PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI MP
PRESIDENT OF THE INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
Hilton Hotel Durban
Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Engagements, Professor Zodwa Dlamini; Staff and students of the Mangosuthu University of Technology; Representatives of Government; Members of national and international academic institutions; leaders of innovation; distinguished guests.
I consider it an honour to speak tonight on the founding of the Mangosuthu University of Technology. I am proud of this institution and the contribution it makes to our society, our economy and our workforce. I am also proud of its potential, for I know that MUT is well positioned to expand its reach in terms of global research and innovation.
I therefore thank the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Dlamini, for taking the initiative to drive an annual Research, Innovation and Engagements Week, so that MUT can showcase its programmes and projects to the world. By hosting academic institutions from other countries, MUT is opening the way for new relationships, new ideas and new collaborations.
This is an excellent initiative, for it is through collaboration that progress is suddenly given impetus. Indeed, it was a collaboration that birthed the Mangosuthu University of Technology in 1979.
I would like to paint a picture of that time in our country.
We were at the height of apartheid and the liberation struggle. The economic situation in our country was deteriorating as the campaign of economic sanctions and disinvestment really started to bite. As the ANC’s mission-in-exile convinced investors to pull out of South Africa, industries closed shop and jobs were lost. Indeed, jobs were becoming few and far between.
To further the campaign of ungovernability, the ANC’s mission-in-exile was calling on students to abandon their education and burn down their schools. Across South Africa the cry “Liberation Now, Education Later” echoed through empty classrooms.
As much as I had invested in seeing my country liberated, I could not embrace a strategy that weakened the economy we would inherit, or compromised the future of our youth. My vision was to liberate our youth through education. Thus in KwaZulu, where I served as Chief Minister, we pushed for oppressed young South Africans to pursue education with fervour.
Under the banner “Education for Liberation”, Inkatha worked to see our country’s youth equipped with the tools of knowledge, to leverage their own freedom. We were preparing them to become active, responsible citizens, economic drivers and leaders in a liberated country.
My commitment to education was well-known. I served as Patron of the LEARN Fund and Chairperson of the American South African Study Educational Trust. I also served as Chancellor of the University of Zululand, capping 22 successive years of graduates. It was in this capacity that I heard the lament of young graduates, and I was pained by their honest question: what use is a degree, when there are no jobs to be had?
The simple truth was that a degree or diploma did not translate into work. If we were to liberate our youth through education, we needed a specific kind of education. We needed a tertiary institution that offered vocational training, so that students could be equipped with the skills needed to get jobs, keep jobs and create jobs. The difficulty was finding the resources to fulfil that vision, for there was certainly no enthusiasm from the apartheid regime for educating black South Africans.
But not every strategy of apartheid succeeded. In the seventies, when apartheid did its utmost to keep the races separate, I developed good friendships with men and women of all races, based on our shared ideals for South Africa. One such friendship was with the Oppenheimer family. They were liberals and had a tremendous desire to create social justice.
Mr Harry Oppenheimer often invited my wife and I to dinner. Afterwards, the women would retire to one corner of the room and the men to another where, over cigars, we would inevitably talk politics. Our friendship enabled me to speak freely. Thus, when Mr Oppenheimer asked me what business could do to support genuine liberation, I told him about the need to equip oppressed young South Africans with vocational skills.
I presented the idea of a technikon that would enable graduates to take up jobs and create jobs, becoming entrepreneurs and giving their contribution to our society and our liberation. Mr Oppenheimer immediately caught the vision. As Chairman of the Anglo American and de Beers Group, Mr Harry Oppenheimer had created the Chairman’s Fund to channel resources towards the Oppenheimer’s philanthropic initiatives. Through the Chairman’s Fund, Mr Oppenheimer provided R5 million to build a tertiary institution that offered vocational training. Thus, in 1979, the Mangosuthu Technikon opened its doors in Umlazi.
I must just say that I never intended it to take my name. That was suggested by Dr Oscar Dhlomo, the Minister of Education in KwaZulu. But I was deeply honoured, for I knew that this institution would reflect a legacy of investment in education for generations to come.
It was a humble beginning, because we started with just 15 students! But the value of what we were doing became evident as more and more graduates passed through this institution. My vision to liberate South Africa’s youth through education was finally concretised.
Now, 38 years since the founding of Mangosuthu Technikon, the renamed Mangosuthu University of Technology continues to equip young South Africans to get jobs, keep jobs and create jobs. The graduates of MUT are taking ownership of building South Africa through their own initiative. They are breaking the bonds of poverty and ignorance, and shaping their own future.
I am still touched when those who attended MUT contact me to express their gratitude. A few years ago, one such student, Mr Nkosinathi Manqele, who was born the very year that MUT opened, wrote me a wonderful letter. I would like to read it to you, in part. It said –
“Sir, let me pass my gratitude to you for having brought the factories to Isithebe and for having asked Mr Harry Oppenheimer to establish Mangosuthu Technikon. Without these institutions that you helped establish, I wouldn’t have had all these opportunities… Today I am earning a very decent salary that I could have only dreamt about had you not started these institutions. It does not surprise me to see among your many Awards and Accolades the Magna Award for Outstanding Leadership… SOKWALISA-NQENGELELE-SHENGE.”
I think that, more than anything I can say, conveys the remarkable good that MUT has given to our country.
I am grateful for the opportunity to look back, this evening, on the founding of this institution. But I would like also to take a few moments to look ahead, because I believe that the future of MUT can be even greater that its past.
A couple of years ago, a dear friend of mine started a debate in South Africa on medical innovation when he stood in Parliament and made an impassioned plea to Government. His personal fight to survive terminal Lung Cancer had taken him on a journey of discovery, and he had realised the potential for South Africa to become a centre of medical research and innovation. He opened our eyes to the possibility of alternative treatments, not only for Cancer, but for many other diseases, and he pointed out how perfectly suited we are in this country to lead the way in testing, investigating and finding those alternatives.
South Africa has been at the forefront of medical innovation for decades. We have the brain trust, the infrastructure, the legacy and the pioneering spirit to become global leaders in medical research. What we need now is government buy-in and collaboration with partners throughout the world.
Right now, the Medical Innovation Bill is still before the Health Portfolio Committee in Parliament. I hope to see it come before the National Assembly so that this debate can be reinvigorated.
But I know that the debate must be driven by people like you, people at the very forefront of academic excellence, people who are pushing the boundaries of innovation and research so that we might create something truly remarkable tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow.
MUT is well-positioned to advance the knowledge economy in this province, in our country, and beyond. It is therefore perfectly fitting that the theme for this Research, Innovation and Engagements Week should be “Engaging Globally for Local Impact”, because it is through international collaborations that we will impact individual lives in local communities. If we look only at disease, for instance, or even only at Cancer, it is evident that our collaborations at global level will change the lives of millions of ordinary people.
That is really what academic institutions must aim to do. That is the measure of their success. MUT is changing lives. By this measure, it is one of South Africa’s most valuable institutions. I therefore thank you for the part you will play in strengthening its reach and opening its potential. Thank you for supporting MUT.