Chairperson of Council and Members of Council

Retired Deputy Judge President and Outgoing chancellor, Justice Dikgang Moseneke

Vice Chancellor Prof. Adam Habib

Madam Chancellor, Dr Judy Dlamini

Vice Chancellors of the University of Cape Town, Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng, and Mpumalanga University, Prof. Thoko Mayekiso

Deputy Vice-Chancellors and Deans present

My two advisors Dr Tshepo Mokoka and Dr Lufuno Marwala

Students present

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

 

I am very pleased to be here with you today to witness the inauguration of Dr Judy Dlamini as she takes over from another eminent South African, Justice Dikgang Moseneke, as Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand. Especially since the last time I was in this hall was for my master's degree graduation, and it is nice to see my supervisor Dr Matshabaphala. I would like to congratulate Dr Dlamini on her election into the high position of chancellor in this very prestigious university.

 

Despite the many differing opinions, high or low, that our society might have about our institutions of higher learning, our institutions have always led the way in helping us settle discord in society. When this opportunity arose for me to make this short remarks I thought it appropriate to express what I have observed to be troubling developments in our country.

 

Recently, in our country there has emerged a culture that I think is out of the step with the vision of a new South Africa we all aspired to build when we embraced democracy in 1994.We adopted a constitution in 1996 which says in its Preamble: "We, the people of South Africa … believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity." The culture I speak about is at odds with this assertion on the preamble of our constitution. It is a culture that now seeks to use our diversity as a source of conflict.

 

As we look back to see how far we have come since the dawn of democracy, it is important to understand that what was achieved in the country was nothing less than a miracle. Our country was on the brink of a civil war that would have caused calamitous social strife, the consequences of which I cannot begin to imagine.

 

It took the visionary leadership of dedicated men and women to steer our country towards a democratic experiment which dealt a huge blow to the racial foundations that had until then underpinned the apartheid system. Our icon Tata Madiba, whose centenary we are celebrating this year, worked tirelessly to cement the foundation of our democracy upon which later generations would build, but he also understood that sustaining our experiment would not be an easy task.

 

In his response to Archbishop Tutu's 1994 peace lecture, he alluded to this challenge of building a new nation when he said: "The challenge is, how to consolidate this fledgling democracy and make it flourish!"

 

In the same response he averred that "The formality of a constitution and legislation is an important part of this [project]: statutes that should protect diversity and tolerance – be it racial, ethnic, religious or political. This, however, needs to be deepened into a national culture encompassing all the people. Changes in attitudes – in communities, in the home, at the work-place and within ourselves as individuals – is crucial for our small miracle to fully come of its own."

 

The language used to deepen divisions and to reverse the gains we have made since 1994 has been carefully designed to exploit the disparities in material conditions amongst South Africans. The legitimate grievances of the majority of our people are now being used by demagogues whose only interest is to stoke ethnic and racial tensions for political gain. The pedestrian performance of our economy has also added to the woes that give ammunition to this demagogues whose stock in trade populist rhetoric.

 

Perhaps we should admit that some of the problems I have mentioned have arisen because we have surrendered our duty to build the nation to populists and populism. Jan-Werner Müller in his essay titled "What Cold War Liberalism Can Teach Us Today" published on the New York Review of Books warns about populism.  He says the following: "Populism has no intrinsic ideology or doctrine of either left or right. Rather, populists claim that they, and only they, represent 'the real people' or 'the silent majority', as they deny the legitimacy of their political competitors who are declared to be corrupt and 'crooked.'" I am therefore compelled to ask the question: What is it that universities can do to help us crowd out the populist rhetoric from the public imagination?

 

On the international front, a section of our society seems to have embraced what has now become a global phenomenon and that is narrow nationalism. Even those who have come to understand our diversity as our strength seem to also hold a view that the diversity they embrace ends at our borders. That South Africa is part of the African continent to this section of society is only an accident of its geography.

 

The world is undergoing changes that require our country to strengthen its relations with other countries in the continent, but more importantly with countries of the Global South. To shield ourselves from the exacting costs of modern globalisation such relations are a necessity. However, we cannot hope to derive political and economic benefits from these countries without embracing the people who live in these countries. Thus, I am saying our conception of diversity and tolerance should extend beyond our borders.

 

Universities bring together a motley crew of educators, researchers and students from all corners of the world and they are able to coexist in the same geographical space without conflict. I believe that universities can lead us back to the path of deepening diversity and tolerance that Tata Madiba spoke about. Universities are best placed to drive conversations about deepening and protecting diversity and tolerance.

 

In the recent past, universities, including this one, have been a theatre for the most contentious student uprisings and yet they remain centres for vibrant intellectual contestations and conversations. It is within universities that the limits of our democracy can be stretched without compromising our national project. I believe that universities can serve as an antidote to populists and populism by refusing to succumb to this demon that seeks to eat away at our nation-building project.

 

The changes in attitudes – in communities, in the home, in the workplace and within ourselves as individuals – that Tata Madiba spoke about also applies to attitudes towards women. The election of Dr Judy Dlamini as the first female chancellor of this institution is a very encouraging development. Our society still demands of women to prove themselves before they can be regarded as capable individuals. One of the challenges I am facing as a Minister of Science and Technology is making sure that the national system becomes more inclusive by bringing more women into research. Currently black women make up less than five per cent of the full professoriate, which means that we still have a long way to go to bring about gender equality in our country.

 

Dr Dlamini's election to this high position comes at a time when the country is yearning for a new dawn. The kind of visionary leadership that she has shown in her other capacities will take this university to the centre of driving conversations that will help us build a South Africa envisaged in our constitution.

 

Dr Dlamini, as you are being inaugurated today, understand that you also carry with you the hopes and dreams of many South Africans, especially young women. In your inauguration today they see a new dawn, and they will call you to provide your shoulders so for them climb on, and I hope you will be willing to offer your shoulders. As you know, the number of women and children who have fallen victim to gruesome violence has been on the increase and the university environment has not been spared this societal problem. With your leadership we hope to see the university tacking this injustice head on.

 

Tata Madiba and his generation bequeathed us a great gift, we dare not fail!

 

I once again congratulate Dr Judy Dlamini on her election and wish well in her role.

 

I thank you.