By Gayle Edmunds
Dr Saleem Badat, the vice-chancellor of Rhodes University, gives from his own pocket so that more young people can get a tertiary education. In 1999, he was the first CEO of the Council on Higher Education and his passion for education was forged during a decade at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
With a plethora of degrees, he is also the recipient of a number of academic awards and fellowships, including the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship. Also an author, his most recent work is The Forgotten People: Political Banishment Under Apartheid.
You have put your own money where your passion is with the creation of the Jakes Gerwel Rhodes University Scholarship Fund. What inspired you to make this generous gesture?
Two things. One was the generous salary, it was more than adequate to sustain me and my family. I now had the wonderful opportunity to devote a portion of my salary and unnecessary benefits (like business-class air travel) to help open doors for others in the same way that scholarships had opened doors for me.
The other reason was my concern about the way vicechancellor salaries were escalating and the growing gap in relation to salaries of academics and support staff. It was my hope that my gesture could also be leveraged to promote giving by others.
What are the selection criteria for this scholarship?
The scholarship is for financially needy students from rural Eastern Cape who have the potential to succeed at Rhodes. Among these might be another Jakes Gerwel.
Who was the first recipient of this scholarship and where is that student now?
The first award was given to an amazing local woman, Sikelwa Julie Nxadi, for a BA degree. She is now in her second year. We discovered that she had given up her job to become a secretary at Rhodes so that she could receive a fee rebate and study part time.
In 1999, you were appointed as the first CEO of the Council on Higher Education, which advises the minister of higher education and training on policy issues. Did this job help you define how you'd make a difference? Not really, it began much earlier. As a young student activist and, later, as editor of Grassroots community newspaper in Cape Town in the 1980s, I worked among students, youth, women and workers committed to building movements to destroy apartheid.
In humble abodes and townships I learnt about human dignity and sharing, solidarity, and community. I then spent 10 years in the 1990s at the UWC, which was a life-changing experience. Higher education can change the lives of not only individuals, but also families and whole communities. I have seen this.
You are the author of many books, including Black Man, You are on Your Own and most recently The Forgotten People: Political Banishment Under Apartheid. Would you agree that the work put into such works is a philanthropic act?
Interesting thought. Scholars write books to advance knowledge, to recover hidden histories and to promote understanding and wisdom. Royalties from The Forgotten People are being used to provide copies of the book to those affected by banishment.
I have written to the minister of justice requesting reparations and special pensions for the two living banished men, Anderson Ganyile and Boy Seopa from GaMatlala; and special pensions for some of the spouses of banished people. I hope this happens.
You were the recipient of an Inyathelo Exceptional Philanthropy Award in 2008. Do you think recognising philanthropists like yourself helps inspire others to follow suit?
I admire the work of Inyathelo in building a culture of giving and promoting knowhow to mobilise funds for worthy causes.
Do you think South Africans are good at giving?
I think so. We have many amazing people who give so much of themselves to take care of others, support family, neighbours and those in need; and build a more caring, gentler and just society. It will be good to see more philanthropic foundations of the American kind, such as the Mellon, Ford, Carnegie and Kresge foundations. We have some, but there could be more.
This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust.Read the full version on the City Press website