North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus’, first black vice-rector is an inspirational man who is determined to share his knowledge with others.
Over the past 20 years South Africa has been making a lot of progress towards the establishment of a more inclusive and educated society. Much of what we have achieved revolves around the theme of breaking down social and institutional barriers, promoting a freer participation of individuals from all spheres of life.
Professor Rantoa Letsosa has recently been appointed as the North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus’s, first black vice-rector. In an exclusive interview with Black Business Quarterly, he shares his insights regarding social matters still afflicting our society 20 years into democracy and talks passionately about the role spirituality and education have to play in the road towards the empowerment of our nation.
He says the attitude of caring and sharing is absolutely vital in South Africa today. “Looking at the situation today and how people are suffering, it is really heart-breaking. If we live selfish lives then we won’t live in a fruitful and progressive South Africa, we will only kill it more. If we learn to share the little we have, people will survive,” he adds.
Being involved at the North-West University since 2001, he also holds the title of Professor in Theology and has completed three PhDs. Letsosa is convinced that spirituality can make a profound difference in today’s day and age when looking at the various social crises faced in our society.
“Knowing that you are here for a purpose and not for yourself. Your aspirations will be to achieve that, to complete that task, mission or calling. If everyone would just realise that they have something to do and something to leave behind, people will actually inspire themselves to want to do something. That can have a great impact if one is aware of the whole issue of spirituality or religion. You will know that you are not just here for yourself,” Letsosa adds.
He also believes that without a doubt, a lot of the friction we see in society today boils down to an unhealthy lust for power and that this social ill can be overcome by a deeper, more existential approach to be in service of others. “Even right now, in my position, I know that I am not here for myself and I’m not here to gain a position. I am in a position of responsibility. You cannot hold an emphasis on the self and go for power to such an extent that it will destroy other people for you to gain from it,” he says.
“The African culture is actually very beautiful. If one looks at Ubuntu, the caring for one another, and you look at what is happening today, then unfortunately we have really lost it. Bringing Ubuntu back can change our country over the next 20 years,” he says.
Asking him about where we are 20 years into democracy, Letsosa says we are certainly seeing some positive changes, but there is a lot more that still needs to be achieved. “There is a positive movement at this stage, but my philosophy is that one should not sit back and relax. You have to work hard and you should not believe that because you are black or disadvantaged, this or that has to happen to you. We have to work on merit. We have to deserve, and in that manner people are proud of where they are. If you get into something in the wrong manner, then you easily become a puppet and you are used because you have to pay back. That is why we have a lot of corruption.
When looking at the way in which education can contribute towards a movement into a more progressive South Africa, Letsosa says this is a must. He however mentions being disheartened when noticing a large number of youths still shying away from education as a means to becoming empowered. “Education on its own is important, but if we don’t support it then it loses its value. You also find that in the education sector, people are not really well paid and that is also an unfortunate situation where everyone would want to go out of the arena and to see how you can acquire money and so on. Education is extremely important but our government must also support it,” Letsosa adds.
Given that today’s youth is the future of tomorrow, Letsosa says that 20 years into democracy there are still concerns about where we are headed on the road of educating and empowering our youth. He agrees that being uneducated about one another is one of the main reasons for social strife. There is however more to this situation according to him. “I think, as I have mentioned before, some people are still on the gravy train. Yes, we have achieved a lot and we enjoy it and so on, but some are still living in blame-shifting, not wanting to take any responsibility. Some are still ignorant, waiting to see this freedom we have been promised. When does it come? It has already been so many years that have passed and they are still waiting, and that is an unfortunate thing."
His views on leadership are closely tied in with a sense of appreciation for a person in their given role. “Leaders differ. I think if you are faithful to who you are and what you are, then that can help you a lot. You get visionary leaders, you get shepherding leaders etc. I see myself as someone who has a vision.
“So I would have respect for someone who will have quick answers to solutions, but I’ll also have respect for someone who thinks deep and says give me some time to go and think about that – I will come back and we talk about that, we consult. You hear opinions of people, because you are there for the people, not for yourself. So consult people and decide with them, because you have to walk the walk with them,” he says.
When looking back over the past 20 years of democracy, there is certainly a lot to be said about the transformation milestones that have been achieved post-1994. Today, however, we find that there is still a lot of room for improvement as well as cause for concern. Professor Letsosa is an academic leader who sees light at the end of the tunnel, “providing that we engender a more inclusive, tolerant and mindful way of life”.