As South Africa celebrates 25 years of democracy this Freedom Day, this landmark moment also occasions – perhaps demands – that we reflect upon the very notion of freedom itself. On 27 April, many will rightly celebrate the strides made over a quarter-century toward creating the most admirable blueprint for the type of country South Africa is determined to become; a blueprint laid out in a Constitution admired the world over, and reinforced by a raft of legal decisions and a generation that has shown it is determined to defend the ideals laid out in this treasured founding document.
But even as I celebrate, I also remember the sacrifices made by millions, and the lives lost in pursuit of political freedom. I am saddened – and motivated – by the fact that, 25 years into South Africa’s democratic era, far too many of our people remain locked out of the opportunity to attain what is perhaps the greatest guarantor of true freedom: continuous further education.
Twenty-five years ago, as democracy opened the doors of education to more South Africans, the University of Pretoria (UP) kicked into high gear a transformation process that saw it become alma mater to many thousands of students from previously disadvantaged groups; young South Africans who would not previously have had access to further education.
Today, it is heartening to be able to assure you that UP remains committed to increasing access to higher education. Over this past month, we have celebrated, laughed and cried with our over 10 000 new graduates; critical, creative thinkers who are ready for the world beyond university, and who will no doubt make great contributions to building the country, continent and world we dream.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe
Our diverse student body is more than 60% black (African, Coloured and Indian), and more than 60% of our student population is black and female. The social, cultural and economic impact of such large-scale transformation at university level will change lives and communities for generations to come. As I contemplate Freedom Day, I am moved to remember many of our mothers who didn’t have access to universities, and applaud their daughters and granddaughters, who today make us proud as they excel in their academic and extramural endeavours at UP and universities across South Africa.
Many of our students go on to postgraduate degrees, which in turn helps to create a new generation of world-class researchers and scholars, technologically savvy, eager, and armed with the knowledge and skills needed to find innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing concerns.
Earlier this year, I highlighted my deeply held belief that every UP employee (and not just the academic staff) has a hand in producing our high-calibre graduates.
As we also commemorate Workers’ Day on 1 May, let us take a moment to reflect upon and give thanks to every individual who contributes to student success: from the friendly security guard who guides a student in the right direction on registration day, to the workers who so carefully maintain our beautiful buildings and gardens, thereby creating a pleasant environment to aid our students in their studying, to our efficient administration staff, who keep track of every student and identify potential pitfalls before they happen, thereby ensuring they stay on their path to graduating on time.
As we commemorate and reflect upon Freedom Day and Workers’ Day individually and with our friends and families, I wish for you a restful period, and trust you will join me in returning with renewed vigour to build upon a promising foundation. The striving to open the doors of learning to all South Africa’s children continues. We’ve done good work in our first 25-year democratic chapter, and I know we will make our grandchildren proud by redoubling our efforts (and results) over the next 25!
Professor Tawana Kupe
Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Pretoria