JUDGE Lex Mpati, president of the Supreme Court of Appeal, returned to his alma mater Rhodes University yesterday to be installed as the new chancellor.
Mpati said in his address he was humbled and honoured to be elected to the position.
“My family and I wish to thank the law faculty for nominating me, the university council, senate, Institutional Forum and the entire university community for the confidence they have shown by entrusting me with this very important role for the next seven years,” he said.
“I must confess my first question, to myself, was: ‘Is this not going to interfere with my rugby duties?’ After I had comforted myself that it probably would not, I cast my mind back to the time that I was a student at Rhodes,” he said
Mpati paid tribute to his predecessor, the late Professor Jakes Gerwel, whom he first met in the 1980s while he was assistant secretary of the then South African Rugby Union. Gerwel was then rector of the University of Western Cape.
Born in Durban in 1949, Mpati later moved to a farm in Fort Beaufort.
Reflecting on his tuition, Mpati said Rhodes University, when he came to know about it in 1964, was a beacon of hope to the black community.
“Not only did it, together with the Teachers’ Training College that bounded it, employ a large number of township residents, which it still does, but stories went around in the townships of student versus confrontation with the police for whatever reason. Some of these stories might not have been true, but we loved to hear them,” he said.
“And whether or not the students were said to be in the wrong was, to us, of no consequence. Their standing up against the police, a symbol of the oppressor, gave us a sense of satisfaction. It was as if they were doing it for us, the oppressed.”
He said the university must become a primary tool for Africa’s development in the new century.