Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Sol Plaatje University, Prof Yunus Ballim
Academics and Senior University Management
Members of the SRC and other students present here
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
I have no words to describe how delighted I am to be in Kimberley, and particularly to be at the Sol Plaatje University this evening. We would not have chosen a better province than the Northern Cape to talk about Education and Human Rights.
This is of course, related to the fact that next week, on the 21st of March, the nation will be commemorating Human Rights Day. The government of the democratic South Africa chose this day in memory of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives so that we can enjoy the fruits of freedom that we are reaping today.
In particular, this day pays tribute to the Sixty Nine (69) peaceful protestors who were brutally murdered by the apartheid security forces in Sharpeville in 1960. The protest was led by none other than Robert Sobukwe, who lived part of his life in Kimberley.
This year’s Human Rights month is organised under the theme, “The Year of O.R. Tambo: Unity in Action in Advancing Human Rights,” in honour of Oliver Reginald Tambo, who would have turned 100 years old this year.
It is fitting that this event is held here today, at the Sol Plaatje University. This institution is named after one of the pioneering of human rights activists in South Africa. Although he did not continue with schooling beyond what we know as Grade Three, Plaatje was very passionate about education. He was the first African to translate William Shakespeare’s plays into an African language about a century ago. He also collected and translated into English hundreds of Setswana proverbs.
As the South African government, we pride ourselves in the existence of this institution as the first University established under the democratic government. Although you had modest beginnings, starting with only 135 students, it is highly impressive that in such a short space of time you now have an intake of over a thousand students. I cannot wait to witness history in the making when the current pantheon of students become the first graduates of this university.
This is also the treasure trove of the endangered indigenous languages such as Nama and Khwe are found. It is no mean feat that you gave South Africa the national moto: ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke (excuse the pronunciation), which is derived from the Khoisan language of the ǀXam people. The expression translates literally to "diverse people unite". This is the heritage that we must all pride ourselves in.
2. RADICAL SOCIO-ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION
Today, the ANC as the governing party 23 years since the dawn of the democratic rule, must spearhead transformation and unlock the economic potential of our country and its resources.
The key to unlocking of our economic potential and expediting fundamental change is the Radical Socio-Economic Transformation. This programme emanates from the 53rd Conference of the ANC, which decided that in this second phase of our national democratic revolution we needed to engage on radical measures to accelerate fundamental change.
Among the top priorities in this programme, we are looking at ways of expediting transformation in the following areas:
a) Ownership of the economy by black people
b) Mining and beneficiation
c) Agriculture and land redistribution
e) Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises
Radical Socio-Economic Transformation is the pillar of the National Development Plan (NDP), which serves as the bedrock of all government programmes in our journey towards building a better and more prosperous South Africa by 2030.
Our notion of fundamental change refers to change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor. This declaration bears testament to the fact that the ANC government has never abandoned the ideals espoused in the Freedom Charter.
3. THE LAND QUESTION
I was speaking at an event in Limpopo province last week, and I quoted one of the most profound statements made by the early pioneers of the liberation struggle in South Africa. That statement reads as follows:
Awakening on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually a slave but a pariah in the land of his birth.
You probably understand that this statement was made by the son of the soil, a product of this community — Sol Plaatje. This is the opening line of the first chapter of his book, Native Life in South Africa, which was published in 1916. The book documents Plaatje’s voyage where he crisscrossed the country and travelled to European and the American shores mobilising the world against the efforts by the colonial government to drive black South Africans out of their ancestral land.
Although Plaatje wrote these words more than 100 years ago, they find resonance with our lives today. The land question is the albatross that has been around our necks for a very long time. Land dispossession was one of the critical tools that the colonisers used to prevail over the indigenous peoples of the African continent. For when you take over the land, you take ownership of the people who reside in it, their heritage and their resources. A dispossessed people is a powerless people.
The formation of the African National Congress in 1912, at the time known as the African National Native Congress (ANNC), was partly in response to land dispossession through colonial invasion. The struggle against colonial domination, land dispossession and the gross violation of Human Rights through the apartheid system continued through several decades.
The year 1994 was a watershed moment in the history of the liberation struggle in this country. We ushered in the democratic rule under the ANC government, thus putting to an end over three centuries of colonial rule, land dispossession and foreign domination. It was the triumph of the human spirit.
The pace of land reform is much slower than the targets set in the NDP and this hinders progress in our developmental strategies. We have had to face the fact that the “willing seller, willing buyer” method does not help in fast-tracking transformation in land ownership. It would take at least forty years for us to attain the targets as set out in the NDP.
In pursuit of the prescripts of the Freedom Charter, we are accelerating our land reform programme to erase the footprints of colonial rule and apartheid that are deeply entrenched in the contours of our society.
