Principle and Vice Chancellor, Professor Pityana
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends
It is an honour for me to be here today to accept this degree from the University of South Africa.
UNISA is the oldest university in South Africa – your roots go back 130 years – and you are pioneers of distance education.
It is an institution which provides world class teaching not only to South Africans, but to citizens across the Continent, and internationally.
In accepting this degree, I join over 14,000 students’ who have graduated from the University’s five colleges during the autumn ceremonies.
I know that as graduates these individuals are well-prepared to work towards meeting the university’s mission of working to resolve Africa’s education and development challenges.
Today, these graduates are fortunate to start their careers at a time of immense opportunity in South Africa.
This is a country which fourteen years since its first democratic elections has been transformed by economic, political and social developments.
It is a country which has blossomed into a modern country, open to the world.
Over the past decades, South Africa has experienced continued trends of economic growth.
It is the country which attracts the single largest source of foreign direct investment in Africa, and it has demonstrated its commitment to good governance and democracy, as a key driver of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
Your leadership in the African region is unchallenged.
As a huge soccer fan myself; I know that you are preparing to showcase this progress to the world, when you host the World Cup in 2012.
I have no doubt that this will be an occasion where the warmth and cultural vibrancy of this nation will shine through for all to see.
I am pleased to say that this story of progress, is not only one we see here, but across our Continent.
According to the most recent estimates of the International Monetary Fund, the rate of growth in Africa reached 6.6 per cent in 2007 – a rate expected to be broadly maintained this year. This is not as high as Asian countries, but it exceeds growth in the Middle East and Latin America.
Even more encouraging is that these favourable economic trends have taken place in a generally improving political environment.
More countries have moved towards multi-party elections providing opportunities for voices to be heard and the strengthening the accountability of governments.
We also see positive trends in poverty reduction. Africa’s poverty rate has declined by almost 6 per cent since 2000. Primary school enrollment increased by 36 points between 1999 and 2005. Infant and child mortality has declined in many parts of Africa.
It is vital that national governments, the international community, and each of us, as individuals, continue to build on this progress.
But of course huge challenges remain. How the international community and Africa itself responds to the enormous challenges it faces, how we help its people make the most of their incredible potential and qualities will have a massive impact on all our futures.
And as it is today’s generation of young people and the leadership we need them to provide which will decide the direction of Africa, this university is a very appropriate venue for such a discussion.
We need that leadership – now and in the future.
Africa is at a cross-roads. It can continue to move forward or retreat, in the face of old and new challenges, letting the advances of recent years slip away.
During my visit here this week, I joined with fellow members of The Elders group, brought together last year by Madiba, with the aim of using our shared experience to help tackle the world’s toughest problems.
Yesterday, we participated at an ActionAid event to discuss solutions to the current food crisis.
This year, the food crisis has seen people take to the streets in over 30 countries to protest against the rising cost of food. Even before the current crisis, 200 million Africans were hungry.
Now, another 30 million find themselves at risk.
We must do better than this. We must ensure that every individual has access to sufficient food.
In Africa, the underlying cause of hunger has been the long-term neglect of agriculture, on national and international levels. This has meant the neglect of more than half our people, who barely subsist as smallholder farmers.
Urgent action is needed to increase the productivity of tens of millions of smallholder farmers, create jobs and stimulate rural investments, while protecting the environment and biodiversity.
African leaders have laid out a framework for such an effort in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, which commits to achieving a 6 percent annual increase in agricultural productivity.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution which I am pleased to chair, is developing programs and partnerships in support of this vision.
Today, now, we are also seeing the impact of climate change, the effects of which are already having a severe humanitarian impact on vulnerable communities around the world.
Climate change has profound implications for virtually all aspects of human well-being.
From jobs to health to food security and peace within and among nations. While wealthier nations are able to take time to negotiate over targets for reducing carbon emissions, the poor are already suffering.
It is a matter of environmental justice, that as an international community we recognize this, and act immediately to provide the necessary funding and assistance to help these vulnerable communities with the process of adaptation.
And of course, against the background of these immediate challenges, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to realizing the Millennium Development Goals.
During my time as Secretary-General of the United Nations I was proud that the world’s political leaders joined together to express their resolve to free their “fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty”, to make the right to “development “a reality for everyone” and to free “the entire human race from want”.
We are now at the mid-way point of delivering on this ambition, and if we are to meet the goals we have set ourselves then more needs to be done.
We must ensure that the international community sticks to the commitments it has made to Africa, but also in turn that leaders of our continent, demonstrate that they are using their resources effectively, and indeed that we as civil society are holding them to account for this.
I applaud the G8 leaders for putting development issues, climate change and Africa at the heart of their deliberations last week in Hokkaido.
The task now must be to follow these up with a clear, time-bound action plan for the implementation of the commitments that have been reached.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have outlined only some of the immense challenges facing our global community today.
But despite the magnitude of these challenges, I stand before you not as a pessimist, but as a stubborn optimist.
We live in a world today which is bound together like never before, with more opportunity to trade, connect and access information than was ever imaginable.
We are therefore better equipped than any previous generation to confront these global challenges, and indeed we must do so.
It is not sustainable for us to live in a world where the impacts of globalization are so unevenly shared. We need the realization that global problems – such as the food crisis and climate change – no longer respect national boundaries.
The only way to address and overcome them is for the international community to work together with common vision and commitment.
Ladies and gentlemen, Friends
The University of South Africa notified me that its Council has decided to confer this degree on me back in November 2006, so it is long overdue that I stand here with you today. But perhaps, this is an apt moment – as we meet the half way point towards the Millennium Development Goals.
I know that the vision of UNISA is to be ‘The African University in the service of humanity”.
I commend you on this vision, and have no doubt that teachers and graduates of this institution will play a role in helping to realize our development objectives, and to drive Africa forward.
Finally, we cannot be here today without thinking about the situation in Zimbabwe.
The only democratic and sustainable resolution to the crisis is one that is rooted in respect for human rights and the rule of law, and which places the needs and aspirations of all Zimbabwean citizens at the centre.
As you know, The Elders have been meeting here in Johannesburg over the past two days and they have agreed a statement. I would like to share it with you:
In the wake of a Zimbabwean election that African observers deemed to be neither free nor fair, the people of Zimbabwe are living in an atmosphere of continued political violence, their economy is in a freefall, and uncertainty is a central feature of their daily lives.
This crisis of governance must not be allowed to continue, for human lives and livelihoods are at stake. We all have an interest in and all share a responsibility for its resolution.
The Elders therefore call for a speedy and robust mediation to resolve the political crisis, create a democratic and effective government and start a process of reconciliation and healing.
That mediation effort should have but one master: the Zimbabwean people. And they in turn should know that they have the support of the international community. They do not stand alone.
Progress requires certain conditions to which all parities must agree and upon which responsible parties must act;
- The political violence must stop.
- Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai must be able to enter into a dialogue on an equal footing, as two leaders.
- Political prisoners must be released.
- The duly elected Parliament must be convened.
- Humanitarian agencies must be allowed to resume their work of assisting the people.
- And the current interim Zimbabwean government must meet its responsibility to protect its citizens.
The Zimbabwean people deserve security, true democracy and a process of reconciliation upon which lasting peace can be built. Set aside the political ambitions of a few, and work to achieve the aspirations of the Zimbabwean people.
Let Zimbabwe return to its greatness and its rightful place in the international community.
It is with gratitude that I accept this degree, and I thank you very much.