Pointers towards an oration for

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					Towards an oration for the new Chancellor
Honoured guests and invited dignitaries,               esteemed      community
members, good colleagues, dear students:

My task today, I think, is to do two things: to introduce our new chancellor to
the university and to its broader community, and to introduce us to our new
chancellor. Inspiring these introductions is a sense of transformation, a sense
of change that is captured in the verse from Ecclesiastes that goes, ‘To every
thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven’
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

What is a chancellor? The Concise Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the
term is chiefly British, and refers to the honorary head of a university. It is an
important position, as we remember at graduations when we hear words like
these: ‘By the powers vested in me, I confer on the candidates present here
today ...’ At our university, the chancellor has, on occasion, during troubled
times, served as a guide and a counsellor for the rector and the council, and
so for all of us. But the position is a ceremonial one; and much of its
importance draws from the stature and the character of the person who
occupies it.

The person I present to you today, our new chancellor, is Joel Sibusiso
Ndebele. He is known to us all, publicly, as our country’s Minister of
Transport. Before that, he was premier of our province, Kwa-Zulu Natal; he
was MEC for transport; he served in the Education Development Trust; he
was director of residence administration at the University of Durban-Westville;
and he worked as assistant librarian at the University of the North and at the
University of Swaziland. He was politically active from the early 1970s. First a
member of the University Christian Movement, he then joined the South
African Students Organisation and served as publicity secretary for our
university. He joined the African National Congress in 1974, and went into
exile in Swaziland. Arrested for ANC activities in May 1976, he was sentenced
to ten years on Robben Island from June 1977. After his release, he played a
key role in peace initiatives in our province, and was founder and chairperson
of the African Renaissance Trust. He was appointed regional secretary of the
ANC for Southern Natal in 1990; and from 1994 served as member of the
KZN provincial executive committee and of the ANC provincial working
committee. He has been on the national executive committee of the ANC
since 1997, became deputy chairperson of the ANC in KZN in 1996, and
chairperson from 1998-2008.

He is also known to us because he has been one of our students – although
at a time before most of our present students were born! He studied Library
Science here from 1970-1972. He continued his education through the
University of South Africa, gaining a BA degree in International and African
Politics in 1983, and an honours degree (with distinction) in Development
Administration and Politics in 1985. Twenty years later, in 2005, our university
accorded him the recognition of an honorary doctorate.
Perhaps not many of us know him personally. Yet I feel I have learned a little
bit about the nature of this man from a newspaper article that appeared
recently. Responding to a suggestion that traffic authorities and government
agencies take a break from zero-tolerance and instead appeal to the ‘golden
thread of common decency’ that runs through us all (Daily News March 10
2010), he made this remark:

   ‘Here’s a fresh way of looking at this. Gosh, why didn’t I think of that?’

What I learn of him from this has to do with values: the values of freshness, of
courtesy, of humility; the willingness to listen to others, to consider what they
have to say; the willingness to be surprised. Without surprise, I think, there
can be no growth because there can be no change. Without surprise, we
remain locked into old ways of doing things, ways that often do not serve us
very well. Without surprise, we cannot rethink ourselves.

My address, I said earlier, is in two parts. The first part, which I have now
concluded, has been to present to all present here today the man who will be
our new chancellor.

Mazalankosi !
Mvananda !

The second part of my address, which I now begin, is to present to our new
chancellor something of our university, the University of Zululand.

I have worked here for 25 years; that is half the life of the university. I have
worked here so long that I have become part of the furniture – good furniture,
as our previous vice-chancellor encouraged me to insist. The memories that
abide are those of people: colleagues who have lived and worked with me,
workers whose lives have touched mine, students who have learned from me
and who have taught me: all these people who have played their parts in
shaping the story of our organisation.

Recently we have been saddened by the loss of three colleagues of long
standing: Jan Rheeder, Marius Coetsee, Lorraine Bischoff. Theirs join the
names of many others: Sam Zondi and PT Sabela, both of Commerce; Ruth
Buthelezi of Social Work; Thabazile van Zyl, Education; Eric Mkhwanazi,
union leader; Agnes Malaza, Science Foundation; Nonhlanhla Pewa, isiZulu
Namagugu; Hermione Swart, Library Science; Christine Sherratt, on the
switchboard; past rector Charles Dlamini; assistant registrar EZTS Mthiyane;
professors Bobby Loubser of Theology and Gert Pauer of Agriculture; librarian
Doors Serfontein; dean of students Phiwase Dlamini; our first vice-rector Alex
Thembela .... And if we look back to the nineties and eighties, we might
remember Geoff Hutchings and Jan Zahl of English; Mac Zulu of Chemistry;
Grace Mashaba of Nursing Science; Garnet Mazibuko of Geology. These
names are a few among many. The face that remains most vividly with me,
though, is that of Sam Madlala: who walked always on crutches, whose smile
was always there to greet me when I met him along the way.
The stories of their lives – and deaths – are part of the life of our university.
There are other stories too, of course, stories that rouse one’s pride or raise a
laugh: of the librarian who defended his library against rioters in the sixties; of
the professor who did not notice the chaos going on around him because he
was otherwise engaged with his laboratory assistant; of the botany lecturer,
umakhokhoba,1 who strode the campus in his pith helmet; who was scared by
striking students singing a song from Shaka Zulu; who carried a brick in his
briefcase for three months when his friends played a prank to prove he never
opened it; of the classics lecturer who shielded her face with a book when she
walked out in the Zululand sun. There are stories of damage and destruction,
of bloodshed and violence and terror and heartbreak. There are stories of
survival, of achievement and success, of growth and development. There are
stories we hear from students we meet long after they leave us, who have
made lives for themselves out of the learning they got from these lecture halls.

