Transformation a Key Focus at English Academy Commemorative Lecture
The English Academy of Southern Africa, together with the College of Humanities, recently held the English Academy’s Annual Commemorative Lecture, in honour of the late Professor Colin Gardner.
The Lecture, which also formed part of the College of Humanities Public Lecture series on Transformation, was held at the Colin Webb Hall on the Pietermaritzburg campus. Professor Cheryl Potgieter, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities, and Dr Betty Govinden, Vice President of the English Academy of Southern Africa, welcomed the guests.
The Lecture, titled “Transformation and the Intellectual”, was presented by Professor Stanley Ridge, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of the Western Cape and past President of the English Academy of Southern Africa.
Professor Ridge described Colin Gardner, who passed away in October last year, as an intellectual who was thoroughly committed to the transformation of South Africa.
‘Colin Gardner was pre-eminently an intellectual. He was deeply engaged, moving out of the comfort zones of white privilege… He was also richly engaging as a teacher and commentator, and more generally as a human being.’
In his Lecture, Professor Ridge called for a more holistic approach to “transformation”, where profound and beneficial change is promoted in society, and by intellectuals imbued with nurturing abilities and focused on the most important challenges of our time and place.
‘Making sense of a changing world is the role of the intellectual, schooled or unschooled.
This is especially necessary in South Africa post-1994, where there have been bewildering changes in every sphere of life. It is also necessary in the rest of Africa, faced as the continent is with the complex demands of post-colonial transformation and development.
‘Intellectuals constantly and relentlessly reinterpret their social environment and are in the vanguard of change and transformation.’
Professor Ridge stated that transformation and the spirit of conformity are mutually exclusive.
He emphasised that for real transformation, one needs to build and sustain a collegium of academics and students with a common desire to address the challenges of our time and place reasonably and with integrity. He was confident that if universities draw more fully on the South African talent pool they will ultimately be in a better position to generate new and incisive academic discourses, and provide more nuanced questions and responses to social challenges.
‘It is this kind of critical innovativeness that is the mark of excellence. Excellence is not confined to a rarefied academic world.’
‘Rather, excellence through transformation,’ Professor Ridge urged, ‘can be achieved only as an intellectual project, in which an inclusive community is built of people so engaged with the world in which they live, that making sense of it is a vital, ongoing priority as a basis for effective and wise action.’
Family, friends and colleagues of Professor Gardner, together with Academy and community members attended the event.