Soliciting support for Unisa and its students


Captains of industry with Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof. Mandla Makhanya, former Speaker of Parliament Dr Frene Ginwala, and Unisa Chancellor Thabo Mbeki

The business breakfast held at the Irene Country Lodge on 10 May 2019 to solicit support for Unisa and its students came on the back of South Africa’s conclusion of national elections held last week, which decided that the African National Congress (ANC) receive another five years as the ruling party.

Championed by former president Thabo Mbeki, Chancellor of Unisa, the business sector heard what should be heralding the new dawn. He cited part of the 2019 ANC manifesto, which acknowledges that the ANC made mistakes and are on course to rectify with action.


Unisa Chancellor Thabo Mbeki surprised the guests with the announcement that Unisa would be receiving Kwame Nkrumah’s documents for safekeeping. Kwame Nkrumah was a Ghanaian politician and revolutionary and became the first Prime Minister and President of Ghana. He died in 1972.

In fact, the manifesto states: …“We have learned hard lessons about the vigilance needed to stop lawlessness, greed and selfishness from taking root. We are resolved to work with our people to address this cancer in our society.”

Given this view, the Chancellor believes “this time society will have something to talk about—a good story to tell”. This is however dependent on the dissection of what has been plaguing negatively the society and to answer the question, “What has happened to this society?”

The question is compounded by other critical sub questions about what has become systemic in our society. It goes as far as what has caused loss of integrity, lawlessness, systemic corruption, manifestation of greed which have become entrenched in this society. Mbeki pointed to the necessity of answering these questions to know where we are going as a society. “If we do not deal with these, it means that there will be many other things we are not dealing with.”

Role of intelligentsia increasingly important

Transforming the economy to serve all people is part of the many things that the manifesto seeks to address for a better life for all. According to the Chancellor, “transformation of the economy is a statement which needs an answer, hence the importance of intelligentsia to contribute to finding solutions to the question.”

He said the country had previously adopted the National Development Plan (NDP) which he summed up as a “vision and not yet a plan”. “Elaborating on the NDP and how to achieve it requires detailed implementation plans. Our intelligentsia has yet again a task in helping to realise this objective, which is critical for our people.”

Corporate social responsibility is big

Demands on universities have increased with time as has been witnessed by the commitment to free higher education in the country. This has placed rampant demands on universities and the immediate result is the growing impact on the government to continue to finance higher education.

“The role of business is in helping to finance education, build human capacity, and to extend on where government cannot reach because of the various demands placed on it,” said Mbeki. Unisa has, for instance, seen an upward trend of people wanting to enrol and moreover to be supplied with books, food and transport despite being an ODeL institution. There are more people making Unisa the institution of choice, which means there are more students on campus than ever before. “It is obvious that the problem is not going away,” he said.

This brings the focus on the importance of the current major infrastructure project for Unisa to be achieved in this year. “Unisa has been given land in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Umtata to build fully fledged campuses for students. They will be in areas normally forsaken and haven’t seen projects of this kind before. The project requires funds and it is why I am trying to make business colleagues understand what the project means to the university,” Mbeki said.

Unisa a national asset

Professor Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, was also not short of words about the university that shares its name with the country. “It is an institution that graduates a third of the country’s students, which translates to no less than 40 000 graduates per annum—a stark reality for the past six years.

“We have seen for the past two decades a younger cohort of students enrolling at the university. Various reasons such as affordability and accessibility can be attributed to this rise.” According to the VC, unfortunately, these students tend to come from poor family backgrounds and cannot pay for tuition or buy study material.

Current trends at Unisa


Prof. Mandla Makhanya (Principal and VC: Unisa)

“From 2018 onwards,” said Makhanya, “we have begun to see a change in students who were formally able to pay for tuition not wanting to pay anymore because of free education. Different categories of students at Unisa include those that can manage to register and pay for fees but cannot pay for their books. Certain students are paid for by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for tuition and books but are at the same time hungry. We also have some students who cannot have access to NFSAS but also qualify to study at a university.”

Unisa has made available R100 million a year to fund these students as they have asserted that they would want to have a full package—tuition, books, and food. “Unisa is currently setting up a funding network as social justice says we simply cannot have students go without education. To make open, distance, and e-learning (ODeL) a reality, partnerships with the business sector are most vital,” said the VC in conclusion.

*By Busisiwe Mahlangu
Communications Coordinator
Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2019/05/15