4. MINIRAL RESOURCES
At the core of the radical economic transformation programme must be the creation of decent work and accelerating shared and inclusive economic growth especially in the mining industry. It is regrettable that there is not enough diversity in the ownership of mining companies.
One of the most striking clauses in the Freedom Charter reads:
“The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;”
In Kimberley, how do we translate this statement into tangible and practical deliverables that can change the living conditions of our people? This province boasts a very rich history, heritage and mineral resources but it remains one of the most underdeveloped areas in our country. A number of people benefitted enormously from the discovery of diamonds in this town of Kimberley from as far back as the 1800s.
The positive impact of mining must be evident in the living conditions and economic prospects of mining related communities (including labour sending areas). We cannot be the perpetuators of a system where the people who toil the land are the most marginalised and the downtrodden.
This compels us to ask difficult questions about the injustices of our past and how we take the nation forward. How do we ensure that those who make profit out of mining in this area, leave behind more than just a Big Hole? How do we ensure that people in the mining areas, as well as those who work in the mines, are taken care of and that their towns are developed?
Since the discovery of gold and diamonds in the nineteenth century, the mining sector became the key engine of development in South Africa with large mining houses. Despite a number of setbacks in recent years, the sector remains extremely strategic to the South African economy.
Our objective as government is to promote active participation and support of key stakeholders in the mining sector in order to steer the industry towards a sustainable development trajectory. We need to ensure equity in terms of ownership in the mining industry so that we can make a difference in the living conditions of the majority of South Africans.
In 2015, I presided over the launch of Operation Phakisa workshop for mining as a vehicle to enhance the implementation of the Radical Economic Transformation. Operation Phakisa has the underlying objective of unlocking investment in the exploration of mining activities whilst optimising the developmental impact of the sector on the economy, the work-force and on surrounding communities.
A mining company has stopped related imports and entered into an initial R160 million contract with a black owned underground equipment manufacturer with the objective of increasing the contract to R500 million.
Some R17 billion worth of investment and 5 000 jobs have been unlocked in the Operation Phakisa oceans economy. Licences for oil and gas exploration have been issued as part of the sector growth strategy.
The mining industry has been the cornerstone of the South African economy since the discovery of gold and diamonds in the ninetieth century. It has a great potential to continue playing a catalytic role in creating a better and more prosperous South Africa in the foreseeable future.
In our pursuit for freedom during the struggle for liberation in South Africa, we were inspired by the Freedom Charter, which proclaimed that the Doors of learning shall be opened to all. This is the promise that we made to the nation when we jettisoned the apartheid regime and ushered in democratic rule.
Chapter Two of the Constitution is the Bill of Rights, which clearly articulates the basic rights that are guaranteed to all citizens of South Africa. The Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of democracy in our country. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
Some of the most fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution include the right to a basic education, including adult basic education; as well as the right to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible
Education is the single most important element that can take South Africa forward. It underpins development in all sectors of society. It is through education that the poor can transform into becoming significant players in the country’s economy. Quality education will produce skilled professionals, innovators and contributors to economic development
In this Human Rights Month, we should all remind ourselves that education is a right enshrined in the constitution of our democratic society. It remains an apex priority in the hierarchy of government programmes. Since the dawn of freedom and democracy in 1994, government prioritised education as a means to transform the lives of young South Africans for a brighter and more prosperous future.
Given the complexity of the problems that currently confront higher education, President Jacob Zuma demonstrated decisive leadership and established an Inter-Ministerial Task Team on Higher Education. The purpose of the Task Team is to find ways of expediting the development of an efficient and sustainable model to address the funding challenge of South Africa’s students in universities and TVET colleges.
I have been entrusted with the daunting task of leading this Task Team and, as task team members, this is a responsibility that we do not take lightly. We have so far consulted a variety of stakeholders and as an interim solution, we made firm commitments and concrete recommendations, some of which are already in the process of implementation.
As government we are unequivocal in our commitment to providing financial assistance to the financially needy and the missing-middle. Government has allocated a total amount of R77.5 billion to Post-school Education and Training this year. Amidst the education crisis last year, allocation to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was increased exponentially as it now stands at a staggering R14, 582 billion.
These are some of the interim measures that we have put in place, but we are continuing with discussions in our quest to find sustainable solutions. One of the ongoing discussions in the Task Team is the possible conversion of the NSFAS from a partial loan to a full student grant for disenfranchised students.
Our focus must be to safeguard the right to education and encourage academic excellence amongst our students. This is the true meaning of responsible leadership.
As I conclude, I would like to echo the words of the late President Nelson Mandela who once said:
“It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that the child of farm workers can become the president of the nation.”
In honour of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives so that we can have access to education and have a better life, let us fulfil their dreams by recommitting ourselves to education. That is how we can build future leaders of South Africa.