On the occasion of the ML Sultan Memorial lecture held at the 1860 Heritage Centre on the 13 April 2019.
I wish to thank the M L Sultan family for including me in the programme to pay tribute to the legacy of one of South Africa’s great philanthropists and humanitarians – Hajee ML Sultan.
My connection with this legendary family is two-fold.
During the mid -1960s a group of health practitioners and businessmen was part of an informal club – meeting in each other’s home on a weekly basis to socialise and enjoy a game of bridge. One of ML Sultan’s sons – Mohammed (his son Yunus is with us today) was a member of this club – and so was I. I recall many an enjoyable day spent at Mohammed’s home in Overport.
Second, as you know the ML Sultan Technical College has gone through a series of structural changes – from a Technical College into a Technikon and finally merging with Natal Technikon to form the Durban University of Technology. It was my privilege to have served has its chair of Council for a period of ten years from 2006 – 2016. This was a time when the stature of Ela Gandhi as its Chancellor and the inspiring, progressive and ethical leadership provided by its hard working Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ahmed Bawa led the late Paddy Kearney of Diakona to characterise this decade as the golden era of DUT – something the Late Hajee M L Sultan would have been proud off.
On two occasions the ML Sultan Technikon/DUT underwent a period of administration – which meant that as a result of a serious breakdown in governance, the Minister of Higher Education had to deploy an administrator to clean up the place. The last such administrator was Jonathan Jansen who did so and appointed a Council in 2006 of which I was part.
Hajee ML Sultan was born in Kollam (Quilon), Kerala State, South India in 1873. It was here that he received his early education but had to leave school at age 14, after the death of his father. This was 146 years ago- it is important to keep this time perspective in view of his contribution to education in SA. He emigrated to South Africa from South India in 1880.
IMPORTANCE OF TECHNICAL-VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
Allow me to digress for a moment and discuss the importance of technical-vocational education which was the core business of the original ML Sultan Technical College founded in 1956.
Any country’s educational system comprises 5 distinct but inter-related sectors:
- Pre-school education
- Primary education
- Secondary education
- Technical-vocational education
- Tertiary/university education
For a country to have a strong basic and post-secondary education system, it is necessary to resource and develops each of these five sectors. In South Africa it is well known that despite no single sector being world class – the weakest links in our educational system are the pre-school and technical-vocational sectors. The dual nature of SA economy requires: (a) knowledge workers with high level skills in technology for the corporate sector, the civil service, and universities (b) technical and vocational skills which form the backbone for industry as well as small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs), an important sector for job creation in the modern economy.
Of the applications received for the 2019 academic year in this country, only 24% were for Technical Vocational Colleges, while 76% were for universities. The failure to attract students to the T-VET Sector is “rooted deeply in cultural attitudes that have been embedded historically in the education systems in Britain and France, and inherited by countries that were formerly under their colonial rule” (Blakemore and Cooksey, 1981). As Black students had few opportunities for University education during 50 years of Apartheid rule, they understandably seek University education as a priority.
A central deficit in our educational sector characterised as an inverted pyramid – whereby we have about 1.2 million students in the University sector and about half that in the TVET Sector; By contrast in the USA there are 6-7 million students in the University sector but double that in the Community College Sector; similarly the technical–vocational sector is well developed in Australia, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands etc.
In developing this sector, given the knowledge economy, the information age and the fact that the fourth industrial revolution is hovering over us, the challenge is for vocational skill training and academic instruction to be integrated with occupational education, connecting activities between the classroom and the workplace. In the modern economy in addition to technical skills the so called soft skills of critical thinking, communication, writing, inter-personal relations and life-long learning are crucially important to train the 21st century knowledge worker whether academic or technical.
In addition, in the South African context the infusion of a culture of human rights and constitutional values in the curriculum will help to define the new generation in terms of its moral compass resulting in a kinder, gentler, non-racial, non-violent and just society; so that we do not turn out leaders who spew out hate speech – and promote violence, sexism, xenophobia, and racial insults. The burning of books, libraries and schools by our youth has no place in a constitutional democracy and should be firmly dealt with by law enforcement agencies.
