Leaders such as Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert achieved a lot, but there are still many burning issues in our society that need to be addressed and the youth has a very important role to play in this.
This is the view of Jan Greyling, Chairperson of the Student Representative Council at Stellenbosch University (SU). He took part in a panel discussion (audio file) at the launch symposium of SU’s new Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert (FVZS) Institute for Student Leadership Development on Tuesday (29 March 2011).
“I am really concerned about the youth and the future. Our work is not done yet. There is much to be done to solve problems such as poverty and inequality,” Greyling said.
“Do we know where these problems come from? Do we really hold our leaders to account? What are we going to do to find solutions? These are the kinds of questions we need to ask. This is why I am so excited about the Institute, because it will make a difference.”
Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said the decision to name the new Institute for Student Leadership Development after the University’s former Chancellor, who died on 14 May 2010, was taken because he was an excellent role model.
“We pay homage to a great South African leader and son of this university in the best possible way – by strengthening the ability of today’s youth to tackle the problems of our time, head on. It is you who must take us into the future,” he said, specifically addressing students in the audience.
Mr Jan-Jan Joubert, political editor of Rapport and a former Matie, said he agreed with the descriptions of Dr Slabbert as a “born leader”.
Dr Slabbert, who studied and lectured at SU, “became the head student of Wilgenhof residence at the end of his second year, but was not elected to serve on the SRC because back in the day he was regarded as ‘too liberal’,” said Ms Prem Coopoo, Dean of Students at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Dr Slabbert would later become leader of the opposition – the then Progressive Federal Party (forerunner to the Democratic Alliance), but left parliament in 1986 because he “decided he could no longer lend respectability to a debased and unrepresentative institution,” Dr Alex Boraine, his former colleague, said.
The Constitution of 1983 extended political rights to white, Coloured and Indian South Africans, but still excluded African black people. Dr Slabbert and Dr Boraine formed Idasa (at the time the Institute for a Democratic Alternative, today known as the Institute for Democracy) and in 1987 arranged breakthrough talks in Dakar, Senegal between the then banned African National Congress (ANC) in exile and a group of mainly Afrikaans-speaking politicians, academics, business leaders and students.
Mr Simphiwe Sesanti, Journalism lecturer at SU, gave a gripping speech in the form of a “Letter to Van Zyl”.
“You were called a ‘kafferboetie’, a term reserved for whites perceived as treacherous against their own. But you, Frederik, really sought to understand your black compatriots,” Sesanti said.
“How I wish many young Afrikaners can read your [book], Tough Choices, so that they will deeply reflect. I come across many who are either embarrassed about talking about the past or show outright hostility and impatience since they feel implicated by association with their forebears’ cruel deeds. Your approach was different. You wanted these to be dealt with for the good of everyone. You understood that turning faces away was no solution.”
Dr Slabbert was inaugurated as the Chancellor of SU in 2008, but due to health reasons had to resign from this post a year later.
“I realise I have big shoes to fill. A leader must represent his followers and not place his own needs first. Dr Slabbert was such a leader,” said Reggie Barry, current head student of Wilgenhof, about one of his predecessors.
“One of the challenges we face today is to overcome the mediocrity and apathy that seem to have engulfed our fellow students. We must break down the idea that one comes to university only to get a degree in as short a time as possible and then get a job,” said Ms Lovelyn Nwadeyi, a student assistant at the FVZS Institute.
“There are many opportunities for leadership on many levels. And you can get involved in community projects and do your bit for society.”
The FVZS Institute for Student Leadership Development at Stellenbosch University is the first of its kind within higher education in South Africa and offers programmes to develop and strengthen the leadership, as well as personal and graduate attributes of students. The objective of the programmes is to foster ethical leadership and an understanding of students’ role as leaders in an African and global context; and to develop leadership, communication, conceptual and decision-making skills.
There are almost 2000 students in positions of leadership at SU – on the Student Representative Council, in residences, societies, sports teams, faculty committees and other structures. Various existing programmes are already equipping students with important skills. The FVZS Institute will take this even further. About 700 students and learners have already participated in the initial activities of the Institute this year.
On offer are advanced courses in mentoring, exchange programmes aimed at developing the ability to see the world through each other’s eyes, short courses in community engagement, a school leaders symposium, training students as agents for social change, a combined tennis and life skills programme, a course to develop student entrepreneurs and a course for student leaders to develop generic leadership skills through dialogue.
According to Dr Leslie van Rooi, head of the FVZS Institute, with the establishing of the FVZS Institute a new dawn is breaking for the University. “It allows us to build on the legacy of a truly critical thinker and to offer students the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a visionary leader.”
Speeches, videos and audio files:
Further information on the FVZS Institute: