Honourable Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaysia,
Honourable Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Swaziland,
Honourable Ministers and Honourable Premier
Honourable Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, founder of the Lim Kok Wing University and the distinguished academic community of this university and students,
Honourable Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
It is a privilege and an honour for me to be with you here today to humbly receive the Honorary Doctorate of Leadership from Lim Kok Wing University of Creative Technology. This is an honour that I accept not only on my own behalf, but also on behalf of the people of South Africa.
Let me express my profound gratitude to the founder and President of Lim Kok Wing University of Creative Technology, Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, for his commitment to education globally, and in particular, the commitment to the development and empowerment of African students through the establishment of campuses in several African countries.
Through the establishment of campuses on the African continent, this prestigious university and institution of higher learning has become part and parcel of a bigger project on the African continent of strengthening its human capacity and skills base so that we may realize the true potential of our Continent, which today is emerging as one of the fastest poles of global growth.
Professor Emeritus, Dr Lim Kok Wing, has over the years been a mentor and educationalist extraordinary by imparting not only creative skills but also uplifting words to his students from over 90 countries.
As he noted the following:
“Life is about choice. We can choose to just complete a job or set out to do our best. It is better to attempt our best because then we test our limits. In doing this, we learn new things about ourselves and very often the work we produce will turn out to be outstanding.”
Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing has a long friendship with South Africa and its people, particularly his association and role in the struggle against apartheid. He steadfastly supported the cause for freedom and justice in South Africa.
He was introduced to the African National Congress by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed and he contributed significantly to the formulation of the effective public relations strategy of the African National Congress during the historic democratic elections in South Africa in 1994.
In 2014, we shall celebrate 20 years of our freedom from apartheid rule. We shall do so cognisant of the sterling role that the people of Malaysia in general and their leaders in particular, played in our struggle for freedom and justice.
This prestigious university also conferred the Honorary Doctorate of Humanity on former President Nelson Mandela in 2007, in recognition of his efforts and role in bringing about a free and democratic South Africa through peaceful means.
While I am proud today to be formally associated with this prestigious institution, I sense that this pride goes beyond just the accolade conferred upon me today. It finds resonance in the warm relations that exist between the governments and peoples of South Africa and Malaysia.
Since Malaysia’s independence from colonial rule in 1957, Malaysia’s involvement in promoting greater cooperation and solidarity among newly independent countries of Asia and Africa has been a prominent feature of this country’s modern political history.
Indeed, one of the leading advocates for the developing world, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed had consistently championed the cause of the countries of the South and was their voice and conscience on the global stage.
Today, Malaysia’s commitment to the developing South continues in various spheres which also include capacity building in education, recognizing education as one of the most important instruments of emancipation and self-sufficiency.
This importance of education was eloquently articulated by former Prime Minister Mahathir at the official opening of the multimedia university in Cyberjaya:
“Malaysia’s continued emphasis on education is based on our belief that the greatest long term challenge or competitiveness may not lie in the current financial regulations or exchange rate management. It may lie in our ability to develop social software such as quality of education and enhancement of science and technology. We need to harness the full power of technology and intellectual capital in order to have sustained growth.
“To achieve this, we must radically change our educational outlook.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
Former President Nelson Mandela also recognized education as a key element in the development of the individual and the country.
As he stated: “The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation building and reconciliation. Our previous system emphasized the physical and other differences of South Africa with devastating effects. We are steadily but surely introducing education that enables our children to exploit their similarities and common goals while appreciating the strength in their diversity”.
Malaysia has done very well through investment in the development of its people through education. Malaysia is well on the path of becoming a developed country within the time frame it has set for itself, and you have recognized quality and inclusive education as a crucial contributor to achieve this remarkable goal.
South Africa has much to learn from Malaysia in this regard. Educational reform has been a priority in South Africa since the advent of our democracy.
The fragmented and racially duplicated educational system of the apartheid era have been replaced by a single national system in which all South Africans have the right to basic education, including adult further learning to ensure that quality education is available and accessible to all.
Government’s commitment to education is witnessed by the fact that education is allocated 20% of total state expenditure, receiving the largest share of government spending. Improving access to education is a key priority. We introduced “no fee” schools, which are institutions that receive all their required funding from the state and so do not have to charge school fees.
These schools are in the country’s most poverty stricken areas. This we are doing to ensure that the ability to pay does not become a barrier to education. More than 8 million children from poor households also receive free meals at school, so that hunger does not become a barrier to a child’s performance at school.
We have also decided to invest in education at the lowest levels. Thus our early childhood development centres and pre-school classes are growing each year. Our reception class, Grade R which is mainly five year olds, has grown from around 300 000 only three years ago to about 800 000 now. Indeed the doors of learning are being opened to prepare for South Africa’s future prosperity.
More importantly, we pride ourselves on having achieved the UN Millennium Development Goal of universal access to education even before 2015. We now stand at 99 percent enrolment in primary and secondary schools. We are also excited that our youth is hungry for education and the demand grows each year.
In the last decade we have witnessed growth of over 50% in the number of enrolments in higher education institutions. Numbers increased from six hundred and three thousand (603 000) students in 2001 to nine hundred and thirty five thousand (935 000) in 2012.
So high is the demand for education in our country that we are beginning the construction of two brand new universities in Mpumalanga and Northern Cape provinces in our country this year.
We are also building 12 new Further Education and Training Colleges and refurbishing others. South Africa is thus a nation at work to ensure an educated youth and a highly skilled population. We are pleased that Malaysia is so keen to partner us in this regard.
Education and skills development are receiving the attention not only of government but is also supported by the private sector. The South African government signed the National Skills Accord with business and labour to increase and grow the skills-base of our economy.
In emphasising education in the way we do, we are walking in the footsteps of Former President Mandela. He has always believed that education is an important and powerful tool that can be used to make the world a better place.
In his own words he said: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”
Thus, learning from President Mandela, we will continue to work with like-minded nations like Malaysia, to ensure that education is utilised as the weapon that provides solutions to eliminate poverty and inequality, to create decent jobs for our people and to contribute to a sustainable planet, and to nurture peace, security and development.
Excellencies, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
It is worth noting that Lim Kok Wing University places an important focus on creative technology. Today we face a world that is dramatically more complex and creativity has become an important leadership quality.
We live in the age of creativity. Old paradigms no longer hold weight and the complex problems of today’s globalized and fast evolving world necessitate leaders to have the ability to lead with vision and creativity. We congratulate this university’s role in empowering young future leaders here and around the world through your programmes.
Let me reiterate that I consider the conferment of the Honorary Doctorate upon me today not only as a personal honour, but as recognition and appreciation of the deepening and friendly relations between the peoples of our two countries.
More specifically, I take it as recognition and appreciation of the successes achieved by the people of South Africa, led by the oldest liberation movement in the continent of Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) and its foresighted and esteemed leaders over the past 100 years.
Let me once again thank the Honourable Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing and the Lim Kok Wing University of Creative Technology, the Faculty and distinguished staff members as well as the entire Student body, for honouring me with the Doctorate of Leadership degree, which I accept with great humility.
May the bonds of friendship and solidarity that so happily exist between the people of South Africa and the people of Malaysia continue to grow in strength in our common quest to achieve a better life for all in a more just, equitable and peaceful world.