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29/06/2018 09:12 SAST | Updated 29/06/2018 09:33 SAST

Max Du Preez: My Generation Has Failed The Children Of SA. Please Don’t Let Your Generation Do The Same.

'View Mohlomi and Moshoeshoe as role models, rather than Verwoerd or Trump or Zuma...'

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Max du Preez delivered this speech at the master's and PhD graduation ceremony at the UFS on Thursday.

Congratulations to all of you. This day is the culmination of years of perseverance and hard work, a day you and your family will always remember.

I honour you for your commitment, and I know for some of you this must have taken an extraordinary effort due to your circumstances. I was getting very depressed about the state of our nation, but seeing you today and listening to your achievements restored my faith and pride in my country.

You are now officially members of our society's intelligentsia. It is a Russian word and was first used in Poland and Russia in the mid-1800s to describe the educated and professionally active grouping in those societies.

Dictionaries define the word as "intellectuals who form an artistic, social, scientific or political vanguard".

You are in the vanguard of South Africa's quest to develop into a prosperous, caring country and a progressive, open society. You have an important role to play in the ongoing process to undo the wrongs and inequalities of our bitter history.

Being a member of a society's intelligentsia doesn't automatically turn you into a noble person. Hendrik Verwoerd was an intellectual with two PhDs, but he used his intelligence to perfect the evil system of apartheid.

Being in a position of power also doesn't make you a member of the intelligentsia – take the case of one Donald Trump, for instance, or close to home, former president Jacob Zuma who positively mistrusted intellectuals, even those in his own party.

The real values of a true intellectual are tolerance, open-mindedness and an unending and unconditional search for truth.

I hope you will all soon be personally prosperous because financial security gives one the freedom to choose and live a rich and rewarding life without worrying where tonight's meal will come from.

But I hope your personal financial stability will not blind you to the fact that most of our fellow citizens still live in poverty, many in extreme poverty. I hope you will realise that this is not government's problem, but your problem, all of our problem also.

Only someone with a heart of stone can be really happy and fulfilled when just around the corner a child is hungry or is not getting a proper education.

My generation has failed the children of South Africa. Please don't allow your generation to do the same.

The word intelligentsia may have been coined in Poland, but the concept is not alien to Africa or South Africa.

Life in these parts of the subcontinent, as was the case in much of the rest of the world, was rough in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Kings and chiefs had absolute power over their subjects and often used military power to show off their prowess.

In 1720 a boy was born in the Mohokare Valley, now called the Caledon Valley, who was to challenge this and singlehandedly create a new African intelligentsia right here in the Free State. His name was Mohlomi, the son of a Bakoena chief.

When he took over the chiefdom from his father, he started doing things differently. He disbanded his army and told his men to join the women in the fields to cultivate food and be better husbands and fathers.

Mohlomi's favourite pastime was to have long philosophical discussions with otherwise men of his region. Long after his death, people remembered that he often pondered questions such as: Where does the universe begin and where does it end? What is the essence of life, and how is life created?

He strongly argued that there had to be one Creator of all things and that souls were immortal. In some respects, his beliefs corresponded with oriental beliefs and the law of karma, despite the fact that he never once during his long life met anyone but fellow Africans.

Conscience, Mohlomi said, rather than pressure from society or norms dictated by others, was man's only guide and monitor of his behaviour. He called it man's inner guide. If you are kind and generous to others, especially the unfortunate and weak, fate will be your friend, he said.

Mohlomi lived during the same time as the famous Western philosophers Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. After researching Mohlomi's life for years, I can easily imagine the four of them sitting around a table arguing about Voltaire's statement that if God didn't exist, man would have had to invent him, or Rousseau's statement that man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains.

Many of the Mohlomi sayings have become a part of Basotho morality. 'It is better to thrash the corn than to shape the spear' was a proverb that was repeated long after his death. As was 'Peace is my Sister,' a sister being a person who was in a fragile position in society and to be looked after, protected and nurtured.

It was Mohlomi who started the custom, still alive to this day, that one should greet a stranger with an open, raised hand and the exclamation 'Khotso!' (peace). But possibly the most famous saying of all, now proclaimed by some Basotho historians as a call to democracy, was: 'A chief is a chief by the grace of his people.' (Title of book.)

Mohlomi was always curious for more information and travelled long distances across southern Africa to learn about the cultures and practices of different tribes and groups. He ended up speaking many languages.

And when, in his later years, he returned to his kraal near Hlohloane, or Clocolan, he started a leadership academy where he taught promising young men and aspirant chiefs.

One of his best students was a young man who we now know as Moshoeshoe. He became the founding father of the Basotho nation and one of the greatest African leaders of all time, a leader who stabilized central South Africa during a time of great turmoil in the early to mid-1800s.

Unlike his peers of the time who measured their masculinity according to the violence their armies could inflict, he never once made war – but he was also never defeated when attacked.

A proper modern analysis of Moshoeshoe's life as a chief and king reveals a remarkable and complex statesman with an unusual philosophy of leadership and a surprising grasp of the realities and challenges facing him and his people during the mid-1800s, a vision equal to that of Nelson Mandela more than a century later.

He was a nation-builder, a diplomat, a strategist and a pragmatist at least on a par with the best leaders in Europe, Asia, and North America during his time.

And in all of his actions, the influence of Mohlomi could be seen. These two giants used their minds, their intellect to change society, not guns or armies. They were brave enough to buck the trend of their time. They were principled, yet always open to new ideas. They were strong leaders but never lost touch with their people.

As a new member of our society's intelligentsia, view Mohlomi and Moshoeshoe as your role models, rather than Verwoerd or Trump or Zuma.

I wish you all the very best in your future endeavours.