Three prominent South Africans were honoured at the annual Chancellor’s Calabash Awards held at the Gallagher Convention Centre on Thursday 5 November 2015. The event serves to remind people of the abundant excellence and achievements of Unisa alumni as well as other South Africans who have contributed significantly within various sectors of our society.
Distinguished guests, partners, donors, families, friends of the university and Unisa alumni were present at the event. Lesetja Kganyago, Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, received the Outstanding Alumnus award in recognition of his leadership and expertise in the management and development of the country’s economy. Prof Mary Metcalfe, visiting adjunct professor at Wits University, was honoured with the Outstanding Educator Award for her continuous role in spearheading the transformation of both the primary and higher education sectors of South Africa. Dr Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, received the Public Service Award for his exceptional role in the public service. This new award recognises South Africans making exceptional contributions to government structures.
The theme of the event, Investing in the future of our first-generation entrants, placed the spotlight on the current educational landscape where students are campaigning for the abolition of study fees. “As fees fall, fundraising must rise,” said programme director Dr Somadoda Fikeni from the Office of the Principal, placing the theme in context.
According to Prof Mandla Makhanya, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, investing in the future of generations to come has become a priority and therefore gives food for thought on how funds will be raised and thus have an impact on organisational finances. “The prevailing student campaign is a wakeup call on how we should be balancing and reconciling the demands of our students versus the importance of leadership and management of our institutions,” he said. “What is the role and function of universities in the 21st century? Higher education models are changing and knowledge generation is no longer the primary role of universities.”
Prof Makhanya also said that universities can no longer pay lip service to transformation. “The current campaign of university entrants has established a flourishing platform for the future,” he said. “As Africans we are called to participate in the advancement of our students.”
The Chancellor of Unisa, Justice Bernard Ngoepe, expressed his concern about the future of first-generation entrants given the rapid advancement in technology which, according to him, has rendered people unemployed. He presented the rapid development of technology as a double-edged sword. “The current job market is shrinking, machines are rendering people redundant and our graduates are becoming more unemployable,” he said. “We cannot replace the speed of innovation but we can ensure that we emulate the nature of resilience demonstrated by the awardees. Let the fees fall but not the baton. We must remember to make sure that there are succession plans in place and that there must be someone to catch the baton when it falls.”
In accepting the Outstanding Alumnus Award, Kganyago said that he was honoured. “There is nothing like being honoured by one of your own,” he said. “Unisa enabled us to take advantage of the opportunities education offered. I didn’t learn economics at Unisa, but the university taught me how to study economics. The institution must be preserved and protected as it will impact lives of generations to come.
In accepting the Outstanding Educator Award, Prof Metcalfe said that she was happy that Unisa chose to recognise teachers. “I feel strongly about the work that they do,” she said. “Many of the country’s teachers work in harsh and challenging conditions with little support, and their greatest satisfaction does not come from salaries but in seeing learners learn. Unisa is the largest institution that produces teachers in this country. In your students you are building a country and educating a society.”
According to Dr Gordhan, recipient of the Public Service Award, it was an honour to receive the award which marks the progressive activism of public service over the years. “This award will ensure that the public service is advanced. We must, for the next 50 years, take care of nation building. To achieve a progressive state, we must ensure that we capacitate our institutions of state which need good and honest public servants to bring ethics into the state machinery. We have a formidable task ahead of us as we need public servants who will keep much of the historic mission we have. In the same breath we must ensure that our communities are mobilised and informed about the realities of our public service.”
In her keynote address Lindani Dhlamini, chartered accountant and CEO of SekelaXabiso, a black-owned audit firm, expanded on the theme of future generations as she addressed the importance of breaking down the barriers to economic freedom and overcoming obstacles to the funding of access to education. She likened the current student calls against fees to her personal journey to success which was filled with challenges. “I applaud Unisa for investing in the future of students,” she said. “We need projects such as these where we attract funding and advocate for the retention of the right skills.”
In closing the event, Dr Molapo Qhobela, Unisa Vice-Principal of Institutional Development, applauded the awardees and encouraged them to become ambassadors of the university and to promote education in transforming society. “Thank you to those who’ve supported the university as we try every year to do something to support young people. We look forward to working with you in supporting our joint commitment to transforming our society.”
* By Busisiwe Mahlangu