Minister Meyer's Address at the Prize Giving Ceremony of Durbanville High School
Address delivered by the Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport Dr Ivan Meyer at the Prize Giving Ceremony of Durbanville High School on 9 October 2013
The Principal of Durbanville High School Mr George Germishuys and the School Management Team
The Chairperson of the Durbanville High School Governing Body, Dr Rust Theron and members of the School Governing Body
Members of staff
Ladies and gentlemen
Good evening and thank you for inviting me to be part of this very special occasion. As a trained academic, teacher and parent I have, despite my political career, not yet lost the warm glow, that feeling of confidence in the future that fills me when I am in the presence of young people who are achieving. More so, I am confident in the future because this evening affirms that all is not doom and gloom in our schools and that a school such as Durbanville High School is indeed blessed with a committed leadership and dedicated educators, a supportive parent body and learners who are determined to grab every opportunity to prepare themselves for a life of success and meaningful contribution to society. The impact of this can be seen in the academic, sport and cultural achievements of this school as demonstrated by the group of talented learners who will be receiving awards this evening.
Ladies and gentlemen while I agree with you that the learners assembled in this hall tonight are no doubt talented, like you I want them to not only be talented. Like you, I want them to move from being merely talented to being successful, from being merely good to being great. So how do we get to being great?
Let me preface what I am going to say by sharing the story of Eastern Cape engineering whizkid Siyabulela Lethuxolo Xuza.
From the early days of experimenting with science in his mother’s kitchen in a poor community in Mthatha, to international science and engineering accolades, he is now a role model for South Africa’s aspiring scientists.
These days he is the darling of NASA, whose staff members were so taken with him that they gave him a personal guided tour of their facilities. He is the youngest member of the Africa 2.0 energy advisory panel.
This pan-African organisation comprises the continent’s brightest minds and is committed to seeking sustainable solutions to challenges faced by Africans.
In a March 2012 interview with US television network CBS, Xuza said that his current work is focusing on transforming homes into power plants "that capture the energy of the sun during the day and store some of it in fuel cells, for use at night".
In his own words, Xusa described the moment that sparked his lifelong passion for science.
“I was chasing the roar of a Cessna plane dropping election pamphlets over Mthatha, my South African township”, he writes.
“It was 1994, the first year of a new democracy in my country, and the sight of that technological marvel ignited in me a curiosity for science and a passion for using technology to engineer an African renaissance.”
He was just five years old at the time. The youngster was also later inspired by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth’s trip into space in 2002, an event that was largely responsible for his long-standing interest in rocket science.
His mother’s kitchen soon became the scene for much experimentation with formulations of jet and rocket fuel, but the informal laboratory had to be moved to the garage after a sticky incident with a too-hot stove.
Xuza wasn’t deterred, and over the next few years he continued to work on the project, which culminated in the successful launch of a real home-built rocket, the Phoenix. This vehicle achieved a final height of over a kilometre and earned him the junior South African amateur high-powered altitude record.
The rocket was propelled by Xuza’s own invention, a cheaper, safer type of rocket fuel, which became the subject of a project titled African Space: Fuelling Africa’s quest to space. It won a gold medal in the 2006 Eskom National Science Expo as well as a trip to the Nobel Prize awards ceremony in Sweden, where he presented his work to the Swedish king and queen.
The same project took him to the 58th Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as part of Team South Africa.
Here the project was entered in the energy and transport category and won the 18-year-old, then a matric pupil on a scholarship at St John’s College in Johannesburg, a Best of Category award and a First award.
Xuza also received the honour of having a celestial body named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, which is replacing the complicated scientific names of thousands of minor planets with more accessible names in honour of the world’s top achievers.
The minor planet 23182 Siyaxuza circles the solar system in the main asteroid belt near Jupiter and takes 4.01 years to complete a single orbit. It was discovered in July 2000.
Xuza has garnered numerous other accolades, including a fellowship in 2010 of the African Leadership Network, and in 2011 he was made a fellow of the international student-run Kairos Society. Membership to this global body is by invitation only.
Matriculating in 2007 with a string of As, it was almost guaranteed that Xuza would take up further studies at a prestigious institution. That turned out to be Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where he became one of just 1 948 students accepted from about 28 000 who applied.
He started his engineering degree in September 2008, but wasn’t afraid to take up academic challenges such as debating, the Mandarin language, and world music. These interests, he said, would broaden his mind.
The young man from the Eastern Cape also joined the Harvard Forum for International Leadership, a society that brings together students from all around the world to discuss global issues such as HIV/Aids, terrorism and the development of emerging economies, as well as the need for efficient energy solutions.
“I may not be able to predict what the future holds,” he wrote “but I am excited at how my engineering education will enable me to achieve my aspirations for Africa.”
So what does this story illustrate?
Well, in his book, Talent is Never Enough, John C Maxwell provides us with some insight into the reason why we often hear of talented people who have not achieved success and Siyabulela’s story illustrates why we need more than just talent to succeed.
Learners, you are talented but you will have to understand that to go from merely having talent to achieving, from good to great and from great to success you have to do the following:
- Lift your talent through belief and self-confidence.
- Energise your talent through passion.
- Activate your talent by showing initiative.
- Direct your talent by being focused.
- Position your talent through preparation.
- Sharpen your talent through practice.
- Sustain your talent by persevering.
- Test your talent courageously.
- Expand your talent by being open to teaching.
- Protect your talent by developing a great character.
- Relationships influence your talent;
- Responsibility strengthens your talent; and
- Teamwork multiplies your talent.
The great thing about being a learner at Durbanville High School of course is that this school, which I believe was recently nominated by Fair Lady to be one of the top 25 government schools in South Africa, provides its learners with the opportunity to develop their talent. The school management, the parent body and the broader Durbanville community have created the platform and the opportunity for learners to excel and you have. Well done and congratulations!
Ladies and gentlemen who would have thought at the time that Pampoenkraal (as Durbanville was originally known) would eventually become the location for the second oldest school in South Africa, as well as a school with a proud heritage and one that is founded on the values of excellence, loyalty, respect and self-discipline. These are the values that sustained the earliest travellers to the Tygerberg-Durbanville region and these are the values that will inform and sustain the our future .
However, there is one missing element and that is what I call cultural warmth. Cultural warmth is the creation of space for other cultures which will inspire (not criticise), respect (not label), value (not eliminate) and dignify (not diminish). Let me illustrate this with the following:
In 1995, as head of state, President Mandela visited the widow of Dr HF Verwoerd in Orania in the Northern Cape.
You can imagine how nervous she must have been, given the political temperature after 1994. As a former first lady, she was well aware of the protocol that would be necessary when a head of state pays a visit. I imagine that she might not have been able to sleep the night before. Just think, she’s 94, President Mandela is 77 and there are bodyguards, helicopters, media and lots of public attention. She had to put her best foot forward in an uncertain situation.
Betsie Verwoerd handled the situation masterfully. She offered President Mandela koeksisters and tea. In my narrative, she offered him cultural warmth. True to form, President Mandela spoke to her in Afrikaans. In my narrative, he used Afrikaans as a tool of cultural warmth. There is a deep lesson here for those of us who love Afrikaans. We should use it as a tool to radiate cultural warmth.
I thank you.