Statement at the award of an Honorary Doctorate: Rand Afrikaans University – 1999/09/17

17 September 1999 

Members of Council and the Senate,
Professors, Lecturers and Students,
Graduating Students,
Workers, Managers and Technicians Distinguished guests:

I would like to thank you very much for the honour you have accorded us to join this University community by granting us an honorary doctorate.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate those who have just graduated and with them success in their future activities.

I am confident that the knowledge they have acquired at this eminent University will have prepared them adequately for an exciting future in the common effort to build a better South Africa, a better Africa and a better world.

A British author, Charles Leadbeater, writes in his book, “Living On Thin Air” that: “The generation, application and exploitation of knowledge is driving modern economic growth. Most of us make money from thin air: we produce nothing that can be weighed, touched or easily measured. Our output is not stockpiled at harbours, stored in wareh ouses or shipped in railway cars. Most of us earn our livings providing service, judgement, information and analysis, whether in a telephone call centre, a lawyer’s office, a government department or a scientific laboratory. We are all in the thin air busi ness. That should allow our economies, in principle at least, to become more humane; they should be organised around people and the knowledge capital they produce… (Our children) will make their livings through their creativity, ingenuity and imagination . Despite the cornucopia of the emerging knowledge economy, most of us feel more uncertain, stressed, insecure and less in control of our lives… Many people feel their lives are in the grip of forces beyond their comprehension… Inequality has become an acute, chronic and endemic feature of modern societies…We are scientific and technological revolutionaries, but political and institutional conservatives.” He goes further to say: “This book is about how we can create the organisations, both public and private, economic and social, to unleash and spread the benefits of the knowledge economy. We must not retreat from modernisation, but instead embark on a wave of radical innovation i n many of our most basic political, social and economic institutions: companies, markets, banks, schools, universities, public services and government departments.” I believe that the observations made by Mr Leadbeater are both correct and timely. They pose an historic challenge to the intelligentsia of our country, you who work at and are graduating from this University.

How shall we respond to the challenge of living on thin air! What contribution shall we, as South Africans, make to the universal process of promoting the scientific and technological revolution while making the radical social innovations that will help to define ours as a successful modern country! Surely, one of the things we must do is to find a way by which we celebrate intellectual excellence, creativity and ingenuity.

We must find ways such that our society, including the youth, admires our mathematicians and natural and social scientists as much as it acclaims the sports, music, cinema and television super stars.

Why do we not have a national awards system specifically dedicated at recognising and encouraging intellectual excellence! If we are destined to live on thin air, let us at least try to be good at it. Most probably, we have no choice but try our best.

I am confident that this University, which I join today as an honorary member, will play its role thus to help to transform ours into a winning nation.

Thank you.


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