On 18 July 2017, the world will mark what would have been former President Nelson Mandela’s 99th birthday.
On 20 July 2017, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University will relaunch itself as Nelson Mandela University (NMU) – the only higher education institution in the world to bear the name of one of the world’s most revered leaders.
The launch of Nelson Mandela University is yet another important milestone in the journey the University set itself when it adopted the institutional Vision 2020. This vision enjoined the institution’s leaders to work relentlessly towards building a new generation, dynamic African university, recognised for its leadership in producing cutting-edge knowledge for a sustainable future.
The hard work has, in recent times, resulted in Government granting the University permission to establish the country’s 10th medical school and in helping it establish the country’s only dedicated Ocean Sciences campus. Both these initiatives will go a long way in enabling learners, particularly from township and rural schools and communities, to study and gain specialist qualifications in areas that were previously inaccessible and only dreamt about.
These two new ventures will, among other things, place the University in a substantially better position to serve the country’s development and economic growth needs as it works to establish new areas of knowledge that in turn will stimulate new ways of resolving life challenges, and spawn new professions, careers and job opportunities.
These two important developments were followed by the pleasant gazetting of the institution’s new name, Nelson Mandela University, last year by Higher Education and Training minister Dr Blade Nzimande.
The University elected not to immediately formally use the new name as it believed adequate preparations were necessary to ensure that in using the name of Nelson Mandela, the former president is honoured respectfully and appropriately in ways befitting his stature.
Sufficient progress to this effect, including changing the university logos and colours has been realised.
The University is thus pleased to share that the name Nelson Mandela University will be officially used from the second semester of this year.
To mark this important milestone, a celebratory event is planned for 20 July and will take place at one of the University’s campuses – located in the community of Missionvale, in Port Elizabeth that used to be the old Vista Campus, which we are proudly steadily transforming.
The new name not only comes with an opportunity to rebrand and position the institution continentally and globally, but also to usher in a new era of renewed vigour towards meaningful transformation.
It comes at a time of forced introspection as a nation and within the higher education sector in particular, of the progress made in the two decades of South Africa’s democracy towards the realisation of a non-racial and just society.
The events that played out at South African tertiary institutions over the last two years have foregrounded shortcomings in the quest to improve the socio-economic conditions of the majority of citizens.
The new name thus affords the University an opportunity to also rethink the kind of university it can, and should, become as an institution that must, along others, actively contribute to the resolution of the myriad of educational and developmental challenges – doing so in line with Nelson Mandela’s legacy.
While the legacy of Mandela is contested, he placed a good education for all South Africans at the centre of the democratic project.
“The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation … We need a system … that is geared to the realities of our country and the ideals of our people,” President Mandela said at the Education Africa Presidential and Premier Education Awards ceremony in 1997.
This call to action, therefore, underscores the University’s long held desire to honour Mandela’s legacy of advancing education as “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
Outgoing NMMU vice-chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz said: “We are hugely honoured and privileged to bear the name of one of the world’s greatest icons – a man whose humble beginnings, values and hopes resonate with our own hopes for a transformed and better future for all. It was the former statesman himself who highlighted the key role of universities as ‘agents central to renewal’.”
Requests to have the institution’s name changed to Nelson Mandela University were initially made before the merger of the University of Port Elizabeth (UPE), Port Elizabeth Technikon (PE Tech) and the city’s Vista University campus to form NMMU in 2005. This request was, for various reasons, not granted earlier.
The new Nelson Mandela University name was then promulgated in the Government Gazette on 23 June 2016 by Minister Nzimande.
Plans to officially launch the new name in October last year were delayed by the #FeesMustFall student protests, which highlighted students’ struggles in financing their higher education and, among other things, the need to transform the curriculum.
This obstacle, however, presented an opportunity to launch the new name at a time when there is tangible progress in addressing the concerns raised by the #FeesMustFall movement – which had long been on the institution’s radar.
The launch of Nelson Mandela University will not only be a celebration of the efforts to be named after this great leader, but of the University’s commitment to transformation and truly living out its values – which mirror those of Mandela – that include Ubuntu, integrity and respect for diversity.
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