Adam Habib - The Great Passionate Leader I Know!

2012-12-08 06:45

I worked with Adam Habib at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). He was the Executive Director of the Democracy and Governance Programme at the 12th floor and I was working as Chief Researcher responsible for knowledge management at the 10th floor. As the Executive Director he was part of the management team of the HSRC. The Chairperson of the HSRC Board then was Professor Jakes Gerwel who has just past on.

I am honored not to call Adam Habib not just a great former colleague but a deep heartfelt philosopher, academic, activist, author, actor, critic. At the most Adam Habib has struct me as a person  that is at once challenging and deeply healing.

I remember when I was rappoteuring  at the 5th Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity and we have to call him for a quick quick presentation. But there was no train smash he delivered a very passionate speech as usual.

And I am greatly thrilled that now he has been effectively appointed as Vice Chancellor and Principal of University of the Witwatersrand. A great challenge and honor for the man. He will guide the university forward. He had studied and researched the concept of democracy, transformation,  innovation, advancement at a deeper level. He is a man of understanding and does not keep grudges. He is open and engaging and has no condescending character to those who are struggling.

I know him to the fact that everything that he does is a testament of the power of bringing traditions and cultures together: bringing people together in a real honest dialogue working for solutions to tough problems.

But there are surmounting challenges and difficulties in the higher education sector in particular universities. He has to grid lock himself in the daily administration of the university focusing the university as a national resource for nation building.

The key thing is to make sure that people get a job when they get out of university. And what’s happening now currently is that conditions are very hard for people graduating from universities. With more than half of students graduated this year without a job that is just unacceptable. What you are seeing in this country is millions of people struggling to find a job, and a lot of them, have been out of work for a very long time. So that is the critical challenge.

But that should not cancel the fact that parents and students making investment in higher education is critical, not just to the parents and the student but to the entire nation.

In the book titled Engines of Innovation that was published in 2008 the authors Holden Thorp and Buck Goldstein make a pressing case for the pivotal role of research universities becoming agents of social change, becoming partners with communities.

Professors and lecturers should shed the image of ivory tower and embrace practical daily concerns of students. Being an ivory tower has always been the character of university where a university situated in a particular community has no concerns and linkages with that community but rather is floating above the daily community challenges and problems.

That ivory tower character has always been the pride of Wits University, floating above South Africa and its problems. The time is here that, that image should be effectively destroyed and start acknowledging the suffering and poverty across the country.

My initial suggestions to Professor Adam Habid is that he would need to reach out more and more to students and black academics and sell his "democratic" and "cosmopolitan" vision. However his conversations with students and the academics should not be anchored on his personal fame, popularity and the respect they have of his integrity. That will be detrimental because those things are going to quickly fade and evaporate as he is more and more involved in the gridlock of daily administration of the university, chairing meetings and sometimes taking tough unpopular positions.

His conversations and engagements with students and the academics (in particular the black academics who still needs to be asserted and assured of their belonging and who have suffered one type of discrimination or the other) should revolve around big  themes; better conditions of service, transforming the university to be more inclusive and diverse community, exploiting diversity for the success and advancement of the university and anchoring the university within the broad South African society.

The professor should work the media real hard in marketing the case of universities as engines of innovation; his years of media exposure and experience should now come good for him.

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