OPINION | To our students: #South AfriCAN

A part of Stellenbosch University campus.
A part of Stellenbosch University campus.
Getty Images

This is the fourth letter of encouragement to students by Lizette Rabe, professor at Stellenbosch University (SU) and academic principal of the postgraduate cluster consisting of residences and private student accommodation called Senior Living Spaces (SLS) at SU since lockdown. It is hoped that it will also inspire students all over our country.


Dear Students

The first semester is about to end - a semester that started out as a dream at the beginning of this year, now feeling like eons ago, when everything we now long for was not even appreciated.

I hope you are satisfied with your academic progress, despite all the challenges of a real campus that flip-flopped overnight into a virtual campus.

I sincerely wish that you are looking forward to the next chapter in this so challenging 2020, despite us mourning the loss of ordinary life, only now realising how to appreciate those small and simple things: Walking along tree-lined Victoria Street, lazing in the sun on the Rooi Plein, chatting about class, planning another super Klein Saterdag-jol (that so-needed Wednesday evening out).

We have just celebrated Youth Day, the event in 1976 that led to 16 June being declared a day to be commemorated. The day that was a tipping point, an unstoppable surge towards creating a new society in which every individual is equal, and justice for all would mean exactly that.

You, with your boundless youthful energy and enthusiasm, now have to take your inspiration from those 1976-ers and transform our society; not only building an equal and just post-Covid-19 society, but also one in which neither gender-based violence (GBV) nor child abuse is tolerated.

In his Youth Day message President Cyril Ramaphosa said the pandemic "presents an opportunity to 'reset' a world that is characterised by crass materialism, selfishness and self-absorption, not just on the part of individuals but whole societies".

His discussions during Youth Month, he said, emphasised the fact that we should never underestimate the power of an idea, because ideas can and have changed the world. It is ideas that will help us to "chart a new path".

It is not only the fall-out of the coronavirus that must be overcome with new ideas in order to chart a new path. It is also the virus of violence in our communities. A new post-virus and post-violence society needs to be built.

How?

Answer: "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."

These were the words of the legendary Arthur Ashe (1943-1993), the first black American professional tennis player to win three Grand Slam titles (Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon), also the first black American to play in their Davis Cup team.

A pioneer, in every respect. His words resonate even more today with #BLM, with #MeToo, and with the scourge of GBV.

And when to start? Right now. Because take courage and inspiration also from this quote: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."

These were the words of someone who died as a teenager, who could never realise her dreams.

She was Anne Frank, who died in the Holocaust, another heinous period in the history of homo sapiens.

Her diary, kept while hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, was found by her father, the only survivor of his family.

And here's another quote if you need more inspiration to be an agent of change, from pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978): "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Closer to home, reflect on these words by journalist Nat Nakasa who tragically died of suicide in New York in 1965 after being brutally issued with an "exit permit" on receiving the Nieman Fellowship to study at Columbia University: "There must be humans on the other side of the fence; it's only that we haven't learned how to talk."

On his death Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer wrote: "He did not calculate the population as sixteen million or four million, but as twenty. He belonged not between two worlds, but to both. And in him one could see the hope of one world. He has left that hope behind; there will be others to take it up … "

To you and your generation: Please take up that flame of hope. You can change the world. Individually, and collectively. We have just seen it with #BLM.

In our local, South African reality, we have to make the dreams of our rainbow nation a reality by fundamentally transforming and restructuring society.

Let's do it. #SouthAfriCAN. You can. We can.

And please take care of yourself.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not only a physical health threat, but also a huge mental health threat.

Therefore, "heads up" to the English FA who has renamed the FA Cup Final as the Heads Up FA Cup Final to raise awareness of mental health, particularly in light of the pandemic and its so severe threat to global mental health.

In the meantime, please stay safe, please follow all protocols, and please do not return to campus unless officially informed to do so - it is in the best interest of yourself, your loved ones, and all of us. We can, because #South AfriCAN.

Stay well, stay safe.

Lizette

Academic Principal: SLS Cluster

Prof Rabe is also founding director of the Ithemba Foundation (ithemba means hope; www.ithembafoundation.org.za), 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 right now, please contact the following help lines:

Lifeline: 0861 322 322

SADAG: 0800 567 567 or sms 31393

Mental Health Information Centre (MHIC): 021 938 9229 or email mhic@sun.ac.za

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