Chairperson of the Council and Members of Council;
Vice Chancellor and principal;
Family, comrades and friends of Comrade Onkgopotse Tiro;
Members of the Convocation and Alumni of the University of Limpopo;
President of the Student Representative Council and the broader student body;
Workers and staff of this centre of learning and teaching;
Ladies and gentlemen.
It is with great appreciation and humility that I stand here today to accept the honour of the Chancellorship of this institution which has provided South Africa’s body politic, private sector and academia with many leaders. That the council and the greater community of the University of Limpopo should bestow such an honour upon me – a rural African woman – during its 60th anniversary is indeed humbling. I should also from the onset thank the outgoing Chancellor, Dr Ruel Khoza, who has laid a solid foundation for us to build on.
That this occasion also serves as a commemoration of the life of Comrade Onkgopotse Tiro, one of our fallen comrades, heroes, and Pan Africanists is indeed a more humbling double honour.
Programme Director, allow me to also recognise the sterling efforts of Gaongalelwe Tiro, nephew of Comrade Onkgopotse, who has immortalised the life of Onkgopotse through his book “Parcel of Death”. Indeed, the life and heritage of Onkgopotse carries for us and this institution, many lessons as we carve our future. The one key lesson and trait we can learn from Tiro is best described by Ellen White when she says:
“the greatest want of the world is the want of men – men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who still stand for the right though the heavens fall”.
Tiro was such a man. Such men and women are few and far in between. That the council chose the month of September for this occasion, is no small coincidence, since the month serves as both our heritage month and the month in which we dip our flag in memory of the brutal slaying of Steve Biko, one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement and a dear friend and comrade to both Comrades Onkgopotse Tiro and Mapetla Mohapi. Incidentally Mohapi was the first to die at the hands of the Boers in prison and Tiro the first to be brutally murdered outside the borders of South Africa.
The stories of these three brothers in arms and comrades who were driven by the love of their peoples confirms what President Nelson Mandela once said that “no one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background, or his religion”.
As a true Pan Africanist Tiro would have therefore frowned upon the recent violence meted against our brothers and sisters from the continent in the recent spate of xenophobic attacks. He would have understood as Kwame Nkrumah did that our freedom is meaningless so long as our continent remains the home of suffering. Tiro would have reminded us of the words of Nkrumah that “critics of African unity often refer to the differences in culture, language and ideas… this is true, but the essential fact remains that we are all Africans and have a common interest in the independence of Africa”.
The current spate of attacks is definitely not in our interest but to the detriment of African unity and integration as promoted by the African Continental Free Trade Area, which entered into force on 30 May this year and is set to lift our people out of poverty by jointly propelling our economies. Through increased trade with other African countries with exports to the rest of Africa accounting for 26% of total exports, the job creation potential for our export led growth strategy is yet to be realised. Since a significant portion of our exports are processed and manufactured products, the job creation potential is high. In securing quality work for our people we will simultaneously address poverty and inequality.
Ladies and gentlemen, we must also take responsibility of some of our utterances and approaches which fuel the attacks. For instance, lessons from elsewhere, including in Rwanda, point to the fact that the opening of borders do not necessarily add but ease some migration challenges. In Rwanda as an African you will receive a visa on arrival.
Indeed, initially they experienced an influx, however with ease of entry and movement migrants easily opted to return home, without any application force or coercing. Our utterances also often dangerously emphasise restrictions, policing and clamping down on all foreign nationals, particularly those of African origin. We must however distinguish between those that are legally here to contribute to our economy and those that are undocumented. The latter have no place in our society as are the criminal elements within the documented and undocumented persons no matter their origins. Nobody should be killed on our shores and all visitors should feel safe on our streets.
We must also recall that Tiro died in Botswana, whilst in pursuit of the idea of African unity following his election as President of the Southern African Student Movement, which pursuit became intolerable for Apartheid Pretoria. Tiro had given his life to the struggle of securing the emancipation and unity of Africa.
One cannot speak of the illustrious 60-year history of the University of Limpopo, without referencing Tiro. It is therefore no coincidence that the University of Limpopo has set itself the vision of being “a leading African University focused on the developmental needs of its communities and epitomising academic excellence and innovativeness”.
Consequently, we look to this and other African institutions to provide to us solutions by which we can address the collective development of Africans, whilst ridding our society of violence and xenophobia. In pursuing these solutions se must take into account that South Africa, by almost all measures is the most unequal society in the world. Studies have shown a correlation between vast inequality and heightened crime, which is why Cape town features in the top 11 most violent cities in the world with a homicide rate of 66 per 100 000 residents.
There is no denying the violent society we live in. Most worrisome has been the increase in the cases of femicide as well as abuse and crimes against women and children.
It is time for the real men to stand up and emulate the type of man Tiro was by being “true and honest, [and] not fearing to call sin by its right name as had been envisaged by Ellen White. Until society and all men shun those who abuse, beat up and rape our women and children the problem will remain in our midst. We must not tolerate or create any spaces for men who do such. The public service must fire all those that have been found to conduct such heinous acts and our criminal justice system ought to take harsher measures such as not providing bail to those who have been accused of rape and femicide.
We must also learn from our history and heritage, wherein those that were found to be abusive were ostracised by the greater community. We refer to that rich history because like Mandela we do so “not to deride human action, nor weep over it or to hate it, but to understand it – and then to learn from it as we contemplate our future”.
Even though in the context of Tiro’s life, history records that the life of this colossal was felled short through a posted ‘present’ wrapped in the evil cloth of hate tied in the ropes of prejudice, we celebrate a life lived in the love of people.
Tiro himself had foretold that “no struggle can come to an end without casualties… it is only through determination, absolute commitment and self-assertion, that we shall overcome”.
Indeed, the political emancipation phase of our struggle carried with it many victims. Tiro was one of our martyrs.
It is at this very campus that in his expulsion from the student body he suffered his second casualty, al be it on that occasion it was not fatal. We will recall that his first interruption in education came as a result of the revolution led by activist Chief Ramotshere who had shunned the introduction of Bantu education in the village schools of his village of Dinokana.
On that occasion the Chief asked rhetorically “Who the hell is Verwoerd… he is just a minister and there will be other ministers after him and Dinokana will stand forever”.
It is therefore quite easy to trace the pursuit of pure knowledge, selflessness, militancy and the principled stand and posture assumed by Tiro throughout his short life. It also provides a valid contextual basis for the events that played out during July 1969 in this very hall when the South African Student Organisation (SASO) was inaugurated. That event laid a solid foundation for the events leading and following the 29th of April 1972, when the “Tiro Affair” unfolded to the full glare of the world. The “Affair” had been propelled by the Turfloop Testimonial which was delivered by Tiro on behalf of the student body at Turfloop and other black Universities.
The contents of the Turfloop Testimonial expressed all our aspirations as students and activists at the time. We had canvassed these within and outside the student body. However, since we did not have the privileges of Satellite TV, progressive news media, fast news and social media, the news of his testimony and subsequent expulsion slowly spread like a wild fire at our campuses. Starting on May Day in 1972, the day of his expulsion, with marches in Turfloop the country was engulfed with supporting marches and protests which went as far afield as Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe, reaching my own campus in Zululand through the disruption of the end of May 1972 graduation ceremony.
What a time to be alive.
The Turfloop Testimonial through its central theme, brought to life the inevitable reality that “the day shall come, when all shall be free to breathe the air of freedom which is theirs to breathe and when the day shall have come, no man, no matter how many tanks he has, will reverse the course of events”, to quote Tiro.
Tiro had successfully propelled our revolution into a new form of militancy which highlighted selflessness as a revolutionary act in itself.
The Testimony also highlighted the importance of education as a tool to lift the oppressed masses out of poverty and want. “What is there in European Education which is not good for the African? We want a system of education which is common to all South Africans”, Tiro had retorted during the delivery of the testimonial.
In fact, throughout his life it is the pursuit of education and truth which defined his life. Being a teacher at Morris Isaacson allowed him to impart truth and shape the future of generations of leaders including Tsietsi Mashinini who together with the likes of Hastings Ndlovu, Khotso Seatlholo, Masabata Loate, and many more led the 1976 Student Uprisings.
It was the pursuit of knowledge and education which would, in part, occupy centre stage in main cast of his final demise. Following his anxious awaiting of correspondence about his application to UNISA to complete his degree, he would receive a parcel bomb veiled in hate from the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF) which would shred him to pieces in Gaborone. We now know that the name of IUEF was utilised as a mercenary front by the likes of Graig Williamson, and was responsible for the death of many comrades who aspired to impart and/or acquire further education and knowledge, including Ruth First and Jeanette Schoon.
Distinguished guests, the pursuit of knowledge in the service of people in itself is a revolutionary act. After all the colonial and Apartheid architecture has as a core design feature the denial of education and knowledge acquisition for the majority. Where African knowledge and indigenous education flourished the colonial and Apartheid projects sought to destroy or distort so that the African would be viewed as superstitious, backward, violent and childlike, with African women located in the yonder of the back of the bus.
In seeking to redefine this single and skewed narrative the University in its wisdom has first and foremost defined itself as an African University. Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi warns of a single narrative wherein she says of her early characters:
“were white and blue-eyed. They played in the snow. They ate apples. And they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow. We ate mangoes. And we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.”
She concludes that “when we reject the single story, when we realise that there is never a single story about a place, we regain a kind of paradise”
By defining itself as an African University and in honour of Tiro, the University has the responsibility of playing its part in correcting and rewriting Africa’s narrative to bring to life our vision for “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena” as embodied in Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. In that context our university should play the role of:
- Capacitating our nations and communities to command and control their own development;
- Furthering research and transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next so that it can serve as a basis of action; and
- Advancing the frontiers of knowledge by concentrating on the priority areas which will address the priorities confronting our nations.
