From its conception, the Distinguished Speaker Series has aimed to expose students to individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines. We have been fortunate to host Simon Bray, Kimmie Weeks, Subah Barry and Vijay Mahajan to name but a few. With over 90 future leaders on campus with a range of interests, it was important that this series cover a broad spectrum of professions and passions yet remain highly interactive and educational. Looking back on the academic year, it is clear that through our invitation to inspirational leaders, we achieved this goal.
After taking part in the Grand Opening Celebrations, Tom Barry, President and CEO of Zephyr Management, L.P. conducted a seminar on competitiveness and productivity in Africa and related this to three pillars of society, namely the public sector, private sector and civil society. Students were challenged to present measures to increase productivity and competitiveness in each pillar leading to an intense brain-storming session that has undoubtedly started a process to transform these three essential pillars.
Dr. Didier Gondola, an Associate Professor of African History and African American Studies at Indiana University — Purdue University, Indianapolis visited the Academy and presented a lecture on the “Crisis in the Congo”. He gave a detailed explanation of the historical origins of the conflict and the competing geo-political interests at play. After the lecture, Joseph Munyambanza said, “I really enjoyed Dr Gondola’s seminar on overcoming Africa’s colonial ghosts and celebrating Africa’s Renaissance. This seminar definitely restored my pride in being Congolese and being an African.” We look forward to hosting more accomplished Africans who can share their experiences and encourage our students to make a positive difference to the challenges facing the continent.
Dr. Ryan Hickox, a Postdoctoral Fellow in High Energy Astrophysics at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, presented a riveting lecture on “Black Holes and Galaxies: Exploring the Universe from Africa”. Dr. Hickox gave the students a short quiz to test “black holes” in their knowledge and then proceeded to discuss galaxies, their interaction with each other and finally, black holes. The next day, the Academy hosted the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA) and their telescopes! Unfortunately the weather did not allow students to explore the night sky but Dr. Hickox and the team from ASSA increased the student’s awareness of the importance of science and technology and its role in the future development of the continent.
Our last guest speaker for the year was Dr Mamphela Ramphele, an influential thought leader in South Africa. South Africa has been a democratic nation for 15 years and although the country has made great strides, there are some concerns about the future. A group of 35 leading South Africans gathered over a period of three months to look at what was going on in the country at present and project that reality into the future. This initiative was funded by Old Mutual and Nedbank, who provided the funding, as well as project infrastructure and logistical support. What resulted from this consultative process was the Dinokeng Scenarios — three predictions of South Africa’s political and social landscape in 2020.
Dr. Ramphele described the three possible futures that the team had mapped out and took questions from students and guests. At the end of the discussion, Dr. Ramphele challenged our students with four questions: What are you going to do to make our future different? What choice will you make? When, how and with whom wll you make the choice? And lastly, what will be your next step? We would like to challenge you with the same set of questions. If we want our governments to be accountable, we need an engaged citizenry. The last of the three scenarios, predicts a collaborative and enabling state paired with engaged and active citizenry. The future growth and success of South Africa is dependent on this. We will be bold enough to argue that the future growth of this continent depends on this. Everyone needs to get involved in this process but it starts with one person. In as much as our guest speakers have inspired our students, we hope that when they leave this campus, our students will go on to inspire many more people and in doing so, set the continent on the path to its success.