Row over honorary RAUdegree for Mbeki

Evidence wa ka Ngobeni

Senior African National Congress leaders recently met leaders of the ANC-aligned South African Student Congress (Sasco) in a bid to end student opposition to the Rand Afrikaans University’s (RAU) offer of an honorary doctorate to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki.

Sasco is insisting that Mbeki reject the honorary degree in law on the grounds that the university has failed to shed its racist past.

Last October RAU announced it wanted to honour Mbeki for “his outstanding contribution to the development of a democracy in South Africa”.

Mbeki was among four candidates to be awarded honorary degrees. The others received theirs at RAU’s March graduation ceremony.

Mbeki’s office this week denied he intended to reject the degree.

Several meetings were held two weeks ago between an ANC delegation and Sasco leaders to discuss the offer.

Sasco administrator Steve Mamphekgo said ANC general secretary Kgalema Motlanthe had assured students at the meetings that Mbeki would not accept the award until further discussions with them.

Sasco had written to Motlanthe asking him to ensure that Mbeki heeded their call.

ANC Youth League president Malusi Gigaba, who confirmed the meeting between Motlanthe and Sasco, said his organisation would endorse Mbeki’s acceptance of the award on the grounds that “he must point out issues of transformation and the role of white institutions in the `African renaissance’ in his speech. If Mbeki does not accept the honorary degree, that is not going to help to transform RAU.

“The argument that RAU is not transformed is true, but the one that the president must not receive the honorary degree from the institution is flawed.

“All the problems we have with RAU must be raised with him so that he can address them during his address to the university.”

But Sasco did not accept this argument and said the university management did not deserve to honour Mbeki.

“Their intention is to keep RAU as a bastion for Afrikanerdom, by publicly fooling South Africans through such sanctimonious courtesy to people’s leaders,” read a Sasco statement.

“We cannot allow this institution to use progressive public figures to pursue their own personal goals.

“The intention to award the doctorate to Mbeki is just public relations or face- saving and nothing else.”

RAU representative Sonia Payne said this week Mbeki accepted the offer in writing and they were waiting for him to confirm a date which suited him.

“It is our view that we have a very good relationship with the deputy president,” she said.

RAU was once an all-white institution, but now about 15% of its student body is black.

Sasco says the composition of the university staff, however, resembles a patriarchal, racist Afrikaner society.

The university is being investigated by the Human Right Commission for gross human rights violation claims laid by black students on the campus. The commission is expected to announce its findings in the next three months.

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