(Published - 11 February 2020}
Address of Comrade Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the A.N.C., on being awarded the Degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of the Western Cape, 28th November 1990.
Mr Chancellor, Mr Vice Chancellor, Members of the Senate and the
Distinguished Members of the Faculty of the University of the
Western Cape, Distinguished Guests, Fellow Graduates and Friends,
I am deeply honoured to accept this honorary degree which your community of scholars has deemed fit to bestow on me. I am particularly moved that the University of the Western Cape, an institution which, under the courageous and wise stewardship of its Rector and Council, has thrown off the shackles of its apartheid origins. This University, among the youngest in this country, has nevertheless been a pace-setter for others by transforming itself into an institution that seeks to serve the majority of our people and to take its place among the builders of a new society that reflects our aspirations and values.
History perhaps ordained that it would be here, on the sandy plain between Table Bay and False Bay, that such an institution should grow up. Some three centuries ago that fateful convergence of the peoples of Africa and Europe took place here on these shores. It was to this peninsula that the princes and Muslims scholars of Indonesia were dragged in chains for daring to resist the rape of their homeland by the merchants of the Netherlands. The first blood in the epic wars of anti-colonial resistance was shed by the peoples indigenous to the Western Cape.
This Cape is as rich in the lore of national struggle as is any other part of South Africa. Even today, when we looked out across Table Bay, the horizon was dominated by a prison island whose infamy as a dungeon designed to stifle the spirit of liberty is as old as colonialism 'in South Africa. It is testimony to the place that this University has earned in the hearts of the oppressed that among the thousands who have endured the torments of Robben Island can be counted a number of students and staff of this institution.
It is appropriate that we underscore that these patriots, brave as they are, are by no means exceptional. Their names are but the most recent additions to a roll of honour that begins with the names of Autshumayo and Doman, the Khoikhoi chieftains who first took up a ms against Dutch colonialism, but includes those of Sheik Yusuf of Macassar; Tuan Guru; David Stuurman; Dr Abdul Abdurahman; John Gomas and James La Guma, all of whom were African patriots, second to none in their dedication to the cause of freedom. If indeed this is a Cape of Good Hope, that hope owes much to the spirit of such fighters and others of their calibre.
We have come together this evening at this place of learning because education has become an important battleground in our struggle for liberation. 1976 and the impetus which subsequent struggles around the issue of education have given to our movement as a whole bear witness to our people's unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
We have now reached a new phase in our march to freedom when the prospect of democratic government is evidently attainable. We must equip ourselves with the skills, knowledge and theoretical tools to assume control of our own destinies; to shape our future and to translate the dreams of millions into reality. It is for that purpose that we have always valued education and learning.
The burdens of history have placed on us the obligation that we must lead our country out of the quagmire of apartheid, racism and colonialism. It falls to us to be the architects of a democratic order and the guarantors of justice. To carry out these tasks effectively requires that we possesses the necessary skills, build competent and efficient forms of organisation and develop the vigilance that will ensure that the new South Africa is not new only in name. But, that it lives up to the expectations of all who have waited so long for it and proves worthy of the sacrifice of the millions who perished so that it will come.
The awesome challenges that face us are not only the legacy of apartheid and national oppression. We are charged with the additional responsibility of monitoring the changes wrought during this transition to ensure that the future we build will reflect and serve the interests of our people, particularly those who have borne the brunt of oppression and deprivation.
Universities traditionally trained a select few for elitist posts within society. South Africa, for decades structured to serve the interests of a minority, in many respects surpassed other countries in this respect. As we lead our country away from minority domination to a people's democracy it is inappropriate that our universities continue to reproduce patterns and practises that will undermine what we are trying to build.
UWC has taken the lead in the radical transformation of our thinking about the interests universities should serve. We must begin by recognising that ours is an African, developing country, the majority of whose inhabitants live in circumstances of poverty and who suffer a quality of life calculated to dehumanise them. Though we are told that South Africa has changed considerably, apartheid has not been abolished and the economy of our country still benefits the few at the expense of the majority.
What meaning can a university have for these millions? How does a university restructure itself to serve their interests? What does it need to address about itself in order to become an instrument of their empowerment? Is it not time that we re-examined the entry qualifications for our universities in a manner that will reduce the inherited inequities of the past and open the doors of learning to those who are traditionally deprived? Do we not need to take a grim look at ourselves and admit that one gender is consistently advantaged over the other? Can the university, as an act of
commitment to knowledge rather than as an act of charity, assume greater responsibility for the eradication of illiteracy among, our people? We ask these questions, not in the spirit of accusation or censure, but rather to contribute to the ongoing discourse, at the centre of which stands this institution, about the future of education in South Africa.
It has already become evident to many who are participating in that debate that
the production and reproduction of knowledge in our country requires fundamental restructuring to meet the challenges posed by the present. To construct a society animated by the critical spirit but one which nevertheless takes pride in its own plural culture will require courage and skill. Emulating the European or American ethic in either our Sciences or our Arts cannot be a satisfactory solution to specifically South African problems we must resolve. Nor is the importation of solutions that have been applied elsewhere the best way to uproot obstacles that are universal but yet have national peculiarities. When our youth coined the slogan "education for liberation" they were expressing a new recognition amongst the oppressed that no matter how well-endowed, the education racist South Africa has foisted on its own young, cannot serve as a model for a future South Africa. The psychological bondage this system imposes on White youth is as harmful in its effects as the physical enslavement gutter education sought to impose on our young people.
While we must and shall remain committed to the universal character of the human experience it is unacceptable that those things which we hold dear and are uniquely ours should be relegated to marginality. The tyranny of cultural canons, whose relevance to African realities remain doubtful, has been concealed behind claims of universality. Scholars must deliberately and consistently interrogate such claims if only to avoid the unwarranted elevation of certain cultural norms.
The challenges are enormous and the tasks ahead may appear daunting. But, the future of our country and our people beckons us all to great deeds. Let us move forward with vision, with courage and determination as we educate for empowerment. Let us build, as we create the new South Africa, an educational system that will expedite the realisation of non-racialism, non-sexism and true democracy.
* President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver a public address at 15h20 on the Cape Town City Hall balcony where Nelson Mandela delivered his first public address within hours of his release.
Image 1: Image of the original speech delivered at UWC’s main hall by Nelson Mandela on 28 November, 1990.
Image 2 and 3: Nelson Mandela receives his honorary degree at UWC. At the time the late Professor Jakes Gerwel was the Rector and Vice-Chancellor and Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the University’s Chancellor.