The University of Johannesburg (UJ) hosted an engaging and collaborative colloquium in honour of Ambassador Andrew Jackson Young Jr, who visited the institution on Wednesday, 20 March 2019 at the Chinua Achebe Auditorium, Auckland Park, Kingsway Campus Library.
The colloquium served as a precursor to the honorary doctoral degree that the university bestowed on Ambassador Young in recognition of his selfless and tireless activism. Panellists paid homage to Ambassador Young for his contribution in galvanising American support in the fight against apartheid.
The two-part panel discussion saw local and international panellists exploring the opportunities and challenges facing South Africa (25 years after apartheid). Factors impacting South Africa’s progress i.e., education, youth employment, health care, economic growth, information and communications infrastructure, and land reform were also dissected.
Prominent panellists alongside Ambassador Young included; Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala (Vice-Chancellor and Principal, UJ); Prof Barney Pityana (former Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Africa); Prof Mcebisi Ndletyana (Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, UJ); and President Wayne A.I. Frederick (Howard University, Washington, D.C. USA).
Clear from the discussions were the striking parallels between the South African and United States experience. In the US today, poverty and inequality are at levels higher than the pre-civil rights era. High poverty levels, lack of skills and drop out rates as within the South Africa context remain a significant challenge.Ambassador Young argued that in SA as it is in the US and the world at large, there is a need to address the issue of poverty as a priority.
”In our civil rights movement as Martin Luther King Jr. said, there were three evils- racism; war; and poverty. We did very well addressing civil rights but we have not got to the point of dealing with poverty. I look forward with hope in South Africa. Freedom is a constant struggle. It doesn’t happen overnight. Peace for the wealthy is security. Peace for the poor is bread,” said Ambassador Young.
UJ’s Vice-Chancellor Prof Marwala expanded on Ambassador Young’s notion of creating a culture capable of addressing existing societal ills.
”As UJ, we are one of the largest contributors to knowledge production on this continent but we believe that knowledge not used for the benefit of society is no knowledge at all. The ideas that we generate must not just be for knowledge sake. It must have some utilitarian value that will improve the lives of our people,” he said.
”It is important for us to take stock of what has happened in the past so that we do not repeat the same mistakes. We need to put these great ideas together and move from the abstract to implementation,” added Prof Marwala.
Beyond an ecosystem of innovation and investment, there is a need for greater insight. Looking at some of the factors that could move us forward and beyond the next 25 years, Prof Mcebisi Ndletyana offered the view that it is necessary for South Africans to find their collective identity.
”Development and progress should not be the sole responsibility of the public sector. The private sector needs to come to the party to participate, to contribute, to invest in this country and to secure its future,” he added.
Both President Frederick and Prof Pityana argued for both nations not to lose sight of their moral compass and to rediscover that which lifted us up from segregation.
Ambassador Young is the first recipient of an honorary doctorate conferred by the University during this year’s Autumn graduation season, which started on Thursday, 14 March. The honorary doctorate represents South Africa’s gesture of gratitude to all African Americans who helped to destroy apartheid and rekindle their long overdue collaboration with the African American community.
Watch the full Colloquium here: