Renamed university has big shoes to fill
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Among the guests at the launch were Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and prominent human rights lawyer and friend of Mandela, advocate George Bizos.
Former deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, said to be a key force in the renaming of the institution from the former Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, also attended.
Moseneke’s message was clear: “Honesty matters, integrity matters; put the people at the centre of what you do and defend the name.”
The university’s name was amended on June 23 in the Government Gazette by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande.
The idea for the name change was born seven years ago, and the institution has aimed to revolutionise the way the university functions, while striving to live up to Madiba’s values and legacy.
“In naming this university after Nelson Mandela, you are shouldering a great responsibility - to encourage, educate and nurture the new generation about which Madiba wrote,” said Ramaphosa. “You are shouldering the responsibility of giving life to Madiba’s dream of social equality.”
Ramaphosa called for the decolonisation of the higher education system, saying the university had a duty to stand up and defend principles of non-racialism and non-sexism.
He said it was a daunting task to take on the name of an iconic figure, and in the end Nelson Mandela University would be expected to be better than all other 25 universities in the country, to make a greater contribution towards building the nation.
“This university must be at the forefront of efforts to ensure higher education is an instrument for achievement of social equality - that it does not simply perpetuate privilege.
“While we have made huge strides in making higher education accessible, many capable and deserving young people are still not able to enter universities. Many study in sub-standard living conditions, the support they receive is not sufficient, and too many drop out.”
The deputy president congratulated university council chair, Justice Ronnie Pillay, who indicated that the university’s financial aid contributions had risen significantly from R250million in 2008 to R600m in 2016.
Representing the youth, SRC representative Petro Mzileni called for the university to gain an intellectual identity and platforms to allow educational transformation.
Santie Botha, the university chancellor, was scathing in her address towards the “integrity and skills set” of the current political leadership tasked to achieve Madiba’s dream of a prosperous country, respected on a global map.
“Would Madiba be proud? I doubt it. That is the question the current political leadership should ask themselves today. The time, I believe, has come to re-brand South Africa, not in name, but in values and delivery,” said Botha.
“The values of a re-united and re-launched South Africa which reflect integrity, honesty, delivery for all its people, eradication of all corruption, underpinned by a world-class primary, secondary and tertiary education system.”