The former South African president Thabo Mbheki is embracing his new role at a unique moment of educational issues in the country.

On Monday, Mbheki was appointed Chancellor of one of South Africa’s largest tertiary institutions, the University of South Africa (UNISA).

Thabo Mbeki calls for the’rebirth’ of the current intellectuals and academia. He made context to #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall campaigns and said that the completely unnecessary and counter-productive violence and destruction of university property which occurred during these campaigns must not be repeated again.

“The student movement and our society as a whole must decisively turn its back on forms of protest rooted in the logic of “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face” as illustrated by a plethora of incidents in which we burn down clinics to demand better health care, or destroy lecture rooms because we want free education, or lay whole schools to ruin because we do not like a proposed municipal or provincial boundary.” said Mbeki

During his speech, Mbeki raised a number of issues affecting the current education system in South Africa and outlined that “Universities are key to developing a nation”.

Related article: Campuses oversubscribed despite #FeesMustFall protests

He outlined the three roles universities in our society:

* He said that their role is to educate and train people with high-level skills for the employment needs of the public and private sectors.

* Universities are the dominant producers of new knowledge, and they critique information and find new local and global applications for existing knowledge. South Africa needs knowledge that equips people for a changing society and economy.

* Given the country’s apartheid history, higher education provides opportunities for social mobility.

Mbeki drew on several sources to explain his views on what a university should be.

The first was a document drafted during his presidency which was compiled by a working group he convened and dealt with the biggest issues facing higher education in South Africa.

The issues included, the manner in which government funds universities, addressing the racial and gender demographic profile of teaching staff, methods of increasing access for disadvantaged black students to higher education.

He further referred to the ‘Open Letter to the President’ by Dr. Pityana which outlined the vital role that the Government has in creating an environment where the private sector gets involved in helping the education system.

Mbeki said, “Unless we do that, we should never be surprised that Africa does not feature among the 200 best universities in the world. Whatever we may make of the methodology and criteria for so determining this ranking, we cannot but recognise that we are some way from the league of world-class universities.”

Mbeki believes that Higher education is the major driver of information and knowledge systems that contribute to economic development. However, higher education is also important for good citizenship and for enriching and diversifying people’s lives.

Mbeki replaces Judge Bernard Ngoepe, who served as chancellor of Unisa for 15 years.

The institution on Monday said it was excited about Mbeki’s new role, saying his intellectual standing would add to Unisa.

The institution also added that amongst all the candidates, Mbeki was found to be a suitable candidate for the position because of his outstanding leadership and credentials.

WATCH: Unisa VC Prof Mandla Makhanya performs the investiture and confirming Thabo Mbeki as Unisa Chancellor

-Jane Folodi

Categories: Education News