Inyathelo formally marked its 20th year of operations with a festive gathering on 6 December for its generous supporters, current and former board members, dedicated staff members, tenants, service providers and other friends of the organisation.
The Civil Society Hub, bedecked in balloons and soft lighting, and decorated with colourful art created by people living with autism – “ autists” – was the beautiful venue as dozens of guests greeted one another enthusiastically, many having not seen one another for several years.
Board chairperson Dr Russell Ally warmly welcomed the guests and acknowledged the vision and groundwork of founders Shelagh Gastrow and Patric Tariq Mellet.
Board members Merlinda Abrahams, Viola Manuel and Israel Noko also noted the dedication of the staff. Cassandra Smith, who joined in 2004 and is now a fulltime finance coordinator, was singled out as the longest serving employee in Inyathelo’s history.
The guest speaker, Professor Crain Soudien, former UCT Deputy Vice-Chancellor, focused on discussions about decolonisation currently taking place at South African universities. “The big question is, what should the South African university be?” Such conversations were full of “rhetoric, rage and fulmination,” yet in contrast, “Inyathelo has the germ of the answer” with its gatherings where all can meet, including intellectuals meeting with activists. “Inyathelo has built associations of universities and civil society, and there you see the formation of what South African universities should be about.”
“It is our responsibility to study what we do, these experiences, to look at the strengths and weaknesses, and you will see the germ of alternatives (to a Harvard education system). It brings the best science and also insight into our lived experiences. For it to reproduce we need to write and talk about it. I take my hat off to Inyathelo, you have an institution at the interface, and it shows the riches that live among us.”
Rip Rapson, President of The Kresge Foundation, shared a recorded message of congratulations and recalled the highlights of the 15-year partnership with Inyathelo. The Kresge grant of $17.3 million to Inyathelo, to support higher education advancement, led to programmes that directly empowered nearly a third of South African universities and other institutions. They forged relationships with major donors and attracted resources to build state-of-the-art facilities, fund bursaries and conduct ground-breaking research.
Inyathelo was praised for navigating numerous challenges over the years, most recently the Covid-19 pandemic, and continuing to be a leader in its field.
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