Thursday 31 March 2016

Archbishop Thabo addresses Constitutional Court judgement in Wits graduation address

Graduation remarks at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. The Archbishop was awarded an honorary degree at the ceremony.

Graduates and your families, distinguished guests, Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellors, Deans, faculty, sisters and brothers in Christ,

The honour you have bestowed on me is truly humbling.  For I feel as if I have Wits in my blood:  after school at Alexandra and then Orlando High, I studied here for three of my degrees and one of my diplomas; I lectured part-time here; and I also once served as Dean at Knockando residence in Parktown. So recognition from this institution in particular, my alma mater – and your kind words – make me feel as if the only proper thing for me to do now is to die!

But if my mother had been here, she would probably have said, as the actor Denzel Washington’s mother once did, that although “Man- now we might also say woman... although man gives the award, God gives the reward." So today’s honour reminds me that God has blessed me and my family.

On behalf of myself, my wife Lungi, my children and my parents, my profound thanks.

What a joyous occasion a Wits graduation is!

Congratulations to all of you who are graduating and especially your families who have prayed for you and supported you.  Your families hopefully feel that while they may have paid for one education, they received two in return because of all they have learned during your journey.  I'm reminded of what the American humourist Mark Twain is reputed once to have said about his parents: "When I was a boy of 14, my father and mother were so ignorant I could hardly stand to have them around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much they had learned in seven years.”

For many of us, graduation day can be a time of apprehension as well as excitement. A young woman once asked me, “Archbishop, I am graduating but I don’t know what to do next. Who will I become?" I wonder how many of you are asking yourself that question today.

I have a two-word answer: Become Yourself.  Why? Because the world you are entering is unlike the one your parents or professors has faced, and it’s going to be challenging enough for you to navigate your way through it without trying to be someone you are not.

The second piece of advice I have is one that sounds as though you would expect it to come from a cleric, but it is also taught in the business schools. It is this: understand the power and importance of trust. If you are true to yourself, and to others, you will be a person who is trusted by others. As they say, remember that there is a high cost to low trust and a high value to high trust. So never do anything that will cause someone to lose their trust in you.

The third piece of advice I have is never to think your education has come to an end, and never think that education simply means the acquisition of knowledge. Education is far more than the accumulation and communication of information, of facts and figures, practices and procedures. For me, the definition of true education which resonates best is that it is about the development of wisdom. From the texts of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, wisdom is a concept with a long and honourable pedigree. Exercising wisdom calls us to a practical understanding of the world and people about us, and to a shrewd discernment of situations and how to handle them. Wisdom enables us to play a constructive role in society; to respond to the challenges of our times so that we are not part of the problem, but rather part of the solution.

Wisdom has never been needed more in post-liberation South Africa than it is needed today. For – as I say at every opportunity I get – we face a new challenge in South Africa; the challenge of embarking on what I call the New Struggle. The old struggle, of course, was that against apartheid and against the selfishness and the immorality of the society it spawned. The New Struggle repudiates the values which underpinned colonialism and apartheid: narrow self-interest, callous selfishness and the pursuit of personal gain, of power, status, and material wealth, regardless of the consequences for other people or our planet.

Your education gives each one of you the responsibility to join the New Struggle. For as Julius Nyerere once said: “Education is not a way to escape poverty, it is a way of fighting it.” The New Struggle, which I am inviting every one of you here to join, is for a new society, a more equal society, a society of equality of opportunity in which the wealth that comes from new economic growth is shared equitably among all. The New Struggle is for the realisation of the values embedded in our Constitution: for a united, democratic nation, with overarching goals that include healing the divisions of the past; establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights, a society which improves the quality of life of all citizens and frees the God-given potential of each person.

There is no one better equipped to fight the New Struggle than those of you, students and teachers, who have been and continue to work to transform our education system. I say this because although that endeavour has been marred by excesses, we need to harness the energy it has unleashed and direct it towards rigorous self-examination and action to expand it into a creative, society-wide drive for real transformation in all areas of our common life. At its best, the New Struggle that we saw beginning on the campuses last year was a national mobilisation of young and old alike against the failures of leaders who are allowing endemic corruption, nepotism and greed to rob the people of South Africa of the fruits of their hard-won freedom, gained over many decades by the old struggle against apartheid.

The last point I want to make about the New Struggle is the need for courage. If we learned anything from the courage of the students who said “enough is enough”, it is that we are able to create a society rooted in human love and in God’s care for us and all people everywhere. During the last years of Madiba’s life, I spent a good deal of time with him. Through him I was constantly reminded that courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to triumph over it. The brave woman or man is not the one who does not feel afraid, but the one who conquers their fear.

We live in a society based on fear. Our members of Parliament are too scared to hold the executive properly to account. Those in the executive or in public service who are alleged to have been approached by a well-known family living not too far from here – and who have allegedly been offered blandishments in return for business favours – have been too afraid to speak out about it.

Thankfully, the courage of a few is breaking down the fear, hopefully unleashing a wave of truth-telling about corrupt influence-peddling, not only by one  family but by other business interests too.

And I hope that today's Constitutional Court judgement finding that both President Zuma – in seeking to dodge the Public Protector's findings on Nkandla – and Parliament – in seeking to protect the President – acted unlawfully, will give public servants and others new courage to speak out – and generate not just a wave but a tsunami of truth-telling.

Today is a great day for constitutional democracy in South Africa, and for the constitutional values which I referred to earlier.

The New Struggle is not one which is exclusive to South Africa. In an era in which we are seeing elections flourishing across Africa – but in which the quality of democracy is often suspect – students from other parts of Africa too are called to fight for new societies based on sharing and equality of opportunity. Your challenge, whether you are from South Africa or beyond, is to leave this world a better place than you found it. You have the potential to be your country's greatest generation. The pathway to achieving that is to join the New Struggle.

In closing, I once again want to again thank Wits for this humbling honour. And I would like to offer each of you my blessing: as you go out into the world, my hope for you, for your families, for our communities, for your church, your temple, your synagogue or your mosque, is that you will walk with whichever God you believe in, carrying him (or her!) in your heart every day. God helps us to explore our faiths and their consequences in more depth. God's wisdom deepens our spirituality and our connection to our humanity; it empowers us to transform the societies in which we live to champion equality of opportunity; and it helps you bring new life and hope to God’s world.

May God bless all of you now, and in what lies ahead. And always remember, God loves you and so do I.

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