OPINION | To our students: A message of hope, all shall be well

Professor Rabe encourages students to try and get a virtual study buddy or study buddies during lockdown. (Getty Images)
Professor Rabe encourages students to try and get a virtual study buddy or study buddies during lockdown. (Getty Images)

Lizette Rabe, Stellenbosch University (SU) professor and academic principal of the postgraduate cluster consisting of residences and private student accommodation called Senior Living Spaces (SLS), sent the following two letters of hope to SU students. She hopes these words will resonate with all students.

Dear Students 

I am sure you have all heard by now, over and over again, and indeed experienced yourselves, how life will never be the same again. Planning our 2020 academic year, this scenario definitely was not part of our wildest dreams - or rather nightmares.  

It is a time of uncertainty, a time of which you will one day tell your children how the world changed under our feet when a completely new virus, never described before, wreaked havoc as it rolled like a deadly tsunami around the globe.  

In the Christian faith, Easter was observed a while ago. In the Northern Hemisphere it is springtime - a time of new beginnings, hence the origin of the word Easter, from Eostre, the goddess of spring, fertility, a new season, a new dawn, a new light - new beginnings. 

But irrespective of religion: I do hope that these uncertain times will, in fact, be a time of new beginnings.

I hope that you will be an agent of change in your environment: To change this experience of darkness and all the unknowns and uncertainties around how this pandemic impacts on every aspect of our lives. In fact, that you will change the darkness into a new light, a new dawn, new beginnings - and change the negative into a positive.  

How? The answer is simple, although the execution is complex and demands a lot: to hold on to hope. To always believe in the hope that tomorrow will be, and must be, better than today. 

I pass on two quotes to help you navigate the route of hope for the coming weeks and months: 

The first is from Michelle Obama, wife of former US president Barack Obama, although of course a person in her own right; if you haven’t read her autobiography yet, maybe now is the time.

Its title is Becoming, and since we are all “becoming” something different in this never foreseen time, I have no doubt that you will find it inspiring.

This is the quote I want you to hold on to: “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once, but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” 

So rather than allow this virus to be contagious, let courage be contagious in your environment, and allow hope to take a life of its own. 

And then, since we are a scholarly community, I thought Einstein would also add some sense in a time when one feels so insecure and so totally hopeless with all the uncertainties swirling around us: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”  

Hope for tomorrow. And as student, as member of our campus community, as member of your home community, as member of your community of family and friends: While always questioning everything – as we should, because as scholars and as human beings we need to find those answers – at the same time, do it in the light of that flame of hope. 

I therefore hope that despite the fact that you will not be on campus physically, you will still feel part of our campus community, our Cluster community and our community of learning. But most importantly: of always keeping hope alive. In our University’s motto: Forward together – and we can only do so whilst holding on to that one magic element without which life cannot be lived: hope/hoop/ithemba. 

Wishing you health and happiness, and above all, hope.


Academic Principal: SLS Cluster

Rather than allow this virus to be contagious, let courage be contagious in your environment, says Prof Rabe. (Getty Images)

Dear students 

It is more than four weeks since official lockdown, the second term has officially begun, and from May, we’ll be able to cycle, jog, or walk.

But in the meantime, hang in there, all shall be well. 

For those of you who have not yet done so, please get yourself a study buddy, or even better, study buddies.

Hang out virtually.

There’s nothing like someone else at the other end of a WhatsApp, Skype or other social media platform with whom you can share thoughts on motivation and inspiration, and importantly, share a good virtual coffee ... while moaning about your lecturer not appreciating your insights in the last essay/assignment/thesis chapter/whatever; giving you such undeserved bad feedback ...

So please, start your study buddy community right away.  

For some of our community members the holy month of Ramadan has just begun.

Also this year’s will be unlike any before.

No sharing with the bigger family or community members, just those of you together under one roof.

And yes, the rest of us will also miss out. (Ag, Nappie, daai lekker soetgoedjies, en ag, Aisha, ons mis die Kaap se beste breyani ...)

But, as always, we must make the best of bad circumstances, and we wish you and your loved ones a blessed Ramadan. 

They say the Danes are the happiest nation in the world.

It’s official for already more than 40 years since they started with the Happiness Index.

One reason given is that they turn things around - reinterpret bad things.

In Danish the word apparently is genfortolkning.

And no, don’t ask me for the pronunciation.

But instead of being miserable about something, they would reinterpret it and say at least it is not as bad as it could have been, and this and that, at least, was good about it.  

So let’s reinterpret this unforeseen time.

Our president this week referred to how we should use the rebuilding of our post Covid-19 economy and country as an opportunity to ensure equality and justice for all in an inspiring speech that was compared with US President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” speech way, way back.  

Yes, this is the art of reinterpretation on steroids.  

But why not?

This is our opportunity to build a new South Africa.

Because, indeed, what we experience is not just the double whammy of an economy on the brink of collapse plus the catastrophe of a virus.

South Africa, our so beloved land, is experiencing a quadruple whammy: three hundred years of colonialism, 50 years of apartheid, almost a decade of Zupta-cracy, and now the virus: all crashing in on one another.  

But: we should use the post Covid-19 era to reconstruct our society from the ground-up, erase the historical inequalities and institutional poverty, and ensure justice and opportunities for all.

And you, our students, will be our next generation of leaders to do just that.

We trust in you, we believe in you, and we are there to support you.  

A medieval mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich, living in the 14th century, said: "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all ... "

So for us in the 21st century, having to cope with the fall-out of a never-foreseen catastrophe, let’s do that Danish thing.

Let’s say: all shall be well, because we’re South African, and South AfriCAN.

And for the non-South-Africans in our student communities, of course, we are honoured to invite you to South AfriCAN with us. 

Please take care, please observe all the lock down rules, also when we move into Stage 4, enjoy your studies, ensure your second term goes according to plan and schedule, get your study buddy, share a good (virtual) cup of coffee, and always remember: South AfriCAN. Stay well, stay safe, stay happy, stay healthy. 


Academic Principal: SLS Cluster 

- Professor Rabe is also founding director of the Ithemba Foundation (www.ithembafoundation.org.za), ithemba meaning hope, a non-profit organisation with two public health goals: to raise awareness of depression and related diseases as clinical, biological diseases, and to support research.

If you feel overwhelmed by the current situation, please do not hesitate to contact these help lines: Lifeline: 0861 322 322 SADAG helpline: 0800 567 567 or sms 31393 Mental Health Information Centre (MHIC): 021 938 9229 or email mhic@sun.ac.za   

A student studying by candle light during load shedding. (Gallo Images, Luba Lesolle)
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