible! Their minds are transformed into instruments to think up the best ways in which they can convince us that the national response to the national emergency is to succumb to despair.

And yet, when all is done and said, and precisely because of the stridency of the voice of those whose daily preoccupation is to spread a doctrine of despondency, as South Africans, we are called upon to perform new miracles.

The miracles I speak of have nothing to do with the world of the mystics or the supernatural.

They are about the need for us to draw on the resources which enabled us to maintain our humour and humanity during the brutal years of the apartheid tyranny. They are about the spirit which inspired us to be willing to sacrifice everything for the common good.

It would seem to me that the historic victory of 1994 has conveyed to many in our country that the struggle is over, that now is the time to harvest by means fair or foul, the supposedly rich and limitless dividend of our sacrifices.

A new national mobilisation is required as a matter of urgency. This new national mobilisation has to produce a complex of related outcomes. The first of these is that we must infuse it into the public consciousness that none of the great demands which relate to the achievement of the objective of a better life for all can be met in the short term or the immediate future.

The second is that we must succeed to convince the masses of our people that the future of our country as well as their own as individuals, is as dependent on what they themselves do to participate in the process of reconstruction and development as it is on the institutions of society such as the democratic state and the corporate world.

The third is that we must mobilise the entire echelon of leadership, the so-called decision makers in all sectors of social activity, to take this on board that we are all faced with a national emergency. This emergency impacts negatively on all of us and remains the one factor which threatens the realisation of the national goal of a peaceful and prosperous society.

To overcome that emergency will require that each one of us in our sectors should think in fresh, bold and original ways, take flight from the concept of “business as usual” and find ways in which we can contribute to the elimination of the national emergency imposed on the country by the legacy of apartheid.

Such are the new miracles that our country is called upon to realise.

I am convinced that all of us have an obligation properly to understand the actual reality of the situation in our country.

Further, we must abandon the notion that there is some other force, outside of us, which has sole and exclusive responsibility to solve the problems that face us. We must each adopt the position that I too am responsible for the destiny of our country and will act in a manner that contributes positively to a good outcome.

To achieve these new miracles requires new mobilisation that will release the latent energies and talents that the millions of our people surely have among them. The universities and technikons constitute a major resource for the generation of this new thinking. I believe therefore that a great responsibility rests on the shoulders of the leaders of these institutions, such as the new incumbent at the UDW, to rise to this challenge in a bold and determined manner.

One of the matters that will clearly have to be addressed is what can we do practically to respond to the disjuncture caused by the imbalance between the need for higher education and the resource constraint that limits the possibility to meet this need.

To take one example at random, is there no possibility to use modern telecommunications to enable lecturers who might be based at one university or technikon simultaneously to lecture to students both at the institution where they are and, at the same time, communicate to same lecture to students at a

different institution?

If this were to be done, it would obviously help to ease the shortage of teachers at the more disadvantaged institutions and ensure that the students who qualify at these institutions themselves catch up with their colleagues in the better placed centres of learning.

I am pleased that we have so many of our business leaders present here tonight. We depend on them themselves to make a significant contribution towards meeting the goal of a better resourced UDW.

I am certain that none of them need to be lectured about the critical importance of human resource development to the building of the South Africa of all our dreams. This they know as well as I do that the more we succeed in realising that dream, the greater the possibility for them to do more business.

The obverse is also true that no business can truly succeed, however well managed and run, if all around it society is engulfed in flames born of the frustrations of the deprived. We count on you to join in this partnership which will enable our universities and technikons to discharge their responsibilities to the nation. For its part, your government will continue to search for ways and means by which it can help these institutions to satisfy their material needs.

It is my fervent hope that as we say to Vice-Chancellor Mapule Ramashala – on your marks, get set, go! – we are not saying we condemn you to a miserable life of crisis management! Rather we are saying we respect you as one of the leaders of our people, from whom we expect a result which will tell all that, as a country and people, we are capable of reaching the stars.

God speed! and thank you .


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