Honourable Vice Chancellor, Professor Makgoba,
Premier S`bu Ndebele,
MEC for Economic Affairs, Dr Zweli Mkhize,
Deans of Faculties and the entire academic community,
SRC President, SRC Members and Students,
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be a guest of the students and members of the University of KwaZulu-Natal community during this very special occasion.
I am humbled by such recognition made to me by the students of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the form of this important award. It is indeed very encouraging and heart-warming to realise that the modest contribution we have made in continuing to build a better South Africa, a better Africa and a better world, is being noticed and recognised.
These awards are made more meaningful by the fact that our work is being recognised by the youth of our country, people who must carry on with the task of nation building and creating a prosperous South Africa.
We are in dire need of dedicated, patriotic and action-oriented young intellectuals who will contribute to building the kind of prosperous and successful society we envisage. This is a society without poverty and underdevelopment, where men and women, girls and boys live in dignity, with access to opportunities to make their lives better and meaningful.
Some of these opportunities include access to education. There are scores of children in rural South Africa who cannot afford to go to school. I have come face to face with this hardship through the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust Fund. We are approached by many orphans each year in need of money to pay school or tertiary fees. To date the Trust pays for the education of more than 3000 children at primary school level, and many others at tertiary level.
This is the reality of poverty that we all need to be aware of and find ways of assisting where we can. It is remarkable that as far back as 1906, Africans were already seeking education despite poverty and lack of resources, as they continue to do today. Former ANC President and timeless intellectual Pixley ka Isaka Seme captured the African`s quest for education succinctly in his article ?The Regeneration of Africa?, published on 5 April 1906.
He said, and I quote "He has refused to camp forever on the borders of the industrial world; having learned that knowledge is power, he is educating his children. You find them in Edinburgh, in Cambridge, and in the great schools of Germany. These return to their country like arrows, to drive darkness from the land. I hold that his industrial and educational initiative, and his untiring devotion to these activities, must be regarded as positive evidences of this process of his regeneration."
I am hopeful that this newly-merged institution whose birth we are also celebrating this evening, will contribute in earnest to the process of developing African scholarship within the context of the African Renaissance, to promote access to education, socio-economic development, political development and other key areas of development.
I know that African rebirth is a subject that has been close to the heart of Vice-Chancellor Makgoba for many years, and that we would not be short of partners at this institution, in pursuing this goal.
Our quest for development extends beyond the continent. As we spend countless hours seeking peace in Burundi, Cote d`Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries, and working to ensure the success of Africa`s socio- economic blueprint, the New Partnership for Africa`s Development (NEPAD) and other programmes, we are inspired by the wisdom and vision of our forebears such as Pixley ka Isaka Seme.
In the article quoted earlier, "The Regeneration of Africa", he outlined his optimism about the continent and I quote:
"The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I seem to see her chains dissolved her desert plains red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities. Her Congo and her Gambia whitened with commerce, her crowded cities sending forth the hum of business, and all her sons employed in advancing the victories of peace - greater and more abiding than the spoils of war".
When he uttered those words in 1906 Africans were in bondage and had no power to act to change the continent. We now have that power, and need to use it to build the type of country and continent that our forebears dreamt about, but did not live to see.
In this regard, our higher education institutions have a critical role to play, to produce intellectuals and experts in various fields who will be able to correctly analyse the challenges that the country and continent face, and suggest workable solutions.
I am therefore reminded of the notion of "organic intellectuals", which Italian revolutionary intellectual Antonio Gramsci wrote a lot about, particularly as it relates to the role of intellectuals in bringing about socialist transformation.
I am pleased that the SRC appreciates this concept. Gramsci categorises intellectuals into two: traditional and organic intellectuals, thereby introducing a definition of intellectuals that extends to working among the masses.
There are a number of lessons that we can learn from Gramsci as we work towards building a new society today. Chief among those lessons is the need to use the knowledge and skills we gain, for the betterment of society.
This is important for us in our country to remember. Without ensuring that many people gain from the skills and knowledge produced by our higher education institutions, we will not reach our goals of eradicating poverty and bridging the gap between the rich and poor and of ensuring sufficient economic growth that will ensure that more households can put food on the table.
The running thread in the writings of Gramsci is the fact that theory is a means to practice. He sought to create working class intellectuals who were actively participating in practical life, and he wrote in 1971 and I quote:" the mode of being the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence but in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser, permanent persuader, and not just a simple orator".
I think what we can learn from Gramsci is that it is not enough for us to understand and comment on the challenges facing our country, but that we should use our skills and knowledge to contribute solutions.
These should be solutions that are informed by a strong African consciousness and supported by time-honoured African value systems and ways of doing things. The solutions we propose to our challenges would be sustainable if they are informed by this understanding of the African environment we work and live in.
This is the challenge I would like to leave with our young intellectuals this evening. Let us all strive to become organic intellectuals, who will participate actively in finding solutions to the challenges facing our country, Africa and the world, informed by the understanding of the objective conditions in this African country of ours.
Allow me programme director, before I conclude, to congratulate fellow award recipients.
I also extend my appreciation to the SRC and the student body as a whole. Tonight`s occasion indicates the extent and level of socio-political consciousness among the students.
It is heartening to realise that through this award, the students recognise the contribution made in the field of piece in the country and especially in KwaZulu-Natal. It is our political maturity that thought us that you can actually sit down and negotiate with your opponent or even your enemy and resolve conflict and political violence.
It is an established fact that in the history of society conflict and violence, mainly political violence, does occur emanating from a variety of disagreements that emerge amongst people. But the reality is that at the end engagement and negotiations have to happen whether there is a stalemate or one side defeated. It is at that point where political maturity distinguishes individuals, groups, political parties and nations.
It is that political maturity that allowed us to sit down with the apartheid government to reach a negotiated settlement. It also enabled us to negotiate piece in KwaZulu-Natal. The experience that we acquired, while negotiating piece in our country, has also enabled us to assist our sisters and brothers in other parts of Africa who are still engulfed by the scourge of violence, some involving massacres, genocides and ethnic cleansing. Our intervention in those parts of Africa is bearing fruit.
This is what we recognise and appreciate in what our students have done in coming up with this particular award. This will certainly go a long way as a contribution to Africa`s course and will encourage many to make the necessary input for our commitment for Africa to be at piece with itself and eradicate underdevelopment in its entirety.
We also recognise and thank the Vice-Chancellor and the academic staff, for taking the university in the right direction. Continue with your good work, and produce many more organic intellectuals who will take our country to greater heights!
Let me in conclusion leave you with the words of one of our foremost organic intellectuals, former ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli. In a Nobel lecture delivered at Oslo University on 11 December 1961, entitled Africa and Freedom, he said and I quote:
"This is Africa`s age - the dawn of her fulfilment, yes the moment when she must grapple with destiny to reach the summits of sublimity saying - ours was a fight for noble values and worthy ends, and not for lands and the enslavement of man. Africa is a vital subject matter in the world of today, a focal point of world interest and concern. Could it not be that history has delayed her rebirth for a purpose?
"The situation confronts her with inescapable challenges, but more importantly with opportunities for service to herself and mankind. She evades the challenges and neglects the opportunities to her shame, if not her doom. How she sees her destiny is a more vital and rewarding quest than bemoaning her past with its humiliations and sufferings".
I thank you.