Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa believes that the country will only know that it has made progress once it is able to provide free higher education to the poor.
Ramaphosa was speaking today at the launch of the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape.
The university was formerly known as the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University after the merger of the University of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth Technikon and Vista University 12 years ago.
Addressing the crowd that was gathered at Missionvale campus near Zwide township, Ramaphosa said it is when children who live in shacks and poor communities are able to access university that the country will know that it is on the right track.
The Mail & Guardian reported two weeks ago that the ANC policy conference resolved that free higher education for the working class, “missing middle” students and the poor must be implemented from next year “subject to availability of funds”.
“This university must … not be focusing on the SKA [Square Kilometre Array] and looking at stars three million years ago, it must look in the current stars in our community and say these young people that are born and bred in this community are the stars of the future and they are the stars that must come in this university and learn,” said Ramaphosa
“It is only when those youngsters that are now living in shacks, informal settlements in our community, are able to come to this university with ease, with great assistance … we are able to give them free and completely free education that will know we are making progress.”
He said that by assuming the name of the global icon, the university would be expected to be an institution of great excellence.
“It is your university that is going to be expected to be better than all other 25 universities in the country. So you have taken on an unbelievable task.
“You are also going to be challenged to redefine higher education in our country, it is along these shores that this university is located that we are going to expect some of the best solutions [for the country].”
He encouraged the university to work together with the local municipality to help find solutions to problems of lack of government for the community, and that it had the burden to come up with innovative ideas to ease the struggle of and serious problems that communities encounter.
Former Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke urged the university community to emulate the values and ideals of Mandela and to above all safely guard the name of Mandela.
He said the university has assumed a near impossible duty of being like Mandela.
Moseneke – who is one of the executors of Mandela’s estate, said leader come and go but Mandela “stands out as an incredible leader”.
He said one of the things that Mandela believed in was inclusivity and that it must now become the fundamental thing for the university or “Nelson Mandela would turn in his grave” if the university that bears his name is not inclusive.
Most importantly, Mandela represented honesty, said Moseneke.
“Silibele (we have forgotten). Honesty is vital in public life, it is everything. I was a judge and I knew that honesty must be the foundation of what I do when I wake up,” Moseneke said. “Integrity and honesty, those things were so vital in his life. And your university must teach these young people the place of that and not convenience, not quick buck around the corner and how do I lie to get out of difficult moments. I hope this university is one of those that will always say honesty matters, integrity matters.”
The launch took place two days after what would have been Mandela’s 99th birthday, and some who were in attendance included his longtime friend George Bizos.
Vice-chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz said the university was aware that it was taking up a name of an iconic man whose “legacy dwarfs anything that we have seen in recent years in the generation of leaders who have emerged”.
He said that university wants to live up to Mandela’s legacy, ideals and dreams of an equal society and democratic future.
“…If it has the privilege of being named after the late Dr Nelson Mandela then it challenges us from within to go through a period of rebirth to embrace those ideals much more courageously and to pursue this vision of creating a society that he would have been pleased with, one that is based on social justice, equality, on inclusive development,” said Swartz.