Address by President Nelson Mandela on the inauguration of Professor David Woods as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University

30 August 1996

Mr Chancellor;
Chairperson and Members of Council;
Members of Senate;
President of the Convocation;
President of the Students' Representative Council;
Members of the University
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is indeed a great honour to join the Rhodes University community on this most auspicious occasion. It is a privilege to add our greetings in welcoming such a distinguished scholar and scientist as Dr. David Woods to this esteemed position of Principal and Vice-Chancellor at one of our leading institutions of higher learning.

As South Africans we can justly be proud of the miracle we have achieved - we have resolved our political conflict through rational debate and negotiation; we have established a democratic policy based on the most enlightened and progressive principles of openness, freedom and human rights; and we have advanced on a road of reconciliation that builds a united and common nationhood at the same time as it respects and nurtures our diversity.

The greatest challenges lie ahead of us, in our task of creating a successful and prosperous society providing a better life for all its citizens. It must be a society without the massive want of shelter and food; without ignorance, illiteracy and preventable ill-health; a society where women, men and children can feel secure in the knowledge that the institutions of a decent and caring society guarantee their personal safety; where the indignity of being unemployed shall not be the lot of multitudes.

These goals we must achieve if we are to make a lasting reality of our remarkable political transition. If the freedoms and rights enshrined in our constitution and conventions are to be inscribed as values in the hearts and minds of our people as a whole, then we must build a society where there is not such pressure of penury that civil liberties and rights come to be regarded as luxuries of the privileged.

We shall have to combine civil liberties with a generally shared prosperity; basic human rights with a better quality of life for all; democratic principles with social justice and equity; national reconciliation with socio-economic reconstruction.

Education is a key to achieving these objectives. In this age no society can develop and prosper without a solid base of science and technology and enlightened scholarship. Our universities and technikons have a national task and responsibility as seldom before.

Dispassionate reflection and freedom of enquiry must surely always be at the heart of the intellectual enterprise. One is confident, however, that the virtual life-and-death needs of a society crying out for development and the elimination of poverty shall weight so heavily with the scholars and scientists, the teachers and students, that those essential elements of intellectual freedom will never be exercised with academic frivolity or social callousness.

The way our universities and technikons deal with certain fundamental matters will prove decisive to the future of our country into the new century and millennium. These include; the quality of scholarship; the relevance of science-based service to society; the educationally responsible broadening of access to the fruits of science and knowledge; and dedication to learning and self-improvement.

For that precise reason, the highest quality of leadership is now required at all levels in our institutions. Democracy and the commitment to equality are not synonymous with the absence of leadership, disregard for it or abdication. This is not the case in society generally, nor in the institutions of higher learning specifically.

As we transform our society and its institutions - including the universities and technikons - we have to ensure that the centres of legitimate social authority are not so eroded that we are left with empty institutional shells. Firm, wise and competent leadership is called for, whether we are speaking of students, teaching and research staff, workers and administration, or the highest level of institutional management. Few countries have had such a need for their universities to demonstrate concretely their much-vaunted leadership role. This they should do by populating themselves with men and women who truly give the lead in the matters that are essential to the tasks for which society creates, maintains and subsidises such institutions.

Rhodes University is indeed fortunate that it could appoint a person of the quality and calibre of Dr. David Woods to its highest academic and administrative leadership position - he is a world leader in his scientific discipline, and an experienced university administrator.

We extend our congratulations and best wishes to Dr. Woods and his wife Charlotte as they return to the institution where they both studied and he started his academic career. And we wish Rhodes University well, confident that with this quality of leadership the institution will grow from strength to strength, meeting the challenges of the province and the country.

Thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation