Posted by: africanpressorganization | 20 November 2008

Lecture Delivered by the President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, on the Occasion of the Fifth ZK Matthews Memorial Lecture



Lecture Delivered by the President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, on the Occasion of the Fifth ZK Matthews Memorial Lecture


PRETORIA, South Africa, November 20, 2008/African Press Organization (APO)/ — “The Role of Higher Education in Advancing the South African State in a Globalized World”), University Of Fort Hare, Eastern Cape, 20 November 2008.


The Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare,

Justice Skweyiya,

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare,

Dr Mvuyo Tom,

The Premier of the Eastern Cape, Mbulelo Sogoni,

Members of the Matthews family,

Members of the University Council,

Staff and students of Fort Hare

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen


I am honoured to address this august gathering today in memory of one of the greatest South Africans, and indeed, Africans- the late Professor Zachariah Keodirelang (ZK) Matthews.


Let me from the outset state that Professor ZK, as he was and is still popularly known, through the combination of his formidable mind, strong character and a sense of collective effort, epitomised everything desirable about the future society he fought for.


Many who knew him would agree with us that he has come, in time, to personify the pursuit for truth and justice, an unquenchable thirst for learning, and the desire for a united, democratic and prosperous South African nation.


In hindsight, we can clearly appreciate Professor ZK’s impact on the historical evolution of our society emanating from his formidable moral character, which was itself steeped in universally lofty principles.


We can equally discern the lasting influence he exerted on history by combining academic excellence with the moral courage to refuse to be silenced in the face of a systematic assault on justice in his own country.


His contributions to our struggle for freedom and the cutting insights that helped define that freedom, served as a mechanism to build the South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, black and white.


In essence, we have gathered here to celebrate the life of ZK Matthews, and imperatively, to attempt to salvage for ourselves and for posterity, key lessons about peace, development and a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society which, during his lifetime, he embraced with all his being.


He had an internationalist outlook and provided essential leadership to this University of Fort Hare, making it a leading university in Southern Africa. In a way he contributed to a form of positive side to globalisation through making Fort Hare a fountainhead of education and knowledge for the people of Southern Africa.


If he were to be transposed to modern times, he would be shocked at the levels of xenophobia among some of us.


He would be shocked to discover that whereas he had seen the role of higher education as a means of empowering the people of Africa, and has done so during his tenure at this University, some of our people today have erected fixed barriers between themselves and people from our neighbouring countries.


We live in difficult times. The current global financial crisis poses serious dangers to the world’s people. I am sure if he were still alive, Professor Matthews would seek to position Fort Hare University to find solutions to some of these difficulties a negative impact on all sectors of society; the credit-prone middle class, but especially the poorest of the poor.


In light of his commitment to solving problems of the people he would have been anxious to direct research at ways of softening the effects of the credit crunch so that homeowners do not lose houses and employment.


He would have done this because for Professor Matthews the value of education lied in concretely uplifting the lives of ordinary people.



Professor Matthews was guided by an ethical compass. He was at once a professional and an intellectual, interrogating life’s conditions with a view to finding solutions beyond his lifetime.

Because he was rooted in among his people, Professor Matthews could both pursue academic excellence and address the concerns, yearnings and challenges of his people.


I am saying this in light of Professor Matthews’ avowed desire to be rooted among his people. Because he was rooted among his people, Professor Matthews was, against odds, able to assist the disempowered masses find their way out of their conditions.


Until his resignation out of protest against imposition of ethnic policies on education, he had remained in Fort Hare, when he could have led a comfortable life without concerning himself with the plight of others.


This is a lesson that cries out for attention today, for our young graduates to think carefully about their rootedness in communities, even those in rural areas, once they have found better employment opportunities in life, so that their communities benefit from their acquired knowledge and skills.


Particularly, in the symbolic life of this remarkable figure of our history is the key lesson of education as an indispensable condition for the attainment of full human development which, in turn, will enable every human being to enjoy the full meaning of freedom.


