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Chancellor's Calabash Awards dinner grows in stature

Hosted by former President Dr Thabo Mbeki, Chancellor of Unisa the Unisa Chancellor’s Calabash Awards dinner was held on 1 November 2018 at the Gallagher Convention Centre. The awards are Unisa’s way of giving recognition to extraordinary South Africans, particularly its alumni, who have made significant contributions to shaping humanity.

Standing (from left): Prof Mandla Makhanya, Mr Sakhi Simelane (Chairperson of the Unisa Council). Seated (from left): Michael Muendane, Gloria Serobe, Dr Thabo Mbeki and Dr Cassius Lubisi.

It is also an occasion to profile the work of the university and in particular inform decision-makers in the public and private sector, as well as civil society, about the work that Unisa does. A unique occurrence it was as a sitting president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, was the receiver of the Outstanding Alumnus Award.

Recognition was given for his contribution to shaping the society as he himself is a product of Unisa’s open distance learning model. He was represented by Dr Cassius Lubisi, Director-General in the Office of the Presidency, who in acceptance of the award said that the president was honoured and appreciated the award which to him was more than the ‘mobilisation of resources of our institutions of higher learning to confront the challenges of poverty and underdevelopment’.

Unisa Chancellor Dr Thabo Mbeki

Lubisi said that President Ramaphosa encouraged the production of graduates with both the skills and the desire to build a growing, inclusive and sustainable economy. This comes on the back of estimates that suggest that the number of learners entering post-schooling education in the country will likely increase. ‘The question remains,’ he said, ‘can the system absorb and sustain the new entrants both in body count and in financial figures?’

Amid fee-free higher education, there are challenges associated with access, retention and completion rates. Unisa’s Chancellor, Dr Mbeki, indicated that there is a need to take care of young people who enter the system by making concerted efforts to provide additional support to help them deal with psychological pressures associated with academic life. ‘The awards are to raise additional funds in order to create the necessary environment for students to prosper,’ he said. ‘Moreover, this dinner is part of securing Unisa’s long-term financial sustainability and I request everyone present to donate towards student bursaries.’

In another first for the awards, an organisation was recognized for its sterling work in empowering black women and children, particularly those in rural areas. Women’s Investment Portfolio Holdings (WIPHOLD) were the recipients of the Outstanding Educator Award. In the words of Gloria Serobe, Executive Director of WIPHOLD and CEO of WIPCAPITAL: ‘It has always been exciting to be involved with Unisa which is an institution of high stature and brand power. WIPHOLD were the previous funders of the Brigalia Bam Chair in Electoral Democracy in Africa at Unisa. More and more, the organisation had to ensure that it addresses two major policies in South Africa: the gender policy, and the black economic empowerment policy.’ Serobe said that WIPHOLD concerned itself with what these policies were supposed to do. ‘In essence Unisa is giving us a chance to showcase that we are the beneficiaries of the policies and at the same time implementers of the policies.’

The prestigious Unisa Robben Island Award was received by Ngila Michael Muendane, a former political prisoner, published author, life coach, inspirational speaker and the founder and executive member of SOULTALK, as well as the African Institute for Personal Excellence and Leadership (AIPEL).

Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof Mandla Makhanya

He said that throughout the years, Unisa was the only university in South Africa to have provided all people with access to education, irrespective of race, colour or creed, including political prisoners who were incarcerated on Robben Island during the struggle for freedom. Muendane dedicated the award to his family and other important people who influenced his life. As he lamented the lack of responsibility in our society today, he also took time to remember the contribution of Gqibile Hans, a PAC political prisoner, who was hanged in 1967 and thus gave up his future for the youth.

Prof Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, addressed the audience on the challenges facing higher education and especially its dispensation amid the rising numbers of youth on the African continent. ‘Young people are important and want change, and we must equip them to have that change,’ he said. ‘The impending fourth industrial revolution obliges us to be fully equipped in order to see Africa rising in the future.’

In conclusion Prof Makhanya said that the awardees are distinguished exemplars of what it means to be responsible, critical and active citizens. ‘They have demonstrated in their lives and their careers, the commitment, diligence and dedication that is required to build and prosper themselves and their country, and they have committed unambiguously to the core tenets of service, ethical leadership and governance, and a deep and abiding respect for education as the cornerstone of any society,’ he said. ‘They have given in far greater measure than that which they have received.’

Programme director for the evening Dr Somadoda Fikeni (Director Special Projects and Advisor to the Unisa Vice-Chancellor)

By Busi Mahlangu

Publish date: 2018/11/08