M L Sultan inspired that education was the key to freedom

2015-07-26 06:25

Education is about empowerment. It's about enhancing and fortifying a nation's granary with skills and expertise. This requires will and commitment to invest and bank in the future.

Just imagine if the Verwoerdian logic of 'Bantu Education" and separate development took roots in South Africa.

So was it during the colonial and apartheid era of our history.

History judges people through the contributions they make to transform the world into a better place especially against political blockades that often are erected.

We know so much about Luthuli, Gandhi, Tambo, Sisulu, Yusuf Dadoo, Alan Paton  et al.

History somehow inadvertently shrouds those who stayed out of political activism and who, rather quietly, went about their way far from the spotlight to make a difference to coming generations.

Recall that in 1948 the Nationalist Party under DF Malan wrested political control of SA from the United Party under Jan Smuts and fine tuned the colonial legacy of whites controlling levers of power to become known as apartheid.

In the jaws of that dominant narrative we find visionaries such as ML Sultan who refused to be treated as inferior citizens and decided to do something about the future.

He recognised that skills and expertise through education were imperatives of freedom. He went about quietly but principally making an effort to expose the racist logic of  Verwoerd and the way he did this is his legacy.

This was what philanthropist, humanist and humanitarian Hajee Muluk-Mahomed Lappa Sultan, who was the founder of M.L. Sultan Technical College,now the flagship of the DUT, was all about. Of course, he was not alone in this enterprise for the likes of PR Pather feature in this unsung narrative.

Unschooled himself, ML Sultan must have looked around and witnessed the arrogance of colonialism the forerunner to apartheid and astutely knew then that the only road to freedom was though education. He must have seen that colonially imported Indians could be seriously hamstrung and confined to become serfs to the colonial masters and that he had to engage.

Hajee M.L Sultan, as he became known, founded the M.L. Sultan Technical College as it was initially know. In today’s monetary value, he donated the equivalent of R300 million for the founding of this institution.

This institution lies close to the epicentre of my beloved Casbah. It is like an acorn that is now a solid oak tree proudly proclaiming that nothing is impossible if you are willing to invest and bank in the future. He who dares, wins, as the cliche goes...

The college was officially opened in 1956 with an enrolment of 240 full-time and 4 760 part-time students. In 1979 it became known as M.L. Sultan Technikon, which now forms part of the Durban University of Technology and, in this writer's estimation is its historical torch bearer.

He arrived in South Africa at the age of 17 and despite humble beginnings, he persevered and became a successful and prominent business man. He took on several menial jobs, such as a being a railway porter at the Durban station and a waiter on tables at a well-known Johannesburg hotel.

Historical records show that M.L. Sultan gave all his wealth to establishing schools in KZN leaving hardly anything to his family but his legacy of selfless service.

Travel around the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and you will learn that he contributed to establishing schools and tertiary institutions in Pietermaritzburg, Merebank, Colenso, Ladysmith, Kranskop and Stanger.

We and future generations owe more than a honourable mention of the people of an era who would not baulk at the apparently insurmountable challenges that confronted them.

The rationale underpinning this blog piece is that quality and not quantity will define whether or not,now that SA is officially part of the BRICS economic constellation, SA and South Africans are willing to make sacrifices  and invest in the future as did ML Sultan.

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