Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a rally in Cape Town commemorating the 28th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and his centenary in this file photo. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a rally in Cape Town commemorating the 28th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and his centenary in this file photo. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

The University of Pretoria (UP) is committed to educating students to be socially responsible, active citizens and leaders working for positive change.

We believe that a university education needs to focus on knowledge as a catalyst for social, environmental and economic innovation and change to benefit society as a whole. Several universities in SA stand out for this reason.

Covid-19 has intensified this challenge. The pandemic should enable us all to imagine a better world, and to begin to take steps to change all that we see and what people experience that undermines our humanity. We are all faced with highly unusual circumstances, but our humanity is not lost.

Covid-19 gives us an opportunity to disrupt the world as we know it by finding innovative ways to address poverty, unemployment and inequality, and strive for social justice.

This is why almost 30,000 UP students are directly involved in community projects and work as part of their curriculum annually. And more than 126 student organisations are involved in voluntary social responsibility projects. We want to instil the desire to use knowledge to better society.

Covid-19 gives us an opportunity to disrupt the world as we know it

As we reflect on Mandela Day this year in the era of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are again called to act in the true spirit of ubuntu and caring for humanity. Mandela Day is a global call to action celebrating the idea that everyone has the power to transform the world, and the ability to make an impact.

Recently, South Africans rallied to donate to funds and organisations which aim to help society’s less fortunate. At the beginning of level 5 of the Covid-19 lockdown, attention turned to the wellbeing of homeless people. They, people who are dependent on grants and others who live hand to mouth are worse off than they have ever been. The assistance South Africans have offered is testimony to our growth as a society from a narrow focus of attention only on ourselves as individuals to thinking of and caring about the most vulnerable among us.

Smoothing the move to online

In the education environment, assistance has also been forthcoming. Many people, businesses and organisations have contributed time and resources to ensure that students transition to online learning in the best way possible.

It is gratifying that the university is able to serve students, even during this time. This is especially true this year when the usual projects have to be cancelled because of social distancing regulations.

Covid-19 has been frightening, particularly the pace at which it has changed our lives and how we work, altered families and social circles, shut down businesses and economies, and even displaced people across the world as countries closed their borders. However, the one positive thing Covid-19 has done is to make us acutely aware of our innate humanity and the need to care for each other.

The adage of making every day a Mandela Day has never been more true than in these unprecedented times. It has forced us all to think of the next person, and more globally of society as a whole. Covid-19 has shown us all that we are because of the care of others, and that all our lives and actions are interlinked.

Many of us can use this time to reflect on our privilege and use our resources and empathy to inspire change which will allow others to also survive these hard times.

On this day, we must remember the values and ethos former president Nelson Mandela stood for. We must collaboratively fight poverty, promote peace and drive education.

Thank you to everyone who is playing a role and has contributed to taking care of others during this uncertain time (particularly the future of students) and to those who are doing something to make a difference today that will have future benefits.

  • Kupe is vice-chancellor & principal of the University of Pretoria

 

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