Professor Matthews was a multi-layered human being: an educator, a pioneer and a leader of the people who always concerned himself with challenges facing society and using his trained mind to help address such problems.


Importantly, he earned his leadership through his service to the people. He was as much a product of history as he was a maker of history.


As president of the Cape Provincial ANC, he planted the idea of the Congress of the People in his Presidential address to the ANC Conference.


His thinking sprang from the ideological orientation of the political party of which he was leader, the African National Congress (ANC), which thinking gave bearing to the values enshrined in our present democratic constitution.

He, along with the generation that followed in his footsteps, including Nelson Mandela, bequeathed us high principles, including: the love for education, the love for freedom, patriotism, and total espousal of a non-racial, non-sexist and just disposition towards fellow human beings.


Against this background of Professor ZK’s determination for education to liberate his people, what are we to make of Professor ZK’s legacy in terms of higher education as a tool for the advancement of South Africa in the context a globalised world?


 Professor ZK’s life was inextricably linked with the history of the University of Fort Hare and therefore to the broad sphere of Education and Training.


Professor ZK was a product of his age. He was a member of the nucleus of educated Africans in a colonial dispensation unreceptive to the yearnings of the educated black people.


To the leading lights of this generation education was a significant weapon in the black people’s struggle to adapt to, and challenge their condition of subjection.


When Professor ZK became the first African to graduate with a BA degree from Fort Hare in 1924 he became the embodiment of this standard-bearing role. As his widow, Frieda Matthews, described it in her reflections on the life of her husband:


To Professor ZK education was “the instrument through which the community achieves its survival in the environment in which it lives its life.”


An effective educational system would thus give the learner a thorough understanding of the society and wider world in which he would live, it would “put man in touch with the whole field of human experience,” and equip him with the competencies and skills to contribute to social development.


Professor ZK’s core ideas on education have an inherent resonance for our society today. Writing within the particular context of segregation and apartheid, Professor ZK believed in the first instance that education had to equip Africans for ‘effective citizenship’ – – that is, to have the training that would enable Africans to assume their rightful place in the body politic of society as well as playing a full part in the development of the country.


In working towards this goal, Professor ZK regarded it as important to develop ” a knowledge of the civic activities involved in community life, in state and national life together with appropriate ideas, standards and habits; the development of a social conscience or a sense of social responsibility.”



As a nation that has just recently emerged from a divided history, we are still in the process of forging a common consciousness, and this extends to the area of higher education too.


Consequently, we have to as yet settle the question of self-definition so that we can be able to understand the role of higher education in the context of the challenges relating to the production and propagation of knowledge.


Like everything in life, education is not and cannot be static; it has to evolve in order to remain relevant to the challenges of the time.


I would argue that currently there is a mismatch between the needs of our economy and the content of our education.


Knowledge production has to be geared towards addressing our fundamental areas of concern as a country.


Noting the importance of this matter, government has in the recent past engaged Higher Education stakeholders on key issues relating to the role of higher education in the context of our developmental state.


Among others, the issue we have had to confront was whether our university system is geared towards producing ideas and technical skills needed by a globalised economy.


Coupled with this was a need to make a determination as to whether we as a country are defining the scientific matters that are important to South Africa and are of relevance to our global concerns.


 One of the imperatives of meeting our historical obligations to education and the knowledge it entails best suited to our conditions by addressing societal needs and equipping people to acquire necessary skills for present global economic challenges. 


To fully address ourselves to the question of how higher education can contribute to our development in the context of globalisation, one should start by restating the obvious: the fact that, in any society, higher education should provide the national foundations for development.


This in South Africa’s case entails, among others:

·         leading the fight against poverty;

·          establishing national and regional infrastructure;

·          stimulating innovation and economic growth; and

·         enhancing political stability, peace, safety and security.


Precisely because higher education seeks to help society bring about progress, it cannot divorce itself from the critical issues of democracy and good governance.


 It should concern itself with the agenda of mobilising responses and foster international relations on the African continent and beyond, to deliver on these goals.


We also envisage the role of higher education in the context of continental collaboration which can take the shape of, among others:


·         sharing and exchanging of teaching and research staff;

·         partnerships in specific projects, development of strong engineering, health and natural science platforms for infrastructure,

·         service provision and indigenous innovation,

·         creating forums for critical dialogue among scholars,

·         creating space for communities and civil society to engage with academics,

·         capacity building as well as providing learning opportunities beyond national borders.


Thankfully, already there are South African Higher Education institutions that have defined their role in this area by identifying and supporting strategic New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) initiatives.


Against the background of Professor ZK’s legacy in the education sphere how we today conceptualise state/higher education relationship?


I am disposed to argue for a more involved relationship between the state and our institutions of higher learning and those who populate them.


Of course, I am also alive to the historical counter-arguments to this view, invariably born of bitter experiences elsewhere in the world, where ulterior motives tend to underline governments’ attitudes to their relations with higher education institutions.


Firstly, it is said the enterprise of knowledge production dictates that the sanctity of the principle of intellectual freedom must at all costs be preserved.


Intellectuals are the bearers of the social consciousness of society and they should reflect social reality however grotesque it may be.


If they merely put a gloss on things or justify and legitimate particular policies they become ideologues rather than intellectuals.


The late Palestinian nationalist intellectual, Edward Said, says that an intellectual is:


‘…The role of an intellectual is to raise embarrassing questions, to confront authority and dogmas rather than reproduce them’.

(Representations of the Intellectual. New York: Pantheon, 1994)


For all these legitimate concerns, an equally legitimate question needs to be asked in the case of a nation such as ours.


Should the state’s role in the academy be limited to providing an enabling environment in a form of subsidies while the intelligentsia on the other hand single-mindedly occupy itself with the task of knowledge production unaffected by the larger socio-political and economic imperatives?


I see a complementary role between the state as a leading player in society and institutions of higher education. The state has to provide the necessary support for higher education to carry out cutting edge research which assists our advancement as a country. 


Yet the question can be asked whether our attention be on philosophical assumptions that underpin knowledge production to the exclusion of the larger socio-political imperatives?


I see the challenge as being to contextualise this question with regard to our particular historical and socio-political circumstances.


To this end, my starting point is the colonial or apartheid organised framework for knowledge production, not just in its institutional form of racially and ethnically disaggregated institutions, but its philosophical assumptions.


We should here recall that for every major development of historical significance to succeed, it has to be infused with a sense of self-worth and requires intellectual agency.


I doubt for instance if apartheid could have been sustained for that long had it been conceived of only as a political project without the support of the academy.


What this tells us is that there was under apartheid an alignment of interests between the intellectual and political (state) apparatus – to sustain the status quo.


Clearly, we should, all of us, including the state, academia and civil society at large, emphatically reject these perfidious designs in an open society.


Surely, in an open and democratic body politic the state should not, and cannot employ the intellectual service of higher institutions to achieve such sinister ends.


Nevertheless, doesn’t the post-apartheid South Africa in its efforts to re-invent itself into a nationally democratic society, against the background of the need for self-definition, need such a symbiotic alignment between the intelligentsia\academy and the state?


The challenge of transforming South Africa cannot be a political one only; it has to be an intellectual one as well where the intelligentsia will be seized with the task of re-writing history, decolonising not just the minds, knowledge production but de-racialising prisms through which state institutions look, name, categorise and attempt to domesticate complex societal problems.


The re-awakening of society can be propelled forward through internal contestations, differing viewpoints and acrimonious debates, all of which are subordinated to the larger imperative of societal change.

 So the alignment of forces does not logically lead to the mortgaging of intellectual autonomy but enhance the repertoire of state-society relations.


Even the most casual observer of post-apartheid South Africa needs no convincing that South Africa lacks in critical numbers the necessary intelligentsia that will drive the de-racialisation of knowledge production, particularly its underpinning philosophical assumptions.


