SANDILE ZUNGU’S SPEECH ON THE OCCASION OF HIS INSTALLATION AS CHANCELLOR OF MANGOSUTHU UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, PIXLEY SEME HALL, MUT MAIN CAMPUS, UMLAZI TOWNSHIP – 17 MARCH 2023
The role of universities in serving the developmental needs of their immediate communities and society
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation
Madam Bridget Motsepe-Radebe, Pan-African Parliament Ambassador for Women Entrepreneurship and Economic Development in Africa
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, The MUT Founder
Anlin Sun, Acting Consul General of the Chinese Consulate in Durban
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General of the Department of Higher Education and Training
Dr Marcia Socikwa, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Higher Education and Training
Emeritus Justice Sisi Khampepe, Chancellor of the University of Pretoria
Dr Judy Dlamini, Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand
Sandile Zungu, the Chancellor-elect and his family
Professor Lourens van Staden, the MUT Administrator
Prof Marcus Ramogale, the MUT Acting Vice-Chancellor
Members of the royal family
Executive Management of MUT
The Student Representative Council
The Convocation Executive
MUT Staff and students
Distinguished guests which includes unkosikazi wami, umkhwe nomkhwekazi wami, osbari bami, my brothers and sisters, friends, ladies and gentlemen
I am deeply honoured for the opportunity to contribute to Mangosuthu University of Technology as its Chancellor for the next five years. I was initially reluctant to accept the Chancellorship, only because of the calibre of leaders on whose shadow I will have to walk. Let’s name the former MUT Chancellors: Reverend Dr KEM Mgojo, former premier Willies Mchunu and former minister Lindiwe Sisulu. How do I begin to walk in the shoes of such African giants? I am not the one to shy away from responsibility. I therefore commit to doing my best to honour the tradition of Chancellorship which my predecessors championed for this university.
My journey and that of MUT are similar in many respects. Like MUT, I was born and raised in Umlazi Township, which is also where I matriculated. MUT and I also share a common first love, Engineering. My first qualification is in Mechanical Engineering, and for MUT, Engineering was the University’s founding faculty. Many people probably know me better as a businessperson or an entrepreneur, which by coincidence is also where the University is headed.
With this background in mind, I want to move to the crux of my speech. My speech will focus on the role that universities should play in serving the developmental needs of society in general and their immediate communities. My speech will not be academic, not in the original sense of the word, but I want to locate it within the culture of public intellectualism. As such, I want to introduce an idea that challenges the often-imagined barrier and/or belief that to contribute to intellectual discourses about issues that our communities face, one must be an academic or a researcher. This idea forms the foundation of a lot of what I am going to share with you.
I am not the first person to comment on the role of universities and neither will I be the last. For example, in his inauguration as Chancellor of UNISA, former president Thabo Mbeki, said, “higher education is also important for good citizenship and for enriching and diversifying people’s lives”. While former president of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, in his 1963 speech as Chancellor of the University of East Africa said: “For let us be quite clear; the University has not been established purely for prestige purposes. It has a very definite role to play in development in this area, and to do this effectively it must be in, and of, the community it has been established to serve.”
Part of what I am doing with this speech is to invite you to imagine what the role of our beloved MUT should be given the current challenges. This is an important exercise for two reasons: 1. MUT is located at the heart of a sprawling township, Umlazi, which means that its role cannot be the same as the role played by other relatively more privileged universities in their respective communities; and 2. Being located in Umlazi also means that the university has first-hand experience with some of the challenges that the community is faced with. But Universities are where new ideas are developed, debated and tested; it is also where future generations are educated and trained.
Universities have a moral obligation to also train and educate their immediate community to meet their practical daily needs. For MUT, this would mean reaching out to various stakeholders and offering them much-needed education on issues or subjects that have an impact on their lives and their development. In other words, MUT should be the centre of knowledge not only for those who have been accepted to study and have paid their tuition but also for the rest of the community. As unemployment continues to wreak havoc, MUT is better positioned to champion entrepreneurship beyond the university’s borders by offering seminars on subjects such as cash flow management, tax planning and compliance, customer management and technology innovation in businesses. This will help unlock the entrepreneurial potential of Umlazi Township and bring closer to MUT much needed corporate partnerships.
Institutions such as MUT also occupy a place of pride in the hearts and minds of the people of Umlazi and the rest of South Africa. On a symbolic level, the institution represents hope and ambition. Umlazi, like many of our townships, requires the revitalization of hope and ambition for citizens whose power banks of hope have been severely depleted. With its great symbolic power, MUT can restore hope. Imagine MUT designing a comprehensive and accredited course for taxi drivers focusing on customer centricity, embracing technology, cashless payment methods and Safety Health Environment and Quality? Giving these trained taxi drivers a certificate of attendance (or more) would restore hope and self-pride. For not only does that certificate say they have completed training at MUT, but it also says they have the potential to better their lives. Imagine the impact of that training on the lives of South Africans who use taxis daily. The possibilities are limitless when we begin to think of the university in this way.
Ask any young urban parent about the group of people who are most important in their parenting journey, eight out of 10 would say grandparents. Out of those eight, five will probably say, “if only they could also help with homework”. Imagine a course designed to help pensioners read and write and use a computer with the internet. Think about how proud these grandparents would be of their new sense of responsibility, which also allows them to share in the intellectual development of their grandchildren.
After all, universities are part of an ecosystem of knowledge generation and sharing. What this means is that the University also has a double-edged role of producing and engaging with public intellectuals or what Italian scholar, Antonio Gramsci, called the “organic intellectual”. These intellectuals come in various ages and genders and share their thoughts on various spaces and languages. More platforms are required to intentionally engage with these public intellectuals and the rest of our communities. Knowledge sharing forms the basis for any attempt at developing knowledge that engages communities because sharing knowledge is a two-way street.
How can universities meet this obligation? MUT, like many other universities, has three pillars; that is teaching and learning, research and community engagement. It is the latter of the three that I think holds the key to intensifying the role of the University in the community of Umlazi. This university is rich with academics and researchers in skills areas that could be of great benefit to the community of Umlazi. There are academics who are experts in Accounting, Law, Marketing and Agriculture, to name a few. Refocusing community engagement to respond to community needs would revitalize the hopes and ambitions of the people of Umlazi.
MUT also has another untapped potential, that of students. We celebrate these students’ graduations every year, but we seldom give a thought to the fact that their education is Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) or not. We need to start integrating public service as part of the requirements for one to graduate with a qualification. Every student can contribute to increasing access to knowledge for community members who need it the most. Why is an Electrical Engineering student not using their expertise to assess household electrical wirings in our informal settlements and where there is a greater need? The same question would apply to Agriculture students and students who excel in Mathematics and Sciences, to name a few.
In conclusion, a university is only as good as the community that surrounds it. When the community prospers, the university also prospers.
With these few words, I wish to assure you, Ndunankulu ka Zulu wonkana, Mntwana wakwaPhindangene that I am very excited at becoming chancellor of the institution you conceptualized in 1974. Honourable Minister Nzimande, you can count on the chancellor of Mangosuthu University of Technology to make this a world-class tertiary institution.
I thank you!