“Congratulations! Now take every privilege of education, skill, mentoring and other input you’ve received, and pay it forward,” said Professor Tawane Kupe, University of Pretoria vice-chancellor and principal, to the winners of the 2021 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans.
It is with much excitement that I extend my congratulations to each and every one of this year’s M&G 200 Young South Africans. You have been identified as some of the country’s brightest young minds, and we value this opportunity to celebrate the excellence you have achieved. We salute you for the long hours of hard work you’ve undoubtedly dedicated to harnessing your skill set, and we’re inspired by the positive, tangible impact you are making in so many different ways.
As the vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Pretoria (UP), one of Africa’s leading universities, I devote much of my attention to looking ahead. Young people represent the future of any society, and so our role as a tertiary institution is to create an ethos and way of life that will imbue attributes in our graduates that best equips them to go on to make a meaningful change in their communities and society at large. A high quality of teaching and learning is a cornerstone, and we are proud of the cutting-edge professional expertise that the UP-aligned honourees on this list have mastered, based on their solid educational foundation.
We also recognise the importance of innovative, world-class research, and our Future Africa hub is just one initiative where we are harnessing the many benefits of a transdisciplinary, collaborative approach towards addressing many of the world’s “wicked” challenges. We seek to connect all the research that we do to the societies in which we operate, in order to positively impact society and human wellbeing. We know that beyond the boundaries of knowledge production comes the wisdom and responsibility to apply our knowledge and skills to the benefit of all, and there has perhaps never been a more urgent time for learning to be unleashed from the confines of the classroom to change lives and the course of history.
Over the past year, our societies have been deeply and directly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. This has exacerbated and brought multiple disruptions and crises to the fore, symptomatic of the deep fault lines in the way in which we live on our planet. How best can we rethink and reimagine our personal contribution, and come up with strategies that we can together implement to achieve social equality and environmental sustainability?
As the youngest and fastest-growing global population, Africa is the future, not just for Africans, but for the entire world. As path-breakers of the African knowledge society, I often remind our students that their actions and ideologies will shape the future significantly. With human potential really being at the heart of creating an Africa we all want to see, I can think of no better way to mobilise positive change than by imploring you, our 200 most influential, trailblazing young people, to take every privilege of education, skill, mentoring and other input you’ve received, and pay it forward. So many of you are already doing this, but let us persevere, being strongly and visibly experienced as key drivers and collaborative agents making a difference, until the difference is made.
Semane Mokgohlwa, Chairperson of TEDxUP, which provides a platform for creative and innovative minds to share ideas worth spreading, reflected on Youth Month recently, and offered the following advice to young people: “Do not only dream for yourself, dream for a future with your community in mind. We all share a common responsibility to act where we can, so do what you can today. Small initiatives or helping an individual in need can go a long way — an initiative can never be too small. If every individual plays their part in helping their communities, the accumulation of all these initiatives can contribute to the change we want to see.”
It is important to look back in history, to understand the context of where we have come from and where we are headed. As a university, we’ve dedicated time this month to doing just this. Our actions matter. They mattered in 1976 when the youth dreamt of a better future for themselves and their families within the context of the larger struggle against apartheid; and they matter now, as we face a world disrupted by multiple crises.
As path-breakers of the African knowledge society, you are part of the globe’s youngest, fastest growing population, with the future success of the world hinging on the success of Africa. Let us do what we can to leave a legacy of gratitude in the hearts of our generations to come.