Address by President Nelson Mandela on receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of South Australia at a graduation ceremony at Fort Hare University

23 April 1998

Distinguished Members of the two participating universities;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

A central function of universities is to innovate, and I can testify to the inventiveness of these institutions when it comes to awarding honorary doctorates!

On one occasion in the United Kingdom eight universities came together to award as many honorary doctorates at one ceremony held in a garden.

Here today continents combine and come together as the University of South Australia temporarily migrates to the lovely hamlet of Alice to award an honorary doctorate.

I greatly appreciate the gesture which the University of South Australia has made in having its senior officers travel so far to confer this award at the University of Fort Hare, where I began my university studies.

I am also gratified to know that this long journey is undertaken within a broader framework of co-operation between the two institutions, dating from 1995.

That is important because it means that this award, which I know is a tribute not to me personally but to the people of South Africa as a whole, is thereby associated with a practical bond between our people and the people of Australia.

We greatly value this joint effort to develop distance learning programmes to upgrade the qualifications of South African teachers, especially in science and technology, mathematics and language instruction.

If the world has become a global village, we see here the best of that new form of proximity, in international contact and co-operation to meet the needs of local communities.

Through this interaction and linkage the two universities can only draw mutual benefit, each enriching the other with its specific experience and insights. And we know that the South African educational community is crucially served by this co-operative project.

The South African university system, like most other sets of institutions in our changing society, grapples with the redefining of roles and functions. Our nation's learned, the ranks of which people like myself can join only through the kindness of honorary awards, will most surely deal adequately with these questions.

They do not need the prescripts of a state president. I am of the view, though that the more rurally based universities, in particular, could do well to seek their niche in responding to clearly defined regional developmental needs.

The association between the University of South Australia and the University of Fort Hare addresses itself exactly to such local needs.

Our government has passed the enabling legislation to transform our educational system. It has introduced innovative new curricular reform.

But we are keenly aware that successful implementation of these initiatives depends on a skilled and dedicated teaching service. This critical phase of implementation requires teacher re-education. And that, as we understand it, is what this project sets out to do.

Our concern as a government turns increasingly towards the quality of service we deliver. We are busy broadening access to services; and now we need also to insistently enquire whether we are providing services that are appropriate and of an appropriate quality. We must build the human resource capacity to render such quality service.

This in-service training through distance learning is an imaginative way of addressing deficiencies in capacity. Many, if not most, of our teachers in schools serving rural black communities are under-qualified. This is true in particular of the subjects targeted by this programme.

A central feature in the reconstruction and development of our society, is the emphasis on partnership. This project to upgrade teachers and re-educate teacher educators, is a sterling example of partnership, involving not only the two universities, but also the provincial Department of Education, the teachers' unions and various non-governmental organisations.

It is no secret that this Province, because of the burden of apartheid's legacy, has been beset by some serious problems. Many solutions have been prescribed, but ultimately the required improvement must come through the resolve and commitment of its people and institutions. The co-operation of various sectors in this project will determine how soon the Province can start prospering. The Eastern Cape is so rich in its traditions and in its contribution to the liberation of our country, that its people certainly deserve no less than the best the country can offer.

The University of Fort Hare occupies a central role in that history, and bears a crucial responsibility in the Province's reconstruction and development. It is incumbent on all the constituent sectors of the university to contribute to making it the quality institution it can and should be. We must rebuild Fort Hare so that it can take place of pride besides the world's leading institutions of higher learning.

Institutions like Fort Hare educate students from families who were most marginalised in the past. Precisely because of their educational and economic disadvantage, they require the best facilities to improve their lot. We cannot, however, afford or tolerate a situation in which, while we are pouring the country's resources into the improvement of facilities, some others become involved in destroying or abusing these very facilities.

We understand the plight of our children and youth. We have dedicated our lives to the struggle for justice, freedom and equality so that our children and youth may enjoy a life of equal opportunity. Education is an important beginning for all people in their quest for self-fulfilment and the realisation of their productive and creative potential.

I wish to make an earnest appeal to the children and youth of our nation for discipline, diligence and dedication. A sound educational system, like a nation is not built overnight. We should all take care not to let impatient actions set the process back still further.

Ladies and gentlemen;

We wish the University of South Australia and the University of Fort Hare an especially productive partnership for the benefit of our respective peoples.

I am grateful that the honour which you have bestowed on the people of our country, through me, is in the form of a link in a mutually rewarding partnership between our two esteemed institutions.

Long may it contribute to the building of our nation!

I thank you!

Source: South African Government Information Website