Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Last Thursday, I was invited to attend the launch of the Durban Alumni Chapter of the University of Fort Hare where I gave a short address.
From modest beginnings, many of my fellow alumni have become successful, leaders in their fields, and, in some cases, wealthy. The alumni of my generation provide a linkage - a study in contrast - between the generations, and straddle the gap between the disadvantaged and empowered. This is why I was so disappointed the attendance at the Durban Chapter was so poor. I would have expected more of my fellow African students to be there, and I was disappointed that there was not one of my Indian brothers or sisters there, who, like me, all benefited because they went through Fort Hare.
I would, if I may, share with you some of my reflections.
In those salad days of my youth, we had our own language - "Fort Harish" - with such words as "umlevo". I remember "the 220 track"; which was the stretch of ground to Elukhanyisweni, the then women students' hostel. I remember the days of trips by our male students across the Tyumie River. That is, to Victoria Hospital, because of the "blue bottles with white stoppers". That was the name male students crafted to describe the nurses at the Victoria Hospital, as they wore blue uniforms with white berets when they were outside hospital.
Nurses were also sometimes referred to as "City Lights". So you will understand when we said that someone had been struck by "Bacillus Citilitis" what had happened to him!
Those were days when the word "native" did not seem to have the stigma it acquired later, as the official name of our University was "the South African Native College", the acronym of which as used by students was "SANC". Fort Hare was a beacon of light, not only for black students in this country. Fort Hare drew students from the whole of Southern Africa and even from Eastern Africa.
The institution owes a great debt to the founding missionaries of the Church of Scotland, particularly Dr Alexander Kerr, its very first Principal. Were it not for them, black South Africans would have been denied university education altogether, just as was the case for so many decades, as there were limited faculties in Fort Hare University during our times. Blacks were of course barred from studying at our white universities.
It would be wonderful if the alumni of this great institution, I said, were inspired to have a strong alumni Chapter in Durban. In KwaZulu-Natal, we were fortunate in that the very first graduate of Fort Hare University, Professor Zachariah Keodirelang Mathews, "ZK" as he was affectionately called, was the first Principal of Adams High School. He was also the first President of NATU. So this great man left his footprints on KZN I have always considered it one of my greatest fortunes to have been his student. There are many of his values which shaped my own. For example, his words still ring in my ears even at my age. He would always say to us: "There are two sides to every issue." I hope I get that across in my interventions in parliament and in my newsletters.
I have often stressed the importance of alumni associations for the overall success of a university such as Fort Hare. Alumni associations provide much more than a venue to recall old memories and meet old friends, to compare notes and assess the damage that time has inflicted on our respective appearances. Especially in countries such as the United States, alumni associations are the backbone of a university's success. They provide the continuous financial backing which enables a university to expand its programmes beyond the limitations of the funding provided for through public grants and tuition fees.
Over and above money, alumni associations provide a constant flow of guidance for the development of a university so as to maintain its connection with the rest of society and its relevance within present and future challenges. As people study at prestigious universities, they move into prestigious positions and, through their participation in the activities of their alma mater, they continue to provide inputs and assistance which feed into the education of the new generation.
In this sense, alumni associations are indeed the bridge of continuity between various generations which ensures that a university does not become an ivory tower of learning and academic speculation which is no longer tied to the needs, challenges and aspirations of our society.
I am surprised how the Boston University in the United States keeps in touch with me, merely because the University of Boston conferred a doctorate on me, honoris causa. I regularly receive the University's magazine. I was quite astounded when they even sent me a beautiful chair with the crest of Boston University.
I told my fellow alumni last week that the new Chapter of the Association of Alumni of Fort Hare needs to keep in mind the broader parameters of our mission. The framework of conviviality and entertainment must also be utilized as an opportunity to continue to contribute to the success of our university by directing towards it financial resources which we may raise on its behalf, as well as our constant flow of attention and interest. Many of us, as I mentioned earlier, have gained an enormous wealth of knowledge and experience through our life's journey. We should accept the responsibility of making ourselves available to go back to our universities in whatever capacity we can.
In other countries, universities maintain a programme which enables renowned alumni, or simply an alumni who has some experience to share, to speak to or connect with students to give them practical guidance in what awaits them on the day after their graduation, or merely to contribute to the dialogue within the university on the relevant issues of society. I regret that not enough of such efforts have taken place in respect of our university and I hope that the new Durban Chapter of our Alumni Association may distinguish itself in bringing about a greater measure of these types of exchanges. Fort Hare, being the first black university in Southern and Eastern Africa should, I think, blaze a trail for all other predominantly black universities which mushroomed long after it was established. There is no reason why the Fort Hare Alumni Chapters should not be the strongest of these.
This is now more important than ever. Our youth often lacks a sense of mission and purpose and is confronting difficulties beyond many people's capacity to cope or understand. A university education, no matter how successful, is no longer tied to the possibility of securing a job or a career. Learning how to find a job is becoming a subject of intense study which a university itself cannot provide. It is the responsibility of concerned alumni to enable young students coming out of our alma maters to find jobs, and we should engage new classes of graduates in orientation programmes which may direct them towards job opportunities or the steps necessary to acquire the additional required practical training which may eventually enable them to find a job.
In this respect, I have always felt that it would be important for all the alumni who are themselves employers to adopt a policy of preference in respect of job applicants trained in our own alma mater.
However, the assistance to the youth in finding jobs must come long before they graduate and almost even before they enrol at our university. Practical orientation classes held by people with business and social experience should be given to our youth almost as soon as they matriculate, so as to make them appreciate the dynamics of the job market and the relationship between training and their life's journey.
It is important that in education everyone follows his own personal bliss, talents and vocation, but only up to a point. Many of us have had the vocation to study history of art, literature, poetry or philosophy, but realized that no matter how important to one's own human development and overall formation, these disciplines do not necessarily provide marketable skills which employers require. It is an unpleasant reality that those of us who studied the Humanities are often disadvantaged in the job market when compared with those who studied the sciences.
Our country is in desperate need of people with mathematical skills and a scientific background. Science and technology is where the future lies and we must place emphasis on the importance of the youth embracing not only the discipline, but a love for science and technology. However, I more than many others know well the importance of universities as the incubators not only of the professional skills of the future, but also the ideas, dreams and aspirations of the future.
This is particularly relevant for our university, which has played an historical and unparalleled role in shaping the political consciousness of several generations of political leaders in our entire sub-continent. As anywhere else in the world, new ideas - and indeed revolutions - must continue to germinate out of university campuses. It is important that we accept that each new generation has the inalienable right to bring about a massive measure of change.
When I was at Fort Hare we conceived a dream which seemed impossible to realize. That was the dream of freedom from racism and oppression within our lifetime. Many of us have lived to see the dream become a reality beyond our greatest hopes. That lesson must not be forgotten.
Our university must continue to bear the legacy of the optimism of dreams which come true and the courage to dream of that which now seems unattainable and beyond the realm of the feasible.
It is not only the right, but I would say it is almost the historical duty of new generations to look upon the achievements of their forefathers, and the creed that no matter how much we succeeded in bringing about the realization of our dreams, what was done is just not good enough and the present status of affairs is unacceptable and despicable.
Thinking with the heart of a 20 year old young student, which still beats strong in my chest, I cannot help thinking that the world we live in is a terrible place which awaits a radical reform to finally redress the terrible injustice which juxtaposes human beings and human beings and detracts from the equal dignity and inherent worth of all God's creatures. The dream of social justice is by far a greater dream than the dream of freedom from oppression which our generation held and relentlessly pursued.
While I am proud that we achieved our dream of political emancipation of our people and brought about freedom in our country, there are many evils that pain me. I feel that our dream is not completely fulfilled when I see how we are still confronted with so much poverty, so much corruption, HIV/Aids and so much crime. While our dream of freedom was realized, it is still a dream not yet fully fulfilled.
This is the challenge which the present generation faces. It is a dream which I know the present generation may have a chance to see materialize, when some of us are no more. As a Believer, I would like to make a confession today. I am often worried by the words of our Saviour and King, Jesus Christ, when He responded to some of His disciples. When a woman in Bethany poured expensive perfume over Christ's head, His disciples complained about what they saw as a waste of money. In Matthew 26 verses 10 and 11, He responded: "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me."
If one looks at the history of mankind, one can clearly see how technological development, new dimensions of learning and knowledge and the overall growth of society have gone hand in hand with increasing freedom and better conditions of life for all. We hope that the technological society of the future and the great technological developments awaiting us may continue to bring about greater social justice in the wake of the transformation which they impose within each one of our lives and the whole of society.
I ended with the hope that our university will become the seed bed of future scientists and mathematicians, as it was of politicians and leaders when history needed them most.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 555-7144.