Prof Jane Knight champions ‘knowledge diplomacy’ at Eric Molobi Memorial Lecture

​”In today’s more complex and interdependent world there are new rationales, opportunities, benefits and risks attached to the role and contribution of higher education, research and innovation to international relations. In addition, there are pressing global challenges such as climate change, food and water security, refugees, epidemics which know no borders. A multi-lateral and multidisciplinary approach is critical.”

This was the sentiment of Prof Jane Knight of Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies. Prof Knight delivered a keynote address on Wednesday, 13 November 2019, at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) 4th Annual Eric Molobi Memorial Lecture.

The title of the address was “The role of Higher Education in International Relations: Soft Power versus Knowledge Diplomacy.”

Eric Molobi combined the rare qualities of academic prowess, business acumen and political fortitude to make an exceptional contribution to the eradication of apartheid, the empowerment of disadvantaged communities and the encouragement of black children to cherish education as an instrument of liberation.

Prof Knight deliberated on the knowledge diplomacy framework and juxtaposes it to using a soft power approach to address global challenges. “We have a great deal to contribute but it is through knowledge diplomacy and/or through soft power? These approaches are based on different values and strategies. How can the higher education sector, through our primary roles of teaching/learning, research, application of knowledge, innovation and service to society collaborate with other sectors/disciplines to address global issues and strengthen relations between and among countries? This is the question to be explored.”

“Knowledge is a cornerstone of today’s interconnected world. The evolution from the new information and communication technologies of cyberspace, to the big data of info space, to the knowledge processing of know space brings new opportunities and complexities to international higher education,” she said. However, there is no denying that knowledge can also lead to power imbalances within and among countries. This reality is exacerbated when higher education and knowledge are seen as tools of soft power. International higher education has the opportunity of moving beyond its preoccupation, with the knowledge economy, and takes a proactive role to ensure that knowledge is effectively used to address worldwide challenges and inequalities, by recognizing the mutuality of interests and benefits.”

The Memorial Lecture was attended by MEC of Gauteng Education, Mr Panyaza Lesufi, the Molobi Family, Kagiso Trust EXCO, the Sisulu family, Liberation Poet Prof Mongane Wally Serote, students, members of staff and Executive Leadership Group (ELG), members of the business community, NGOs, government stakeholders, and the general public.

During the event, the opening remarks were delivered by UJ’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, pointing out that we honour Eric Molobi because of the instrumental role he played in shaping the educational policy in post-apartheid era. “Education is important and is the militancy we need to adopt.”

Prof Marwala added that UJ’s achievements in the global rankings affirmed the institution’s endeavours to reposition itself for the fourth industrial revolution by preparing staff and students as a skilled workforce for the jobs of the future. “”These achievements demonstrate that the university is well on track in terms of establishing its global reputation as a place of research and academic repute and this is the legacy that Eric Molobi would have been proud off, as he played a role in social responsibility.” he said.

“As we head to the next phase, our institution will continue to be an embodiment of Eric Molobi,” concluded Prof Marwala.

Eric was instrumental in the formation of the United Democratic Front in 1983 and he later became the national coordinator of the National Education Crisis Committee (NECC), an alliance of high school and university student, youth and labour movements, which had been created as a response to the crisis in black schools. The NECC steered the development of education policy for a post-apartheid future.

Following the unbanning of the ANC and other liberation movements in 1990, and the subsequent release of Nelson Mandela, Eric became a member of the National Reception Committee to welcome Nelson Mandela. In 1990, he joined the Kagiso Charitable Trust (Kagiso Trust) as chief executive, where he was responsible for raising funds from foreign development aid agencies to channel into educational and community development projects in South Africa.

In 1994, he initiated the establishment of Kagiso Trust Investments (KTI) as an investment vehicle to support the work of the Trust. This model of financing development initiatives generated by a portion of the proceeds derived from KTI was a novel way of financing social investment. His work with KTI earned much respect in the business community as increasingly his advice was sought. He served on many company boards and held directorships in a number of leading South African companies.

Eric was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law by the University of the Witwatersrand in 2003 and an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Johannesburg in 2007 for his contribution to community development, education and social responsibility in business and holds an Honorary Professorship in the College of Business and Economics at UJ. He serviced on the Council of the University of Stellenbosch. He was the recipient of numerous other prestigious international awards. On 4 June 2006 Eric Molobi passed away at the Donald Gordon Medical Institute in Johannesburg after a short illness.

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