Deputy Minister of Communications Stella Tembisa Ndabeni, MP at the Bi-Annual Conference of the Association of Student Development Practitioners (NASDEV), 03 – 06 May 2012, Emperors Palace, Gauteng
3 May 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to greet you in the name of the Lord and with these few words from our stalwart Tata Mandela “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
On behalf of the Ministry of Communications and the government in its totality we are grateful to be invited here to address a special breed in our society. This breed is what is termed the intelligentsia – the thinking tanks of our society. As an Association of professionals, NASDEV falls squarely in this category. Whether or not it plays a role as an organisation of the progressive intelligentsia can only be felt as we continue to feel the heartbeat of its interventions in our public discourse, contributing to the collective necessity to move our country forward.
As a society emerging out of the ruins of apartheid, South Africa is not just fluid but volatile and requires sharp minds to point it to the promised-land. The transformation process in our country remains one of the most complex transitions in contemporary society, vexing even the most dynamic intellectual minds. The reason for this is that there is little historical reference to learn from about how to successfully steer a negotiated transition which contained major compromises on the economic front versus the aspirations of the great majority of the oppressed, on the back of whose votes our mandate is derived. On occasion our young state literally has to learn from itself.
It is for this very reason that professional organisations such as NASDEV become absolutely essential. Not only because they serve to represent the collective interests of a certain group of professionals but because they should ensure that certain sections in our society do not lose their role as a critical body of opinion in our public discourse. The question that this conference must ask itself therefore is whether in the “25 years of Excellence in Student Affairs Practice” encapsulated in its theme the organisation has “excelled” in advancing the needs of society at large or simply the immediate needs of its members?
Progressive intellectuals are not mere armchair critics of the state and how it operates but are willing to dirty their hands in the process of transformation, particularly in your sector: higher education. I would like to point out that by transformation we do not mean a mechanical change in agents but a change in essence. We mean not the replacement of white skins with black ones but a change in the very nature and character of the higher education system. Now, located in institutions of higher learning, NASDEV should and must have played a critical role in driving the transformation agenda in the past 25 years of its existence in an arena divided between English and Afrikaner Universities on one side and Black Universities on the other: literally rich and poor, resourced and under-resourced.
We are not only going to judge the past 25 years of existence of your organisation simply on its capacity to intervene in the public discourse or to play a role in the arena of transformation in institutions of higher learning broadly, but we would rather point out a few things that remain perennial challenges in the specific sector of Student Governance.
In the past couple of years we have seen a rise in failure rates of student leaders as a result of their participation in student governance. We refuse to believe that the cause of these failure rates is their participation in student governance but rather have a firm belief that there has to be a way in which institutions intervene to ensure that the participation of students in governance does not temper with their academic responsibilities. This conference must explore options on how to resolve this matter. It cannot only sit aside and emote.
We have also heard the Minister of Higher Education complain about an increasing trend of corruption in student governance particularly by student leaders and in some instances with the collaboration of student governance practitioners. We would like to see this conference come up with practical solutions how it will help to curb corruption by either student leaders or even on occasion by student governance practitioners. Such a process does not require a witch-hunt of who did what but requires the conference to delve deeper than that and look at the causes of such nefarious behaviour and seek creative ways to root it out.
We are also beginning to notice a decline in radical and informed student participation in University Committees such as Senate, Council, and Institutional Forums etc. In most instances student leaders participate in institutional committees without researched responses while dealing with well researched documents by the university thus leading to the many strikes we see in campuses. The need for SRC’s to have dedicated researchers should be explored in order to enhance their participation in institutional committees.
We view the participation of students in University Committees as absolutely essential. These institutions of participatory democracy that are found in institutions of higher learning are a product of protracted struggles that culminated in the Higher Education Act. These institutions as reflected in institutions of Higher Learning are microcosm of the society we find ourselves in. We are a government of community participation. We are not one that believes society should not play a role but should act as voting fodder. We do not want South Africans to act as spectators in a show, who have no role apart from jeering in disapproval or cheering in approval.
Ours should be an active society. We have done and continue to do everything in our capacity as the government to increase the knowledge levels of our society. This is one of the reasons why our government has put in place policies which have not only enhanced the possibility to communicate but that have revolutionised the pace at which communication and the sharing of ideas takes place. As a result of our policies, South Africans can share information with one another or others in far flung areas of the country or those well beyond our borders. The pace at which digital migration is taking place is evidence of this.
Our policies are such that no government can curb the free flow of information in our ever changing society. That is why we scoff at those that suggest that our government intends achieving otherwise. Thus, we call on NASDEV to play a critical role in ensuring that we advance our society critically. It should ensure that our public discourse is steered away from the climate of fear of the state that is encouraged by some “analysts” day in and day out. This can only take place if NASDEV throws itself in the arena and plays its role as an organisation of the progressive intelligentsia.
Let NASDEV grab the bull by the horns and not only bask in the shade of its achievements but use them as a springboard for more societal development and for this reason I wish you a successful conference.
I thank you
Issued by: Department of Communications
3 May 2012
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