In advancing the frontiers of knowledge, universities have a pivotal role in knowledge generation which should be directed at improving the material conditions confronting our people. For knowledge pursued without this feature adds nothing to the development of humanity.
Programme Director, in evaluating our 25 Years of Democracy we have taken note of the “pattern of operating in silos” as a challenge which led to “to lack of coherence in planning and implementation and has made monitoring and oversight of government’s programme difficult.” As a result of this recognition the President during the Presidency Budget Vote called for the rolling out of “a new integrated district based approach to addressing our service delivery challenges [and] localise[d] procurement and job creation, that promotes and supports local businesses, and that involves communities…” The President is cognisant of the fact that such an approach will require that “National departments that have district-level delivery capacity together with the provinces … provide implementation plans in line with priorities identified in the State of the Nation address”.
In advancing this we will launch the District Model in Lusikisiki next week. In delivering on the intents of the model we will seek to ‘crowd in’ and localise investment in the public, private and non-profit sectors, including the academia so as to maximise impact.
By laying a solid foundation in the short term a long term spatially relevant plan for South Africa through the sum total of the District Implementation Plans we will have a wall to wall One Plan.
In so doing we are calling on the academia to partner with us in developing the profiles of the 44 Districts and 8 metros. The inputs of the universities and the academia are critical in developing these profiles and the development of interventions. The One Plan will take the form of prioritised spatial expressions over the long term and will be divided into 5 and 10-year implementation plans.
These plans require innovative, creative evidence based information which should integrate indigenous knowledge based on commonly agreed diagnostics, strategies and actions. Universities must form part of the core and act as part of the knowledge repository for implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Universities should also be at the forefront of producing and equipping people to play a meaningful role in the implementation of the programme which must take into account the fourth industrial revolution and future of work.
Our task is to take lead in the production of relevant knowledge workers who can take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution.
The University of Limpopo with its mission to provide “relevant and higher quality education and training, research and community engagement” is at pole position to assist our government to deliver on this objective.
Through the established networks such as the RUFORUM the university is well placed to provide the requisite skills in areas such as agriculture which will accelerate us into our next level of development.
The African Development Bank estimates that Africa has about 60% of the world’s unused arable land. However, paradoxically Africa spends in excess of US$40 Billion a year on food imports, which without intervention will lead to net import levels reaching to over US$100 Billion by 2025. This is indicative of the structural food insecurity facing the continent.
Which therefore places the University of Limpopo at the forefront to assist the continent with a regionally based food security strategy as envisaged by the African Development Bank’s “Feed Africa Programme”. By focussing on agriculture, in the up and downstream of the value chain, we can also close the gender gap through the provision of land, financing and tools to women. The FAO estimates that by closing the gender gap farm yields could increase by 20-30%.
With an average population growth rate of about 1.2% and a growing demand for food which is propelled by an urbanization rate above 64%, the agriculture sector will remain a bastille of our economy into the foreseeable future.
In that regard, the excellent work conducted by the university’s science and agriculture department will add a fresh impetus to our agriculture led industrialization drive which must integrate agri-business and agro processing.
We also look to this institution to provide us with Afro centric farming innovations such as vertical farming and hydroponics which will contribute to our objective of ending hunger within ten years.
In so doing the institution could also support small and rural farmers with innovations for farming with limited resources including land and water.
Lessons learnt from your collaboration with the various agricultural colleges in the province and beyond should widely be shared with other similar institutions and our people. In sharing such information, it would also be important to link up with other African institutions, including the Pan African University which has its campuses in the five regions of the continent with South Africa charged with the aviation and space faculty and the Jomo Kenya University promoting the agriculture and technology part.
As we undertake these collaborations we must take into cognisance and address the anomaly which sees South Africa being a food sovereign country but failing to feed a significant portion of the population.
Distinguished guests, all of this will require the activation of young people towards the agricultural sciences. We must make agriculture a ‘lit’ profession, to borrow from the urban speak.
In order to complement these efforts, we must also focus on the STEM areas, so as to reverse the undesirable trend which has seen South Africa having one engineering per 2 600 people compared to international norms, where one engineer serves 40 people. We should also address the chronic shortage of our health professionals which has seen South Africa having 393 nurses and 74 doctors per 100 000 people. Which is a dire situation, especially when compared with the 737 doctors per 100 000 patients in industrialized countries.
Again we look to this institution to deliver on a broad range of areas which integrate learning in the sciences with the humanities and other areas of human endeavour.
As we do so we must ensure that we develop patriotic professionals who are as selfless as Tiro was. For it as Frantz Fanon observed that “Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it”. The children of Turfloop have been discovered by history, and the beautiful ones have been born. It is now up to them to take the baton and advance South Africa into the African century.