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Change the world


This article appeared in Business Day of 6 April 2018 and was written by Heather Dugmore.

The announcement of Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi as the new Chancellor of Nelson Mandela University is an historic triumph for higher education in South Africa as it is the first time that any South African university has appointed three women at the helm.

Dr Fraser-Moleketi is the third, top-ranking woman appointment at the university in the past few months. The other two are the new Chair of Council, Ambassador Nozipho January-Bardill and the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sibongile Muthwa. All three assumed their posts in 2018, significantly the centenary year of the birth of Nelson Mandela after whom the University was named in 2017.

Mandela would certainly have celebrated his namesake university being steered by three women leaders as he was often referred to as a male feminist. At the opening of South Africa’s first democratic parliament in 1994, in his capacity as the country’s first democratic president, he pronounced: Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression... Our endeavours must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child.

“It’s an honour to become Chancellor during this time at Mandela’s namesake university in his home province, the Eastern Cape which is equally the birthplace of great women leaders like Albertina Sisulu,” says Dr Fraser-Moleketi.

“Nelson Mandela University is contributing a unique leadership role in what is a largely rural province, by ensuring that male and female students from every context are given the opportunity to succeed at university and to contribute to a new knowledge base and improved economy. I will be playing my part alongside my colleagues at the university to advance its achievements, reputation and goals, in the province, in South Africa, on the continent and globally.”

Dr Fraser-Moleketi holds a Master’s Degree in Administration from the University of Pretoria, is a fellow of the Institute of Politics, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and an honorary professorship at Stellenbosch University. In 2017 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Nelson Mandela University.

She has fought for democracy and equality for almost four decades. In 1980 at the age of 20, during her second year at the University of the Western Cape, she joined the ANC and left South Africa to go into exile where she received military training as a member of uMkhonto we Sizwe in Angola and the Soviet Union, alongside her husband, Jabulani Moleketi.

She returned to South Africa in 1990 to help rebuild the legal structures of the South African Communist Party. Three years later she was appointed as National Deputy Elections Coordinator to assist the ANC in preparing for the first democratic elections. She subsequently served with Mandela in South Africa’s first democratic parliament and in his cabinet.

Her ministerial posts included Deputy Minister of Welfare and Population Development (1995 – 1996), Minister of Welfare and Population Development (1996 – 1999), and, during Thabo Mbeki’s presidency she served as Minister of Public Service and Administration (1999 – 2008).

During her career she has worked in civil society, government and the private sector, and significantly contributed to the empowerment of women, education, human rights, poverty eradication and social justice, all of which are core values of the university.

“It excites me to see the contribution to student success being made by many notable academics at Nelson Mandela University, such as the Executive Dean of Science, Professor Azwinndini Muronga. His flagship Science Education, Communication, and Outreach Programme (SECOP) focuses on science education from Grade R learners to undergraduate university students, with outreach programmes for learners, teachers and communities across the Eastern Cape.

“Through the National Institute of Theoretical Physics Internship Programme, Prof Muronga runs workshops during the university holidays for final-year BSc and maths and physics postgraduate students from throughout South Africa, many from rural areas. These students will join the global science community.”

The Faculty of Science at Nelson Mandela University is forming key global partnerships through and with the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP), the African Physical Society, the American Physical Society and the Institute of Physics in the United Kingdom.

Dr Fraser-Moleketi says this is one of multiple examples of Nelson Mandela University’s commitment to access for success. She also commends the university’s foresight in developing new growth areas, such as its Ocean Sciences Campus, launched last year.

“It offers the university an ideal opportunity to lead the continent in the sustainable blue economy, and to attract top students, academics and research partners to the Eastern Cape who will contribute nationally, continentally and globally.”

She adds that it is an exciting time for universities, with renewed activism, debates and curriculum changes that reflect the aspirations of a decolonised, Africanised society and higher education environment. “This must include gender equality, equity and women’s empowerment,” she says. “Of course none of this is easy but we must find a way to make difficult things happen.”

Dr Fraser-Moleketi demonstrated her ability in this regard in her most recent position as the Special Envoy on Gender at the African Development Bank from 2013 to 2017, when she significantly contributed to gender equality and woman empowerment in Africa. In 2014 the Board of the African Development Bank adopted a gender equality strategy premised on a number of factors, including legal and property rights for women in African, women’s education and economic empowerment.

Dr Fraser-Moleketi currently serves on a number of boards across academia, government and development organisations. She served on the board of UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research), and as Deputy Chair of the Committee of Public Service and Administration, a subsidiary body of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

She was re-appointed to the Committee of Experts on Public Administation (CEPA) for the period 2018 to 2021. She is also on the Advisory Board of the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID) at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, and is presently Chair of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) Council.

A strong supporter of intergenerational dialogue, Dr Fraser-Moleketi is a mentor to young women and men across the continent on leadership and resilience, towards enabling them to play their part in determining Africa’s destiny. In her role as chancellor she will grow this engagement.

“In addition to academic prowess, a university carrying Nelson Mandela’s name should set the tone for African leadership, for equality, gender equality and social cohesion,” she says. “This includes coming up with practical ways to confront our past while building a better future.”

“The former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Derrick Swartz and former chancellors, including my predecessor Santie Botha and past chancellors, including the late Chief Justice Pius Langa, have all emphasised the requirement of the university to produce socially conscious graduates who will champion justice and equality, be change agents and entrepreneurs who help to build a better society and world.

“This is all part of decolonisation and Nelson Mandela University’s Faculty of Law, for example, is addressing this in its declonisation of legal education and the law.

In 2006 Chief Justice Langa wrote:  “… A truly transformative South Africa requires a new approach that places the Constitutional dream at the very heart of legal education. It requires that we regard law as part of the social fabric and teach law students to see it as such. They should see law for what it is, as an instrument that was used to oppress in the past, but that has that immense power and capacity to transform our society. Much has been done to bring legal education in line with these ideals. Constitutional and human rights law now form a much greater part of the curriculum … However, we must be careful that the influence of the Constitution does not become simply another set of cast-in-stone legal principles. The change to legal education is a change in mind-set, not simply a change in laws.”

“In various ways this approach is appropriate to all disciplines,” says Dr Fraser-Moleketi who deeply understands the power of mind-set, having grown up in Cape Town where, as she puts it, her maternal grandmother, the late Mabel Pinto, despite being a pioneering trade unionist, would never have dreamt that her eldest granddaughter would hold public office and become the chancellor of a university bearing Mandela’s name. Such was the power of oppression.

“Which is why I am highly supportive of the humanising pedagogy that Nelson Mandela University conceptually embraces, as it confronts colonial-style educational approaches that kept people oppressed. As the Executive Dean of Teaching and Learning explains, ‘it is very well researched that if you dehumanise people and destroy their self-confidence, they will require extra-ordinary efforts to achieve their potential’.

“As we all know, the national debate around decolonisation and Africanisation is fast gaining ground. Whether it makes us uncomfortable or not, our young people have found their voice in this debate, which includes grappling with race, gender, and class,” Dr Fraser-Moleketi explains.

“In our higher education institutions we need to rigorously engage on this and talk about what a non-racist, non-sexist society would look like. What we cannot condone in this engagement is the destruction of property or assault of people; violence is never a default, and from this standpoint, Nelson Mandela University is proactively developing new critical thinking and new theoretical constructs around the realities we all live.

“I would like to see this supported by all faculties and staff, and as the chancellor I will play my part in taking this forward. I would like Nelson Mandela University to be recognised as a centre of critical discourse, where people from everywhere would come here and participate in critical debates, be made uncomfortable in the search for the solutions to the realities that we are facing in a deeply unequal society, and to contribute to the transformation of the South African and African economy.”

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