I had the privilege of receiving an Honorary Doctorate in Commerce from the University of Zululand last Saturday. Photo: Supplied
I had the privilege of receiving an Honorary Doctorate in Commerce from the University of Zululand last Saturday. Photo: Supplied

Pali Lehohla bags another honourary doctorate

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 17, 2020

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By Pali Lehohla

On Saturday the 12th of December yet another South African university bestowed an Honorary Doctorate to me.

This follows on University of Stellenbosch and University of KwaZulu-Natal.

I had the privilege of receiving an Honorary Doctorate in Commerce from the University of Zululand last Saturday. This was my acceptance speech.

Madam Acting Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Professor Mtose and your executive team of eight warriors – and as a typical bean counter I observe that they are all male.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Seepe, allow me to deeply appreciate the recognition bestowed upon me by your university. It adds a significant burden of responsibility and constrains my-the-wish-for-do-as-I-please-space of retirement. There is now an institution I have been privileged to represent. How then do I respond to this honour.

It is at times such as this that Mathew 5:14 gets invoked “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works.”

If this is the task the Vice-Chancellor and her University is burdening me with, then like Moses I should argue that I stammer. The task is too big to shoulder and as I pointed out I am a pensioner more worried about the chickens and hoping against hope for being grounded by grandchildren one day.

Why then impose the honour of the light of the world, a city on a hill which cannot be hidden on me. I have had to dig deep on why am I deserving and answers and pointers are far in between.

Perhaps like in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, 1602: When probably lost for answers for his impending fortune Malvolio said: “In my stars I am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.”

So which of these forms of greatness should I embrace is the question?

In framing my response I must recognize that the University of Zululand has been a fountain of greatness, it is a city on the hill that cannot be hidden.

It is indeed a special and appropriate institution for our times. It is with trepidation to find myself in the company luminaries. In its arsenal of alumni it boasts Minister Dr Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma whose impact on South Africa has been immense. She, with a rare degree of determination imposed a ban on smoking in all public places. Her soft voice was so loud that this ban in our so less compliant society remains amongst those public policies that stands out. It gives us hope that there are policy frameworks that are possible.

Whatever this University imparted in her, let it be more infectious to society than coronavirus.

As the Chair of the African Union Commission, she in her four-year tenure handed the African continent an ambitious programme, Agenda 2063 the Africa we want. It is this programme that the University of Zululand should be seized with to honour. She is another woman, who like you Professor Mtose here, who led a team of men at the African Union.

You Vice Chancellor and Dr Dlamini Zuma are women who are the Manthatisi’s of our times, the famous Batlokwa Regent who lived in the Kathlamba Mountains and led from the front in moments of our greatest need. Part of the wish of her government is the implementation of the District Development Model (DDM) aimed to cure the ills of our policy formulation, planning systems, plans and implementation malaise.

In this regard change our fortunes as a country forever. It is the duty of her alma mater and other institutions of higher learning to be seized with this ambitious programme. This institution has a record to be proud of and this is particularly so in the legal fraternity. At the time when a call for Moses is made to rescue a nation in trouble from bondage of corruption, Moses and Aron appeared from this institution in the form of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

They are at the forefront of battle at the time when post-apartheid South Africa is at its lowest moment, at the crossroads. They are men of dignity acting without fear or favour. Acting in the public interest.

These biblical equivalents held fort and shone light to a nation in demise. They follow on the footsteps of Justice Sandile Ngcobo. Whilst on the legal theme, the gender agenda is as much important, Justice Sisi Kgampepe and Justice Bess Nkabinde can be counted as people who confront some of the most challenging questions of embedding and dispensing with justice in a society in need of economic and social justice. Who then am I to be part of these tall societal trees and how do I account for my lucky star in greatness?

I do not come to this call with any clear and clean record for that matter. Mine is a journey in discovery and learning. Importantly it is a journey in understanding the other. To that end it appears my adventure in revealing the “beauty of statistics” as Hans Rosling popularly said might be the reason for ascending to the platform of luminaries at this institution. If this is the basis of your call Madam Acting Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Professor Mtose – then your wish my command. I am ready to be counted amongst these luminaries. I thank you.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa.

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