Address by President Nelson Mandela at installation of Dr Mamphela Ramphele as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town

11 October 1996

Distinguished guests;
Members of the University;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege to share in this historic event in the life of a great institution. The installation of a university vice-chancellor is always an occasion of great moment. At an institution like the University of Cape Town - our oldest university and a world-renowned centre of learning and science - it evokes both the enduring character of the university and the constant renewal of scholarship and scientific inquiry.

This evening's ceremony has additional significance. Dr. Mamphela Ramphele is a South African of exceptional talent, ability and stature. With such a person at its helm, the University of Cape Town can face the future with confidence. The nation can rest assured that one of its foremost institutions of higher learning will continue to prosper and serve with excellence as we enter the new century.

However, we would not want to hide the special satisfaction caused by the fact that the new vice-chancellor at our premier university is a woman and black. South Africans tonight joyously celebrate this affirmation of the quality of our diversity and the strength of our unity.

On a personal note: the pride we all share is amplified for me by my special personal relationship with your new vice-chancellor. Mamphela is a daughter and friend to me, and you will understand my special pride and joy.

Dr. Ramphele's assumption of this high and prestigious office writes a significant chapter in our society's transformation, and so it may be appropriate to reflect on the important concept of transformation.

Our political transition paved the way for the still greater task of transforming social institutions in order to build the new society of which we speak and dream. Some of our universities took the lead in articulating the concept of institutional transformation, and seeking to give it content. So it is not surprising that university transformation remains such a visible and topical aspect of our changing society.

Institutional transformation requires the changing of structures. What we celebrate tonight does, however, remind us that the quality of an institution, and the efficacy of change, go beyond structure and form. The quality and calibre of the people who are involved and who give leadership are decisive for how well and how excellently the transformed institution is equipped to serve its social purpose.

Universities are essential in the preparation of highly skilled leadership throughout society. Our country desperately needs its universities to perform that function. Our development depends on our having skilled people in leadership positions. Selfish and self-serving individualism is not what we are seeking to promote; but we also cannot evade individual responsibility for achieving excellence. We do know that many South Africans battle against great odds; that many have to study, teach and research under conditions that are far from ideal. Transformation, however, also includes making the most of the limited opportunities available. It can never mean suspending the striving for quality and excellence until ideal conditions are achieved.

Dr Ramphele and others like her are powerful role models in this regard. They exemplify struggle against adversity combined with personal responsibility for self-development. Tonight we can savour the fruits of that individual responsibility.

One sometimes gets the impression that the nation-wide debate and struggle over university transformation concentrate too much on governance and governance structures.

Both the values we hold dear and the effective functioning of institutions require that all sectors of the university should be properly represented in structures taking decisions that affect them.

We do, however, also need to hear with equal urgency the debates on other aspects of change. At the heart of efforts to transform universities are issues of curriculum. The nation would be heartened to see teachers and students come together to explore such questions as: how we ensure quality education while broadening access in a situation of limited resources; how we harness modern communications and information technology in higher education: what is to be done to ensure an accelerated output of quality graduates in science and technology; how universities can contribute to general literacy and numeracy in our country; what are the research tasks of the universities given the changed national needs and priorities.

The University of Cape Town has long occupied a leadership position in science and higher education. And it has been well served by its leaders. The impact of its immediate past vice-chancellor, Dr. Stuart Saunders, on higher education will be felt far into the future. It is a tribute to the institution that it could select from within its own ranks a successor of equal excellence.

The process of selection also showed the university in an exemplary light. The process - which we all could follow - was inclusive and respectful of the rights of all its constituent parts; it was, moreover, marked by an integrity and dignity which did the institution proud. Universities are social communities and collegial associations but they are also, and essentially so, institutions of specialised expertise. By finding a balance between inclusive consultation and participation on the one hand, and the maintenance of respect for specialised competencies on the other, such an institution safeguards its integrity and retains the confidence of the larger public.

Mr Chancellor, allow me to conclude by extending our congratulations and warmest best wishes to Dr. Ramphele on this marvelous achievement. She must know how proud we all are. We wish her well, confident that she will continue to serve with the excellence to which we have become accustomed.

And we wish the University of Cape Town well. May it grow from strength to strength. May it continue to give leadership and to provide the leaders our country needs for the next century.

Thank you.

Issued by: The Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website