Beyond protest fires: UJ Chancellor Prof Njabulo Ndebele examines student actions, colonisation and SA’s future

“They are burning memory!” This is how University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Chancellor Prof Njabulo Ndebele opened his highly anticipated 10th Annual Helen Joseph memorial lecture, hosted by the University’s Faculty of Humanities, and the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA), on Wednesday, 14 September 2016.

What followed after Prof Ndebele’s self-confessed ‘first unmediated reaction’ to the television coverage of the burning of the pictures and portraits of some of historical figures and other commemorative objects by protesting students at the University of Cape Town earlier this year, was a moving speech insightful and challenging to the current state of the nation.

“Since the bonfire of artworks at UCT, fire as a weapon of protest has spread throughout the higher education system, and rekindled beyond,” said Prof Ndebele.

“And so, when the portraits of the “colonials” have been burnt, the timeless questions remain: what is the future of the townships? What is the link between that future and schools and universities? What is the link between Sandton and Alexandra?

“When will the fires be tamed, and what will it take to tame them, so that new art work can be forged; to created new industries and forge inventions to meet the needs of a people in intimate dialogue with their new world?

“What will it take to tame fire, and to remember that fire can be a companion to invention; and that for fire to play its companion role, requires of those who use it a lot more thought, a lot more rigour in the thinking, a lot more thoughtful detail in the doing, a lot more investment in time and focus to understand the rich complexity of people living in the social realm, meeting head-on the challenge of thought and imagination stretching across time into the centuries ahead, South Africa emerging as a successful democracy?

“These are questions I leave you with,” concluded Prof Ndebele.

Read the full speech here

About the Helen Joseph Lecture

The focus of the lecture is to honour Helen Joseph as an iconic figure who played a significant role in the struggle for freedom in South Africa.

For 40 years Joseph dedicated herself to opposing Apartheid. She was unceasingly committed to the service of others. Helen was an inspirational symbol of defiance, integrity and courage.

The lecture is hosted by the UJ Vice-Chancellor, in collaboration with the Faculty of Humanities and the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at UJ.

Past speakers include Advocate Vusi Pikoli (2015); Political Science Professor at Wits University, Shireen Hassim (2014); CSDA Director and Professor of Social Development Studies (UJ), Leila Patel (2013); South African advocate and the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela (2012); Shahra Razavi (2010).

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