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Rhodes > Graduation Gateway > Honorary Doctorates > 2013 > Vusi Mahlasela

Vusi Mahlasela's Honorary Doctorate speech

Date Released: Mon, 8 April 2013 16:14 +0200

DATE: 5 April 2013

Distinguished guests    
Fellow graduates
Ladies and gentlemen

First and foremost, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the  Honorary Degree Committee, the Senate and the Rhodes University Council for voting to confer on me the Degree of Doctor of Laws Honoris Causa.  I am indeed humbled by the gesture and so proud to have been thought of in this light by the entire Rhodes University community.

In the song, Tontobane, which I will perform at the end of my address, I sing about a young boy whom the community was going to be proud of due to his keen interest in education. Upon completion of his schooling, he was expected to become light to his people by, amongst other things, generating knowledge, as well as by providing various services and leadership to the society in general and the African continent in particular. In another song, Miyela Afrika, I posits Africa as a cradle for humanity and civilization though education. The irony in the situation is that I personally could not go very far in schooling due to circumstances beyond my control; including but not limited to poverty, and political activism. The highest class I have passed is Standard 5.

When I grew up, I always wanted to be either a priest or medical doctor.  But due to my inability to continue with education, I ended up taking music as a full-time career in order to make a living. Prior to this however, I worked in a factory as an ordinary laborer. Whilst I was getting more drawn into music, I began to wonder about the realization of my wish of becoming a priest or doctor, as well as the relevance of the type of music I am playing because currently popular music in the society seems to be that which glorifies money, booze and sex instead of preaching the spirit of collective good, i.e. Ubuntu/Botho.

True to the spirit of the above doctrine that says motho ke motho ka batho ba bangwe/U muntu nge muntu nge bantu banye (a person is thus through others), those distinguished people who follow my music had already weighed its value. Thus, I was relialibly enlightened that I was actually already preaching positive messages to people and healing them through my music. The eminent people referred to earlier further gave meanings and identity of my music through well-considered concepts, doctrines and philosophies. For instance, the South African Noble Literature Laureate Nadine Gordimer once described my work as of national treasure for its social relevance. Fellow artist, friend and scholar, Dr. Lance Nawa coined a phrase, muso-poetry, in a published academic article that examines how I fuse music and poetry together.

The many national and international accolades I receive seem to also affirm that my work is of immense value: that is, it helps to generate knowledge and concepts for an ordinary person and academic alike, bridges social divides, as well as to generate hope and vision for the future.  

A measure of a true artist is the one that is not concerned about making a living but creating life, generating and archiving knowledge, as well as redirecting negative past and current energies or experiences towards positive destiny. It is for this reason that the arts must be seen as the nerve center of any society; that without which that society will only exist in limbo.  Culture is an important part of nation building as it was for liberation, in South Africa and elsewhere. Thus, culture must become a central feature of national development paradigm of any emerging society. The people must in turn be the driving force behind this cultural vista. They, and not the government, are the ones that shape culture, and determine their own national identity. As all humanity is gradually immigrating into a global village, it becomes imperative for cultures to embrace each other by promoting multilingualism for communication so as to create the basis for mutual respect and honor.