The full speech delivered by Duma Ndlovu on the occasion of being conferred with a PhD Honoris Causa by the University of Zululand this week.
Acting chancellor of the University of Zululand, who is also the principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Xoliswa Mtose, the chairperson of Council, Ms Nomarashiya Caluza, the university council, the university senate, esteemed past and current graduates, fellow honourees, families and friends of the graduating classes, ladies and gentlemen,
Ayabingelela amaGatsheni Amahle, oGengezi, Obuso obubanzi, oBoya benyathi othi ubusonga bube busombuluka,
omanyathel’enhlakanhlakeni, oDlangamandla abadla ngokudla
amandebele. Ompongo, Ozingelwayo.
Today I join an august list of personalities who have been singled out by this institution for outstanding contribution to the collective psyche of the nation. The august list includes the late icon and first president of a democratic South Africa, Dr Nelson Mandela, isilo samabandla onke, The late King Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, former president Jacob Zuma, inkosi yesizwe sakwaButhelezi, Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Justice Raymond Zondo, my late friend, Dr Sibongile Khumalo, my good friend and brother, Dr Lindelani Mkhize, and not forgetting that Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu was honoured by this institution posthumously in 2001. I am in excellent company. I am humbled to be counted among these amazing human beings, among these giants. I would like to ask God to bless everyone who had anything to do with today. Unkulunkulu anibusise, anilondoloze, nikhule nize nidle izinyoni zezizukulwane zenu.
First and foremost I would like to acknowledge and thank my amazing family, my wife KaMazibuko and six children who have all been a firm pillar and have held my hand every step of the way. They have been supportive even when at times they did not actually see the method in the madness, but they trusted me and stood by my side. Most of them are here today. Ngiyabonga kakhulu maGatsheni Amahle.
Two people who were very pivotal influences in my life stand out today as I stand here in front of you. My late paternal grandmother, Evelyn KaNgosini Mashange Ndlovu, who instilled the love of the Zulu language and culture upon me when I was still young, even though I was born and raised in Soweto where everyone was encouraged, in fact forced and pressured to forget their roots, to forget their culture and their heritage.
Soweto, a place where if you spoke isiZulu esiqotho you were called all kinds of names. My grandmother insisted that we always remember that siyizingane zikaBhusha obukhali, isizwe seNkayishana kaMenzi eyadla umlaza ngameva isizwe sikaMjokwane kaNdaba ubhid’elimathetha nangezinyembezi. Those names were engraved in my consciousness at an early age, and growing up I had a longing and a desire to find that world and bring it to life. I had to understand the world so I had to find out more about these names so that I could understand where I came from, and I did, and that is the one reason I have always felt a sense of belonging, I was never confused about who I am. That is perhaps the reason I was drawn to the Black Consciousness Movement in high school because culture and heritage were at the core of my education and my coming of age. I carried my grandmother’s words everywhere I went. And they kept me going and inspired me throughout my life as a writer, as a creative and as a creator of content for a variety of platforms.
I always tried to remember who I am and who I write those stories for. Long after she passed on she remained an unwavering influence on me, and helped shape my voice. Other influences would emerge at a later stage and build on the foundation, but KaNgosini’s voice remained strong and steadfast, and at no point did I take my eyes off the prize. I have always been and will always be an African, a child of Africa, and a Zulu by birth, my stories have to at all times reflect that.
The second person is my mother, Sarah Manala kaNsungulu MaNkosi Ndlovu, who married into a staunch Zulu family, but never left her own language, isiSwati, behind. My mother steadfastly spoke isiSwati until the day she died at the age of 82, in 2007. Not even once did I hear her speak any other language. Well I am sure she switched to her broken English when she served her masters as a domestic worker all the years she worked the houses of white people, but in front of us, in front of the world, she always was a Swati girl who fell in love with a Zulu man from Bergville. My mother always understood what her role was, to run the family and raise her children. She was always clear and focused. She is the one, alongside my grandmother, who taught us everything there was to know about the Ndlovu family. She was the master of her own fate.
Here are two women who lived their entire lives under an oppressive system but in front of us, they had to stand up straight and run their homes. In a sea of oppression, in the midst of a world that was oppressive to women and did everything to suppress their voices, my mother stood, assertive, and her voice came through to us, her teachings and upbringing was a foundation for the future we were to face, she taught us to raise our heads and not show the world that we were poor, that we did not have food to eat or clothes to wear. She insisted that we try by all means to go to school and get an education.
Always emphasising that education was a form of escape from the wretched lives that we lived, actually the only form of escape. From a young age I understood the value of education and the desire and hunger to go to school. I stand here today paying my deepest gratitude to the two women because were it not for them I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you, addressing you today.
I am also acutely aware that many among you today come from homes that had to struggle to make the means for you to get to be here today. To those mothers and grandmothers who had to rob Peter to pay Paul, so that you could finish your degrees, I pay a special tribute to them. Sunday was Mother’s Day so I would like to wish them a belated Mother’s Day. You are the best. To the fathers who sacrificed a lot to make sure that you, their children, get an education. This is the true measure of parenthood. I would like to applaud those fathers and say to them siyabonga!
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate each and every one of you who is graduating today. To the class of 2022 I would like to say I feel honoured and blessed to be counted amongst you, to have walked the walk with you and to have been capped in the same space, the same time. I know it has not been easy but we need to applaud you for staying the course.
Big up to you for finding the time to stay in school, when most young people don’t seem to have the time to educate themselves, big up to you for finding the resources to go through your education, at a time when young people complain about the lack of resources. We know that it has not been easy, but because you have stayed the course, we pray that the rewards at the end will be great. Speaking of rewards being great I, however, have to also point out the reality that we face as a society, as a country, today.
We find ourselves at a strange place in time. Challenges that are facing young people seem insurmountable. It will sound like an exaggeration when I say I do not remember a time when young people were faced with so many challenges. Poverty, unemployment, substance abuse are all standing by just outside the door waiting for each one of you. The government, it would seem, is losing the war on trying to create jobs in general and for young people in particular. The situation has become so dire that earning yourself a degree no longer guarantees that you will be employed. Not particularly the kind of words you want to hear as you graduate, however, reality is necessary because it also helps to prepare us for the outside world.
As you graduate and step outside of the institution to go and start a new life, you are therefore called upon to face these challenges I speak of and find a way to overcome them. As though that was not enough, the creative industry is not the friendliest of industries right now. We have just recently seen how the Covid-19 epidemic devastated our industry and brought it to its knees. Admittedly Covid-19 wreaked havoc in most businesses, but everyone acknowledged that perhaps ours was the hardest hit. Television shows are closing down left right and centre.
Music and theatre came to a standstill, where these were the only sources of income for thousands of arts practitioners, there was no alternative way of bringing in income streams. This year alone we have heard broadcasters closing at least five telenovelas. These are massive job losses by any stretch of the imagination. Telenovelas and soapies have become the hope of many young people graduating from creative arts institutions.
I am reminded as I speak, of the words of that genius of our struggle, Steven Bantu Biko, who cried: black man you are on your own, you have nothing to lose but the chains of your slavery. The situation was not exactly the same, but it would seem today we are saying almost the same thing, black child you are on your own. I would like for you to take these words that I speak as umphako to prepare you as you enter the world of adulthood, the real adulthood where you have to go out there and earn a living and carry loads of responsibility. Perhaps it saddens me as a producer and one of those who have been saddled with the responsibility of creating jobs in the creative arts space, to see young people, year in and year out graduating into unemployment. Perhaps I am trying to say that we need a new strategy, we need to look at the future with a different set of eyeglasses. Perhaps we need to approach the future from a different prism. Perhaps I am persuading you to think outside the box, and maybe I am challenging you to ask yourselves the question: if you do not go out there to look for a job, to look for employment what other options are there? What can you do, as an individual or as a group to ensure that you create something that can sustain you and that can change the world at the same time?
It definitely is a time for us to think outside the box. It definitely is the right time for all of us as new graduates, to push the envelope as we try to come up with solutions and as we are tasked with a challenge of taking our country and our society to the next level. There has been a lot of talk about the 4th Industrial Revolution. This creates an opportunity to grow the creative industries and move with the new technology to take the creative arts forward, to introduce new languages of communicating, be it through television, games, theatre, music, dance, literature or any storytelling platform that we can think of. All these changes I mention can happen if and when young people take their time to go into a new mindset, a mindset of creating for self more than a mindset of looking for someone to do for them. I do believe that if we started changing the way we look at the world a lot can change and maybe we can start making a dent and effecting a change.
Perhaps this is the time to heed the words of the late president of the United States, John F Kennedy who, in his inauguration speech, suggested to young people not to ask what your country can do for you but instead to pose the question to themselves, of what you can do for your country.
Our country needs a surge of new thinking, our country needs an injection of young minds that would revolutionise all the industries. Most importantly though, our country needs an infusion of new leadership. If there was a time to talk about the generation mix it is now. It is clear to all of us that strategies that have been employed over the years to grow the economy and create jobs are clearly not working. The numbers of unemployed young people keep rising. It definitely is time for young people to start a different conversation: How do we turn things around? It is only when young people start asking those questions that we can start seeing a mindset shift, that we can start seeing a solution-minded young person who will take his or her time to create a future for themselves.
We hope that among this year’s graduates, can be found some of the most-needed leaders of tomorrow, leaders in all spheres, academic, political and religious. And of course we can only achieve that if we have committed and passionate young people. Committed to making a difference and passionate about what they do, passionate about their country and passionate about their future and the role that they will play in steering this country forward.
As I conclude, Professor Mtose, let me add that I regard this gesture from this university as an invitation for some of us to join hands with the university to help bridge the gap between educational institutions and the creative arts industry out there. In my experience the institutions that have gone out of their way to create partnerships with the arts sectors in the mainstream have succeeded in creating a healthy value chain for their graduates. The culture of interning and internships has grown in this country over the last few years, however, I believe that the time has come now for the establishment of theatre companies and drama and dance groups that come out of universities and work hand in hand with the industry out there. In other words, I am suggesting the professionalisation of groups from university so that they also step out and find a vibrant life in theatres. Our industry will only grow when we can create a living partnership with society so that theatre, dance and drama and other genres within the creative space, do not feel strange and out of place and elitist. We need to endeavour to make them common place and link them to communities. In that way, in my view, we will grow audiences and create sustainable jobs for our graduates. I view this honour bestowed upon me as an invitation to be one of the creatives who can champion those collaborations, and I say to you vice-chancellor, I raise my hand. Theatre, drama, dance, literature and other forms of the arts should not die during our watch, right in front of our eyes. The young people who walk out of this institution with degrees each year should be given an assurance that they are graduating into a vibrant and healthy industry. It is possible for all of us in here to write our names in history and be recorded as a generation that revived the creative arts and created jobs. We can become that generation that helped turn around the despair of unemployment and desperation and gave young people hope.
In an era where mental health is a massive problem among young people I am also confident that some of these suggestions will go a long way in helping heal our society. Theatre and drama have been used worldwide as a healing tool. I do also believe that we can play a role in helping use theatre as a healing instrument.
If we, as a nation, are serious about our arts, our language and our cultural institutions, these are some of the points I believe we need to interrogate, so that we can see more and more young people engaging in theatrical and academic works that change lives. Once again I would like to thank this university. I grew up in the late ’60s and ’70s when there were only three universities for black people in South Africa, Ongoye, Fort Hare and Turfloop. I am grateful today to be part of a legacy of a historic institution that has produced some of the most outstanding leaders of our society. God bless this institution, as it strives to make a difference. God bless every one of you this morning, so that you can leave here and go back to your business of changing lives. God bless our government, so that their efforts at achieving a better life for all is achieved, God bless us all.
*This was the speech delivered by Duma Ndlovu on the occasion of being conferred with a PhD Honoris Causa by the University of Zululand this week.