Three students in particular I would like to pay brief tribute to, today. And, with
apologies to the other half of our audience, they are all women! Thembi
Bokako, student of law, became our university’s first female SRC president,
and went on to do her masters degree in the Netherlands. Precious Biyela, of
Microbiology, is doing a doctorate in the United States, and returns during her
breaks, I believe, to visit her department and interact with fellow students. And
Busisiwe Ndawonde-Nene received a distinction for a masters degree in
environmental education supervised across two faculties, that emanated in
presentations at conferences both local and international, that generated
publications; that led to simple but effective interventions with the field guides
whose work she had researched.

Our university has many productive departments: I think of Chemistry with its
NRF Chair in Nanotechnology; of Zoology and its Coastal Research Unit; of
Hydrology and its many well-placed graduates; of Theology and its most
prolific publisher Bobby Loubser; of Community Psychology; of the internship
programme in Recreation and Tourism; of the international footprints of
Human Movement Science and of Information Science; of English with its
three NRF rated researchers.

The one colleague whose work I would single out, now, is that of another
woman, another Biyela: Sister N. Gloria Irenata, of the Department of Arts and
Languages Education, who is at present attending a conference in the USA,
and who recently had a paper published in Alternation entitled, ‘Popular
Predictor Birds in Zulu Culture’. Her sub-titles are revealing. In ‘Family Ethics
as the Foundation of Birds’ Protection in the Wild’, she points out that ‘(t)he
culture of caring for the environment, sharing food and showing gratitude does
not come automatically’ – rather it ‘requires hard work and restraint from
parents using discipline to instil a code of good behaviour into their children,
to avoid irresponsible behaviour, which can become a cause of social hostility’
(38). While killing a bird might have made a young boy a hero, for example,
hunting a brooding bird was forbidden, and if a boy found one he had to treat
it as his own ‘property’ and protect it from any kind of harassment. Birds,

    one who walks with his head dropped down as if going under a fence
Biyela reminds us, are ‘Time and Season Indicators’. Most of us know that
cocks crow at dawn: but the Zulu people, she says, distinguished between
‘first, second and third fowls’ (or 2, 3 and 4 a.m.), thus using the rooster as a
‘common chronometer or a public alarm clock’ (45). Popular signs of summer
here in Zululand are birds which predict rain, amahlolamvula and izinkonjane
(47). In ‘Birds Carrying the Stigma of Misfortune’ we learn that certain birds
are accorded particular freedoms, hence the maxim: insingizi / ingududu
ayibulawa (the hornbill is never killed). Although the maxim might be seen as
rooted in superstitution, says Biyela, she rather reads it as ‘an observation
regarding experience from which one may learn how to live and behave’ (49).

We learn from birds. We learn from stories about birds. The references I have
offered provide a context for another anecdote from our institutional story,
from the days when transformation was at the forefront of our agenda. Our
then rector was an erudite man who spoke several languages and liked to
draw on knowledge from around the world. On one occasion he cited a
farmyard tale from the European folk tradition. ‘I have a dream,’ he said, ‘that
one day our university will turn from an ugly duckling into a huge and
enormous duck.’ Perhaps we do sometimes feel here that we are running
around like Chicken Licken, Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, in
frantic fear that the sky is falling down. Perhaps all there is to say on our own
behalf is that ducks are good teachers and generally lead their ducklings
safely into adulthood; or that chickens are useful creatures who provide us
with eggs, with the meat and potatoes of our everyday educational life.
Perhaps, though, we will one day also surprise ourselves: our goose will lay
its golden eggs; our ugly duckling will turn into the swan who takes flight and
soars upwards and beyond where others stand, rooted in their place.

When Shakespeare’s great and vicious hero Macbeth hears that his wife has
died, he reflects, ‘My life has fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf’. Indeed
leaves turn, leaves fall. As John Donne reminds us, ‘No man is an island,
entire of itself: every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any
man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. If a clod be
washed away by the sea, Europe is the less ...’ Well, Africa is the less,
Zululand is the less. And yet, in my middle years, I have become a gardener
as well as a teacher, and I know now that fallen leaves nourish the soil. If we
are attuned to the grand cycles of nature, the season we presently await is the
year’s slow turning into spring; the season of renewal; the season of surprise.
And as we wait we hope: that this new era, these new times will bring to our
university a culture of caring, of courtesy, of consideration; will lead us into an
ethos in which we commit ourselves anew to the common purpose that
connects us all.

Joel Sibusiso Ndebele, we welcome you among us; we welcome you back.

Cosi cosi yaphela.

Myrtle Hooper

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