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Change the world


This article appeared in the Herald of 21 July 2017, written by Lee-Anne Butler.

Many of those who gain enrolment struggle to succeed. The newly launched Nelson Mandela University should be at the forefront of solving inequality, poverty and unemployment as it has been rebranded as the only university to carry the name of one of the greatest statesmen the world has ever seen.

That was the dominant message by speakers – including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa – at the university’s official name-change event at its Missionvale campus yesterday.

“This university must be at the forefront of efforts to make higher education accessible to the poor and to the marginalised,” Ramaphosa said.

“This university, and particularly this campus, is located on the periphery of an area where our people live, in an area that all of us cannot and should not be proud of,” he said.

“This university must be at the forefront of efforts to make sure that higher education is an instrument for the achievement of social equality.”


SMILING FACES: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa with the student representative council of the newly-renamed Nelson Mandela University yesterday

Ramaphosa said while the government had made strides in making higher education accessible, many academically deserving people were still not able to attend university.

“Many of those who gain enrolment struggle to succeed,” he said.

“Many study in substandard living conditions. The support they receive is not sufficient and too many young people drop out.

“These are the challenges a university named after Nelson Mandela will have to confront.”

Outgoing vice-chancellor Derrick Swartz said despite major technological and scientific breakthroughs, the challenges of inequality, poverty and high unemployment still existed.

Swartz said the decision to hold the launch at the university’s Missionvale campus had been strategic to remind attendees that these challenges still existed.

“If knowledge is supposed to change the world, why are we unable to do so?

“It is a testament of the commitment of the university to tackle these problems and also to expose these problems to our students and staff and to say, ‘We want you to solve these problems’,” he said. Nelson Mandela Foundation spokesman Luzuko Koti said when the university was given permission to use the former president’s name, it became one of 50 institutions around the world asking for formal approval to use it.

“So this is a special request that was approved,” he said.

“As the foundation, we want to be a values-based society.

“And we are taking from the values Madiba lived and showed us by his own example.”

He said the foundation would provide support to the university in bearing the weight and responsibility of taking on the icon’s name.

Koti said Mandela had still been alive when the original request was received for his name to be associated with the university.

“It went through a painstaking permission process at the time.

“He was a son of the Eastern Cape and until he left for Johannesburg as a young man, this city, Port Elizabeth, was the closest metropolitan centre to Madiba,” he said.

SRC president Mihlali Mzileni said the name change did not only mean dropping the word “metropolitan”.

“We want you to know, wherever you are in the world, where it is and it must end developing its own intellectual identity.”

He said change should mean change for disadvantaged students, the working experiences for workers, and uprooting racism and sexism and gender-based violence.

Mzileni also called for curriculum transformation.

“We will be paying more attention to what is being taught and who is teaching it,” he said.

Ramaphosa said he agreed with Mzileni that the name change also called for a review of the curriculum to reflect some of the values Mandela stood for like nonracism, non-sexism and to encourage more African scholars and thinkers.

Mayor Athol Trollip said: “This is an international university of excellence and we are proud to be the home of Nelson Mandela University.

“I hope that we as a city will be able to form bonds to deal with these challenges.”

Also present were human rights lawyer Advocate George Bizos SC, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, and university chancellor Santie Botha, who all spoke about the honour and privilege the university had received by continuing as Nelson Mandela University.

Bizos said: “This new name is an honour he [Nelson Mandela] would have been proud of.

“He is called the father of the nation and good children obey their father. Let’s build a nation he would be proud of.”

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