The desire for learning was widespread, and two academics at the University of Zululand demonstrated, like Figaji and de Jager before them, the need to shake up accepted educational formulae and explore new methodologies.
The desire for learning was widespread, and two academics at the University of Zululand demonstrated the need to shake up accepted educational formulae and explore new methodologies. Professor Samuel J. Zondi, Dean of Commerce and Administration, received a Travelling Fellowship in 1992 to visit universities across America. He had the enthusiastic support of Deans of Faculties of Commerce, Economics, Management and Administrative Sciences at other South African universities in developing insights into commercial degree courses. He describes his general philosophy as “developing a thinking person, rather than equipping a student with a complete set of tricks in a particular field”. He was vehemently opposed to the ‘partitioning’ of education, saying, “A general business education not complemented with a strong liberal arts foundation is academically questionable”. It would appear that this philosophy has not been widely adopted, perhaps something Professor Samuel predicted when he wrote the following introduction to his report:
“This report is dedicated to all those persons who still retain a genuine love for scholarship and pursuit of knowledge. In recent times, such people are a rare breed, an endangered species.”
In a different field entirely, Professor Patrick Themba Sibaya, a researcher in Educational Psychology in the Department of Education at the University of Zululand, received support for sabbatical studies in 1997, to conduct research locally, in the United Kingdom and the US. His paper was entitled, ‘An analysis of the nature of theoretical background information and validity of instruments in educational research, a comparative study of SA, UK and US’. He too was ahead of his time, when he said:
“The quality of research is very important, particularly in the field of humanities. The humanities are under threat all over the world. The humanities are sidelined in favour of science and commerce subjects.”
Interestingly this is a view echoed 10 years later by philosopher Professor Paul Cilliers, who was awarded the Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship in 2006. He commented, “We are living in a largely instrumental world where marketing values determine our existence. There is nothing wrong with that, but we are possibly losing our humanity.”
Happily, the humanities have always received support from the OMT. Architect Johan Vorster, who had approached Cape Town to develop the concept of a ‘sustainable city’ to support its Olympic bid, was helped to complete his MSc on energy efficiency in buildings at Oxford Brookes University School of Architecture. Demonstrating commendable determination, he worked as an unpaid tutor and bravely sold his assets in Cape Town in order to complete his study of integrated solar components. Peter Matlhare, a health educator in Sebokeng whose focus was on primary health care in the community, received a grant from the Trust enabling him to take up a British Council Fellowship Award at Leeds University. Like others, he was unable to take advantage of the scholarship as this would mean leaving his wife, who earned a relatively small income, to cover all household costs. The OMT funded his bond for the duration.
In 1994, the Trust helped two young and talented dreamers, John Vlismas and Protas Ndlovu to attend Interplay, a triennial international festival of young playwrights held in Queensland, Australia. Commenting on the Trust’s even-handed approach to the arts, Vlismas feels it is clearly rooted in a more classical tradition, where scholars are encouraged to pursue all disciplines with equal emphasis. In his letter of thanks to the Trust, this then 21-year old performer writes, “…this festival is a great asset to the world community of young writers as this is our place to find each other and exchange ‘voices’, a practice which can only lead to greater clarity in future cross-cultural communication, the root of our own social dilemma”. More philosopher than comedian, he comments now, “It is interesting that the world changed over time to marginalise the Arts as a ‘nice to have’ and seems now to be coming full circle as more quantifiable fields prove that the value of the Arts to fundamental development and higher learning is very high. I’ve read somewhere that in their highest forms, Art and Science become each other”. He recalls that when he received the grant, he was graduating from the Natal Technikon Drama Department in Durban. “The Performing Arts Councils were about to be disbanded but still auditioning final year students for residency in their companies. I had refused to audition for NAPAC and was criticised by some of the older actors I had met as a dresser during my holidays. They felt that the theatre was already shrinking and to refuse to work for the only permanent company was arrogant. That didn’t bother me as I had already helped a boycott at the Technikon when I heard that we were doing King Lear and black students were advise not to audition as there would be a ‘black’ play later in the year. King Lear was cancelled due to lack of interest.” The OMT grant meant everything to this young aspirant playwright and performer, enabling him to take up the invitation he had won in the earlier AfriPlay leg of the festival in Kenya. “Where the trip to Kenya was humbling and quite profound, the Australian trip was like a creative explosion, which made me realise that I would have to work much, much harder at my writing.” Noting that the business of theatre is not for the fickle, and demands hard sweat and some luck, he feels it is critical for South Africans, not just artists, to move onto the world stage – and not just artists. “…. We tend to reach acceptable levels in our relevant ponds. Getting out there throws you out of your comfort zone, and shocks you through the minor anxieties that tend to limit you, until you connect with your craft and then you can really start to cook…… And while it’s good to go everywhere – it’s as important to always come from somewhere – it’s probably more important than anything. Wherever I am, I am always from South Africa.”