Address by Nelson Mandela at the University of Natal graduation ceremony, Durban

23 April 1993

The Chancellor
The Vice-Chancellor
Members of the Staff
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
Comrades and Friends

It is a great privilege for me to be here today to receive the honour that this University bestows on me and through me on the African National Congress and the entire democratic movement which has tirelessly worked for peace and democratic rule in our country.

This occasion takes place at a time when our country and society has been plunged into a state of upheaval and insecurity by those who seek to undermine our forward march to democratic rule and peace. The challenge facing our movement and all those dedicated to achieving democracy, peace and social justice, is to ensure that we are not detracted and derailed from the main course of our struggle.

The calculated killing of Comrade Chris Hani, General Secretary of the South African Communist Party and a distinguished member of our National Executive Committee was an act aimed at undermining the leadership capacity of the ANC alliance and the negotiation process.

The killers were testing the capacity of the overwhelming majority of our people to remain true in word and in deed to the vision of a society of racial harmony, the capacity of our leaders, such as Chris Hani was, to overcome the sense of bitterness which derives from the fact the system of apartheid treated the black people of this country as sub-humans.

The murders they are committing every day in townships, as is the case recently in Sebokeng, and the continued killings of our people during the days of mourning, must be seen as intended to create insurmountable obstacles to the creation of a society in which all shall be equal - democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and peaceful society. We commend our people for successfully seeing through these evil intentions, and for the manner in which they conducted themselves during the difficult period of mourning.

Yesterday we learnt of the passing away of Dr. Treurnicht. The African National Congress extends its sympathies to his family and those close to him. His death cannot but further emphasise the need for South African leaders to accept the responsibility of urgently taking this country forward to peace and democracy.

The struggle for transformation and the creation of a new South Africa affects all the institutions within our country: government structures, business enterprises, schools, tertiary institutions and many more.

The University of Natal, like many other institutions, must be seen within the context of the changes and challenges facing all South Africans during this testing period. At this juncture, like never before, our education institutions require to further develop a commitment to the idea that it is essential that students, workers, teachers and administrators work together, as a united team around the goal of meeting the challenges of a new South Africa.

It is essential that we discard the old ways of apartheid, which prevent us from moving into a society that is truly non-racial, democratic in the making and implementation of policy, non-sexist and tolerant of different opinions. At the same time, we need to retain, build on and enhance the good elements from within institutions such as these.

It is important that tertiary education should not be seen as an island on its own but as directly linked to primary and secondary education structures in the country. The crisis affecting primary and secondary education directly impacts on tertiary institutions. It is also important to note that this crisis does not only confine itself to black education. Even white education has not been as successful as its political architects have often made us to believe.

Violence in Natal has penetrated every aspect of life in the African communities. Education itself has been badly affected. An important study conducted by the Education Projects Unit of this University in 1991, entitled Children of War, by Blade Nzimande and Sandile Thusi, revealed the terrible impact of violence on black education in Natal and around Durban. That study exposed many of the problems which our youngsters face. 87% of students reported that they were directly and personally affected by the violence. Besides this figure, the study revealed that although in 1976, 84.8% of students passed matric with 25.2% achieving distinctions, in 1990 those figures had crashed to 36.4% and 7.45% respectively.

Statistics further show that it is children of school-going age who are at the receiving end of this violence. Schools have been shut down all over Natal because of the insecurity and violence in the areas. Preparing homework has become a security risk for families of school children as the lights in houses attract undue attention. Both teachers and students are expected to look after and protect their homes and families at night and be ready to teach and learn by day. Even those areas not directly affected by the violence have experienced a breakdown in the education system, due to overcrowding exacerbated by students converging on those schools in relatively peaceful areas.

The limited resources given to these schools have only but worsened the situation. With such pressures on these schools, discipline and learning have been seriously undermined. Coupled with this, the continuation of the system whereby curriculum in some of our schools is determined, influenced and imposed by those who derive their ruling status directly from the apartheid system, has further undermined the process of democratising the education system.

The efforts of support programmes for educationally disadvantaged students have struggled valiantly to succeed. Results show that commendable progress is being made, however, this remains only the tip of the ice-berg. The majority of those with potential are simply lost in the enormity of the crisis itself. Efforts to make tertiary education accessible to our communities need to be expanded and developed in line with attempts to address issues of curriculum, teaching methods and the needs of our new society.

Whilst enrolment of students from these communities has increased over the past few years, we should do everything in our power to ensure that the intake matches the output in graduation ceremonies such as this one. We need to work on this problem now and not wait for a new government. There is evidence to the effect that the bulk of our students leaving high school come from families facing serious financial constraints. These lack the resources to provide security for loans let alone increasing funds for tertiary education. It is true that many university students cannot afford the exorbitant costs of tertiary education. As tertiary education costs expand, this problem is spreading to engulf all our communities, black and white. It has thus become crucial that the problem of funding of tertiary education be a subject of much broader and intensive consultation. In this respect, we support current initiatives to bring together stakeholders to address the crisis.

Mr Chairman

There is urgent need to address the general crisis in education which is continuing to deepen as a result of the government's refusal to participate in the establishment of an Education and Training Negotiation Forum. We believe that unless the government is prepared to proceed seriously with the Forum as a means of addressing the education crisis, the crisis would deepen.

While the government has the means to restore credibility in the process of negotiations, it has instead unilaterally shut them down and declared their positions non-negotiable at every single crisis point, when other parties were prepared to negotiate. This was seen in their refusal to negotiate exam fees with student organisations, in De Klerk's unilateral intervention in teachers' salary negotiations, and in the current deadlock between the government and the NECC. As a result of this, there are now very few options left other than desperate action and we fear the consequences for education.

The African National Congress has missed no opportunity to address the education crisis facing our country. Last year in February, as a result of our initiative, a broad-based delegation of education practitioners met the then Minister of Education with a view to making a contribution to the resolution of the education crisis. Unfortunately, this initiative, like many others made by the democratic forces in this field, was rejected by the government. We take this opportunity to remind the De Klerk government, that their continued unilateral restructuring of the education system can never deliver a lasting solution for our country.

Mr Chairman

As we brace ourselves to transform our country, we must be aware that the creation of a new society has never been an easy task. On that plane, we have to make a clear and at times painful break with tradition and things that we have grown accustomed to. Similarly, our universities, some of whom sometimes have seen themselves as standing above and beyond the conflicts in the wider world, must also undergo change. It is encouraging to notice that many institutions around our country have embarked on strategies of transformation. There is no single path to transformation which can be followed by all. It is up to individual institutions to choose the best path. But just like in the wider society, there are basic and common principles which should guide us. Inside our universities, there is a broad representation of interests - the teaching staff, administrators, students and, indeed, the communities we serve. All these need to be involved if the transformation is to attain any legitimacy and acceptance. Constructive and open consultation with all those concerned is an essential component of the transformation process.

In conclusion, Mr Chairman, allow me once more to express my appreciation and gratitude to all those in your institution who have organized this successful event.

As we prepare for a democratic South Africa, education will remain a central concern for us. Our major objective in education is to develop a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic education system. The realisation of this objective will go a long way to ensuring the development of an economically just society. We believe the University of Natal has an important role to play in our common effort.

Thank you once again for the great honour you have bestowed on me.

My best wishes to you in all your future endeavours.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation