Pretoria - Former president Nelson Mandela was honoured in absentia with Unisa's 2012 Robben Island Alumnus Award in Pretoria on Thursday evening.
The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory’s communications and outreach head Sello Hatang received the award on Mandela's behalf.
“As you all know, Mandela has had a long relationship with this institution,” he said, describing Mandela's struggle to acquire his law degree, which he obtained through the University of South Africa (Unisa) while on Robben Island on July 20, 1989.
“It was a difficult struggle and in the end I finished it in jail,” Hatang quoted Mandela as saying.
He said the award was not only for people who had studied under the apartheid regime, but also for those who were studying in prison today.
Hatang commended Unisa, which is about to celebrate its 140th anniversary, for its work in education.
“Unisa, it is in your hands to make a difference,” Hatang said.
A Robben Island Alumnus Award was also made to Liberty Group chairperson Saki Macozoma.
The university presented its Outstanding Educator Award, also in absentia, to academic and anti-apartheid activist Dr Mamphela Ramphele.
It gave its Outstanding Alumnus Award to Industrial Development Corporation of SA CEO Geoffrey Qhena.
“I am honoured that a township born-and-bred boy from Meadowlands could be recognised by such an institution,” he said.
Unisa principal and vice-chancellor Professor Mandla Makhanya said the awards were a formal acknowledgement of the recipients' commitment to social justice and ethical leadership. “They are now well-acknowledged and respected.”
Gauteng Judge President Bernard Ngoepe said Unisa had made a huge contribution through distance learning.
“The truth is Unisa is the alma mater of this country's most distinguished minds,” he said, adding that it had offered the hope of a world class education to many when the political environment was segregated.
Rubbishing suggestions that distance learning was inferior, Ngoepe asked how then Unisa had managed to produce a president, a Nobel laureate, a chief justice, and a deputy chief justice. “I rest my case.”
He said that if the youth of today were as motivated to study as the award recipients, the country would be quite different.
“These people have made a positive impact in various walks of our lives,” Ngoepe said. - Sapa