Message by Nelson Mandela on inauguration of Brian O'Connell as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape (UWC)

22 March 2002


My sincerest apologies for not being able to be with you in person.

You are aware of the circumstances that prevented me from being at the ceremony.

The University of the Western Cape holds a special place in my heart. Not only is it the first university in South Africa from which I received an honorary degree; it was, furthermore, the first to award such honour to a freedom fighter when it capped my comrade Govan Mbeki after his release from prison.

These honours to my comrades and me are not, however, what in the first place make UWC such a special place. In the darkest days of oppression it stood out bravely as the leading educational and intellectual place of resistance.

You are privileged to have been led at crucial times in your, and the country's, history by some remarkable South Africans.

Dr Erica Theron and Professor Dick van der Ross, as Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, represented a leadership that was caring in its concern for community in education. They established the institution as one of quality, in service to the community and respected for the quality of its teaching and learning.

Arcbishop Tutu and Professor Jakes Gerwel continued that tradition of leadership. They will be remembered in our history as nation-builders, and their leadership at UWC was key to those roles they played in our country. They made of UWC the central intellectual place for shaping our constitution and many of the policies of our democracy.

In key positions, all over the country and in all sectors of society, students and former staff members of UWC are to be found: in our Cabinet, in provinces, in civil service, in NGO's, in the private sector and in parastatals.

UWC was probably the institution most severely hit by the demands of the new democratic government in 1994. So many of your senior staff had to take up positions in government.

I still need to apologise for snatching from you at such short notice in 1994 your vice-chancellor. I trust that he is giving back some time to you now that in our retirement he is bossing me, rather than me him.

I can commend to you your new vice-chancellor, a man I met while he was so successfully managing education in the Western Cape. He brought together the different strands of our society and province to make of education one of the most successful enterprises in the province.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, we wish you well in the challenging and important years ahead for UWC and for higher education.

You are well equipped and your institution well placed to give a lead in the important discussions and developments towards the reconfiguration of our system.

But most importantly, UWC looks up to you to consolidate and restore its position as one of our leading institutions of higher learning.

We wish you well, and pledge you our support.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation