Some staff members who were already on leave returned to Pretoria in order to pay tribute to Tata Madiba, one of the most beloved statesmen in history. The Musaion was filled to capacity as various speakers delivered their eulogies and reflected on his Legacy to all South Africans. Despite the prevailing sadness there was also a sense of gratitude for his Legacy and celebration of this most unique life. Staff and students were afforded the opportunity to sign the University’s Nelson Mandela Memorial Book.
Prof Cheryl de la Rey reflected on Madiba’s visits to the University of Pretoria. The first took place in 1991 when a group of students invited him to come and address them. Although he came to the University, Mr Mandela could not deliver his address because of the disruptions caused by students opposed to his visit. Six years later and in a completely different climate, he paid another visit the University in order to receive an honorary Doctorate in Law.
“The University of Pretoria officially recognised him for his contribution to justice, peace, reconciliation and democracy in South Africa. Mr Mandela was also recognised for his contribution to the well-being of our country of all humankind,” said Prof De la Rey.
Madiba’s last visit to the University of Pretoria was in 2009, when he attended the graduation of his grandson.
Prof De la Rey said even though the University of Pretoria was regarded as an exclusively “white” institution since its inception and until policy changes were introduced in the early 90s, there had always been a voice calling for equality and justice. Although it was a small voice and often not heard, there were deeply committed staff members and students of the University who stood up with courage and spoke out when times were extremely difficult, and were often faced with the consequences of doing so. This also led to the establishment of the Centre for Human Rights 25 years ago, a flagship institution that advocates human rights in South Africa and beyond.
Prof De la Rey urged the university community to reflect on the long journey ahead and on Mr Mandela’s words: “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world and reshape the future positively.” The campus community should treasure the values espoused by Mr Mandela and apply them every single day. Finally, Prof De la Rey said that the university should be an institution where freedom is enjoyed, ideas are exchanged freely dialogue is encouraged. “I believe that the University of Pretoria is capable of being an institution that is much greater than the institution we are today,” she said.
The Chancellor of the University of Pretoria, Prof Wiseman Nkuhlu, reiterated Prof De la Rey’s call to build the University on the foundation of Madiba’s values. This would be achieved by extending the opportunity to get an education to all people, especially those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.
Prof Nkuhlu also called on the University community to continue to emulate Mr Mandela in his striving to improve the quality of life of all people living in South Africa. “I call on all of us to reflect on Mr Mandela’s great Legacy, and think very hard about what each and every one of us can do to make South Africa a better country,” he said.