Change the world


We are on the cusp of change and have always been in a changing world.

The only difference in the changes that have beset our universe is the form, content and pace of change, and response to it by a range of actors affected by it.

About 15 months ago, the Covid-19 pandemic descended.

No-one had predicted that this pandemic would herald massive changes in the organisation of human affairs and to life itself.

Looking back, a lot has since changed; what was normal has become anomalous and vice versa.

What is painstakingly anomalous is the inability to animate and epitomise our humanity as a people — ubuntu — in ways we know best.

The pandemic has, in fundamental ways, tested humankind and our value system.

Our continued response to it will be a litmus test to our collective resolve to shared prosperity and future.

The advent of the pandemic, as some studies show, worsened in our country the prevalence of gender-based violence and strained mental health.

These two menaces are not just rampant in society but also manifested in the postschooling sector.

As we battle against the third wave of the virus, it seems instructive to us, as Nelson Mandela University, to fight on four fronts: Covid-19; gender-based violence; mental health; and determined resolve to complete the academic year.

The lessons learnt in the immediate past period enjoin us to appreciate the complexity, interconnectedness and interrelatedness of our social systems.

For example, mental health may be affected by many factors including poverty, social isolation and gender-based violence.

Our response therefore to the third wave is aimed at tackling all of these challenges together while working determinedly to complete the academic year.

This is a complex task, especially given the unpredictable behaviour of the pandemic and thus requiring continual improvisation. Mandela University’s Student Life and Development division is facilitating a campaign towards forging collaborative activism between and among students and university stakeholders in a cohesive effort to complete the academic year and save lives from the pandemics of Covid-19, gender-based violence and mental health issues.

This is born out of a realism that the social phenomena we are confronted with cannot and will not be successfully defeated by a single actor.

What is required is a meaningful partnership brought together by a common ambition and commitment to assemble a multi-agency partnership against the three pandemics in the form of a social compact.

The Madibaz Student Representative Council, student societies, house committees and other student activist groupings have been mobilised to deploy their individual and collective agency in pursuit of social solidarity, sharing of social spaces — especially in residences — and abiding respect and embracing of diversity and coexistence. Our students have committed to and are actively acting on their own through innovative ways that are not in conflict with Covid-19 protocols to reclaim their humanity, new student life, social interactions and engaging in the fight against the three pandemics.

We hope these commitments and actions by students across all our campuses will be internalised, exemplified and acted on at all levels of student leadership and by ordinary students as well.

Our call for a social compact, buttressed on collaborative activism, will be driven by these principles:

  • Authentic partnerships;
  • A cradle of accountability — holding each other accountable for our actions;
  • Connecting divergence and diversity of thought to drive transformation;
  • Engaging in genuine dialogue and reflective practice;
  • Adhering to and advocating for the maximum compliance to Covid-19 protocols; and
  • Unwavering commitment to social justice and human solidarity.

The phase we have entered in the fight against the social crisis brought about by the three pandemics requires a collective reaffirmation and rededication to a new social pact.

The radical changes imposed on our lives and the devastating destruction to the social fibre of society brought about by the virus is a cause for more determination to journey together as a learning community.

The form, content and pace of change brought about by these pandemics, especially Covid-19, has evinced in more patent means the structural inequalities in our society and its institutions — deepened poverty, unemployment and other exclusions.

Mandela University, as an engaged institution committed to serve society, has an abiding responsibility to deploy pedagogics of partnership, imagination and transformation as it continually adapts and responds to the changing times.

This Opinion Piece appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 7 July 2021 written by Luthando Jack, Dean of Students at Nelson Mandela University.


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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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