Mandela University graduates called on to advance democracy and social justice:
“What will you do with your education from Nelson Mandela University to change the world – for your family, your community, your profession, your country? What contribution will you make towards Africa’s growth and development that leads to a better life for all?”
This question by Chancellor Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi calls on new graduates to go out into the world and change it – as the institutional tagline charges – by doing their bit to strengthen democracy, equality and justice in their respective career paths.
The Chancellor was addressing more than 650 graduands – including honorary doctorates Dr Vuyo Mahlati, Ms Sibongile Mkhabela, Prof Morgan Chetty and Rev Frank Chikane – as she opened the morning and afternoon sessions on Friday.
“It is up to you to ask yourself this same question, to commit to strengthening democracy, equality and justice in whichever life path you pursue, to continue making difficult things happen. [This is] including, and very importantly, to make sure that you play your part in making society a safe space for women and men in this era of intolerable gender violence that we are seeing on our campuses and in our society, and in so doing, to play your part in changing the world,” Dr Fraser-Moleketi said.
“We are all aware of the rising cynicism about democracy and equality, but the achievement of a more equal society is not lost. You are the new leaders and shapers of our society and it is in your hands to respond to this challenge and rethink how each of you, with your fine qualifications, can play your part in reshaping society for the better, changing negative mindsets, confronting fear, boldly embracing life beyond university, dreaming audacious dreams.”
Friday’s graduation sessions saw four remarkable South Africans, whose work resonates with the University’s resolve to be in service to society, awarded honorary doctorates in recognition of their contributions to the pursuit of democracy and social justice.
Dr Mahlati, an Eastern Cape-born social entrepreneur and change agent, was honoured for her work in bringing urgency and intensifying the global call for inclusive economic growth and development, and her scholarship and praxis of entrepreneurship and economic development, particularly in marginal rural economies.
Having grown up in the rural areas, getting her primary education at a farm school her mother taught at and proceeding to a missionary boarding school, Dr Mahlati’s passion for seeking alternatives to the oppressive education system of the time emerged at a young age.
Her life as an activist was enabled by education, starting her career off as a young researcher in disability, children and women issues and later as a business linkage mentor at the Small Business Development Agency (SBDA).
This led to her participation in South Africa’s Constitution-making research process after the release of former President Nelson Mandela from prison. Dr Mahlati was also involved in the first UNICEF Status on Women and Children report in South Africa.
Dr Mahlati expressed her gratitude at being honoured alongside the other three recipients and touched on the role of universities in advancing inclusive growth.
“Inclusive growth is not assimilation or forcing others into spaces they don’t identify with,” she said.
“It involves the reconfiguration of the ecosystem into one that respects and recognizes the reality of all and enables effective contribution by all. It requires the development of support systems and new instruments, learning from and about each other.
“It also pushes us to build new innovative, inclusive and sustainable institutions that are proudly owned by all and serve all equally.”
A social worker by profession, Ms Mkhabela’s career and orientation has been driven by a tireless social activism. She was among the 11 student leaders arrested in connection with the 1976 student uprisings and went on to live a life dedicated to the social justice cause.
At the helm of Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, she focused her efforts on building the organisation as an independent and self-sustaining African organisation, putting the rights and the wellbeing of children first.
The fund now reaches beyond South Africa’s borders as a strong voice for children, with a strategy that advocates for the rights of the child and supports institutions bettering the lives of African children.
Ms Mkhabela was honoured for her role in championing the establishment of a dedicated children’s hospital in South Africa, with its educative aspect in improving the quality of paediatric care, research and training in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as her work in development issues through the United Nations Education Programme in Southern Africa.
Addressing the audience in acceptance, Ms Mkhabela spoke to the role of education as a means to liberate.
“When the poor educate their children, their children have to understand their role in transforming society,” she said.
“It is true that education helps the individual earn better and gain perspectives through exposure to the wider world, but the real meaning of ‘education’ lies in its capacity to liberate. It should be that for every one of us who finishes school, our communities are richer for it.”
Rev Chikane was honoured for his contribution as a servant leader to the development and promotion of the African Renaissance and his involvement in conflict resolution processes in Southern Africa during the transition period.
Rev Chikane’s political activism emerged at the start of his tertiary education in the 1970s, when he became involved in the activities of the South African Student Organisation (SASO) at university. This led to his repeated detention, which in turn disrupted his education, forcing him to leave the university in 1974.
The following year, he joined the evangelistic organisation, Christ for all Nations, convinced of God’s calling in his life. He went on to serve the country in various ways, including his role in the political transitional talks and serving in the first democratically elected government.
In his acceptance speech, Rev Chikane expressed his gratitude for the recognition of his lifelong work and and contribution to establish a non-racial, non-sexist and just society.
“My generation and those who came before us ‘discover’ their ‘mission’ and did not betray it. However imperfect and however risky, we did our best to fulfil it. Today we have a rights-based constitution that saved us from the capture of our state to serve the few at the expense of masses of our people,” he said.
“This graduation congregation of scholars and related achievements gives me hope that you have capacity seize the moment and fulfill your mission.”
Prof Chetty has been at the helm of Family Medicine for about 40 years, dedicating his life to promoting access to quality healthcare, with a patient-centred approach and particular focus on the poor and disenfranchised.
In 1998, he single-handedly raised funds and gathered doctors to start the first truly democratic doctor organisation, The South African Managed Care organisation, to which he was elected Vice-Chairperson. The ethos was to bring doctors together to be cost-efficient, to be custodians of the scarce resources and to deliver holistic quality care.
He was also instrumental in the establishment of one of the first Black-owned hospitals post-apartheid in Durban, the Mount Edgecombe Hospital.
Prof Chetty was recognised for his work in upskilling doctors in South Africa, leading 5000 primary care doctors and the empowerment of patients on their rights.
“We have a world characterized by an unprecedented level of economic development, technological advancement, increasing financial resources, yet millions of people are living in extreme poverty. This is a moral outrage,” he said, before outlining the effects of poverty and inequality on the provision of quality healthcare for all.
“I hope I have stimulated the need for us to be sensitive and concerned about challenges we have and why we need to be part of the journey to re-engineer our Health Delivery.”