Belatedly, Minister of HET Naledi Pandor, has recognised this deficit and her task is to find additional resources to support development of the currently weak T-VET Sector with better infra-structure, teaching quality and governance mechanisms
Returning to Hajee ML Sultan, he strongly believed that young Indians should have opportunities for education to prepare themselves for employment in industry, business or a profession of their choice, at a time when this opportunity was not available to them in South Africa.The establishment of the Worker’s Congress by Advocate Albert Christopher in 1928 marked the launch of a powerful forum which assisted many Indian people in gaining qualifications, especially in technical and commercial skills. Hopes for the dream of a consolidated campus was realised in 1941 when Hajee ML Sultan pledged £33 000 for the construction of a technical college.
The donation by Sultan dramatically changed the face of the education sector in KwaZulu-Natal and provided new educational opportunities to “non-white” people that had previously not been available. Hajee Sultan could have donated his funds to build a university, primary or secondary schools – but instead he chose to support technical and vocational education – a dream he realised nearly 80 years ago – and even today our government is struggling to put at our disposal a modern technical – vocational education system, which must be at the root of job creation and developing a competitive industrial base.
On 7 August 1956, the ML Sultan Technical College was officially opened, an impressive three-storey building in Centenary Road. With 240 full- time students, 4 760 part-time students and nine branches. Programmes and courses were provided an array of technical, commercial disciplines – architectural draughtsmen, public health inspectors, civil engineers, medical technology, telecommunications, sheet metal workers, plumbers, home economics, textile design, certified book keeping etc.
In the ensuing years ML Sultan Technical College underwent a sequence of structural institutional changes – into an institution of Higher Education, a College of Advanced Technical Education, a Technikon and ultimately merging with Natal Technikon to form the Durban University of Technology. This institution lies at the epicentre of a historical precinct of the City of Durban known as the Casbah or the ROCS (Research of Curries Fountain and Surroundings – Len Rosenberg) project– which includes the Grey Street area, Brook Street Cemetery, Indian Morning Market, the Warwick Avenue Triangle, Sastri College, Curries Fountain and ML Sultan Technical College. During the period 1860 – 1980 this area was the home to 13 primary schools, 5 high schools, a technical college and the annex of the then University of Natal – many of the built and supported by the community.
History judges people through the contributions they make to transform the world into a better place especially against political odds and socio-economic deprivation. ML Sultan was unaffected by wealth and yet knew its value and power. His personal needs were small but he felt that the needs of his fellow-men were great. He gave back to the poor most of what he possessed.
ALLOW ME TO INCLUDE WITH TWO CASE STUDIES
Sizwe Mkhwanazi – was 14 years old, when he left Qondulwazi Secondary School, a farm school not far from Standerton, Mpumalanga – to study office administration at the Gert Sibande Technical Vocational College. He is now studying for his PhD at Oxford University. Sizwe has indicated that the practical skills he learnt at the TVET College stood him in good stead – but he says these colleges need more student support, libraries, space for student social activities, alumni clubs etc.
Marlen Pillay – has a Diploma in Horticulture and Landscape Technology from DUT. Born into a family of famers – his paternal grandfather Muthu Konar purchased an 8 hectare plot in Durban after having served his period of indenture at the Mount Edgecombe and Tinley Manor sugar mills. At a young age Marlen would accompany his mother every Saturday morning to the fresh produce market where he gained valuable knowledge and experience about trading. Today he owns and manages a farm in Kwa-Dukuza, north of Durban where he grows sugar cane, vegetables on a commercial scale and broiler production is in the pipeline. At the age of 40 he won the KZN Guinea Fowl Award for his excellence in farming. He attended a research programme in India and now plans to implement his own irrigation system on some of his sugar cane fields; and in his words I quote:
“Farming is not for the faint hearted and neither is it a get rich scheme. One has to have a passion to farm, work hard and be dedicated”
I can think of no better examples to exemplify the legacy of the Late Hajee ML Sultan.
Jairam Reddy PhD