So just as the academy bears the duty to de-racialise the state, the state is equally faced with the challenge of de-racialising the academy by fostering the production in large numbers of an Africa-focused intelligentsia.


And that it cannot do without meaningfully and not bureaucratically being involved in higher education.


 The reverse equally holds true for the academia – without being actively involved in the state there is no possibility of the complete societal re-awakening.


Following this overview of the relationship between the state and higher education, what then should be the relation between intellectuals and the state?


Perhaps Professor ZK’s greatest legacy to the liberation struggle and thus to the realization of democracy in South Africa is the manner in which he fused the overlap between the traditional and the organic notions of the intellectual.


He ably achieved this by combining the traditional production and dissemination of knowledge with a demonstrated commitment to the social or public good.


In a democratic society such as South Africa, where open criticism and debate is encouraged, organic intellectuals have a responsibility to raise the consciousness of the society at large, because the position of relative privilege allows them far greater access to information and this is a source of great power in the modern world.

 In a word, they have to become public intellectuals, they have to reflect on social issues in an independent and critical manner and not be obsequious servants of the state.


The only way to do this is to expect that they contribute to the development of policies and practices designed to alleviate the major social problems which we face. 


At the same time, it is essential for us to protect the space for intellectuals to do their work.  But, hopefully, intellectuals will realise the knowledge is real and concrete in so far as it impinges on our real, material world.


In this regard, one hopes for a serious approach on behalf of intellectuals for direct confrontation with the real social problems such as poverty, racism, disease, unemployment and so on.


It was readily apparent to Professor ZK that the inequalities in education and the general social conditions of Africans were the result of an oppressive political system, and that the concerned intellectual had no choice but to enter the political arena in order to realise the objectives of social transformation through agitating for political transformation.


It was with the dual objective of achieving social amelioration through advocating for political change that compelled Professor ZK into combining his educational with his political career.


Despite our polarised history in almost all areas of our national life, we have over the last 14 years of our democracy gravitated together as a nation.


We have sought to and succeeded in building on the expansive legacy so generously bequeathed to us by historical figures such as Professor ZK Matthews.


His versatility has been an inspiration. Our task is to continue with this historic task of building a society that exemplifies these values and principles that have over the years sustained the vision of many South Africans.

We should therefore, see the primary purpose of higher education as being part of the process of community building. The operative word in the “community building paradigm” is volunteerism. It is through volunteerism that students experience the redemptive power of higher education, and it is a new crop of “bridge builders” that empowerment and rejuvenation reaches down to vulnerable communities – be they refugees, the sick, the orphaned, or victims of disasters, villages and neighbourhoods in need of basic social infrastructure, and communities simply needing to exercise their citizenship rights.


 Universities must provide opportunities for students to learn and internalize the virtue of volunteering for the cause of social justice. Above all, it must become part of our social conscience as South Africans to do some volunteering even while still active on the platforms of paid employment or entrepreneurship


What this means is that, critical and creative thinking, is a primary aspect of the role of a higher education expert, is also a key attribute of active citizenship.


In addition, there is awareness of the local, continental and global socio-economic, political, social and environmental contexts which makes possible awareness of social injustices and respect for values of diversity.


The globalized world is a very unforgiving arena. States that do not possess the material wherewithal, requisite technological, vocational, and educational competencies, political stability and social cohesion – find themselves on a trajectory to the margins – as a less than desirable destination for investment and business.


To ensure that South Africa does not go that way, to ensure that we have a political and economic framework that could realize the vast potential of this great democratic and non-racial republic – we need a robust and dynamic partnership between Higher Education and the State, that will speak to the mutually-negotiated parameters of autonomy and accountability.


We can only meet these objectives if we as a nation work together towards a common destiny, based on a new, all-inclusive national consciousness.



In consolidating this newly acquired consciousness as a nation, we should remember it is a gift from those who preceded us. We dare not waste it; we dare not fail the memory of Professor ZK Matthews.


I thank you.






SOURCE : The Presidency, South Africa


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