Unisa opens doors of learning and culture with Credo

Sharon Farrell

“Unisa was far ahead in anticipating our commitment through the Freedom Charter that the doors of learning and culture shall be opened.”

This was the declaration by His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma, at the world premiere of the oratorioCredo: A musical testament to the Freedom Charter held at Unisa on 18 July 2013. The President was asserting the important role that Unisa played in “providing education opportunities to students of all races from all over the continent and the world, during the time when race was a barrier for blacks to gain admission at other institutions”.

President Jacob Zuma

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof Mandla Makhanya

Addressing the political luminaries and music aficionados gathered in the university’s ZK Matthews Great Hall, he pointed out the suitability of the venue. Renowned intellectual and struggle stalwart, Prof Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews, popularly known as ZK, was, in essence the father of the Freedom Charter, the President said. “In August 1953, Professor Matthews proposed the Congress of the People to formulate the Freedom Charter, an ideal which culminated in that momentous meeting and that historic document at Kliptown in 1955.”

The President congratulated Unisa on linking the Freedom Charter and and International Mandela Day. He also emphasised that the evening was a celebration of the country’s artistic expression, music, and talent. “It is the best way to pay tribute to Madiba and to the Freedom Charter, and in turn, to the Constitution of the Republic which is the founding document of the democratic republic.”

Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof Mandla Makhanya spoke of the rich tapestry of celebratory activities that had been woven together to mark the milestone of Unisa’s 140th anniversary. He said that these celebrations not only considered and reflected on the institution’s rich history, but also looked forward – pointing the way ahead – as the university mapped its own future, while also shaping many futures. “Unisa acknowledges not only its pioneering spirit as a national treasure, and its Africa roots, but also its global intent and commitment to intellectual development.”

Noting that storytelling and music made up a large part of the tapestry of our collective histories, the Vice-Chancellor asserted, “As the landscapes in which we live change, let us use these creative means to chart a way through our futures.”

Credo: A musical testament to the Freedom Charter was conceived by its creators, composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen, librettist Brent Meersman, and multimedia artist Andrew Black, as an oratorio to pay tribute to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, ZK Matthews, and many other struggle veterans who met in Kliptown in 1955 to lay the foundation for South Africa’s democracy.

With an accomplished cast featuring Sibongile Khumalo, Otto Maidi, Monika Wassung, and the Gauteng Choristers, accompanied by the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra under the sympathetic baton of Jonas Alber, the world premiere of the oratorio was met with rapturous applause and a standing ovation by the audience. The premiere was also recorded by SABC3 and featured at 22:00 the same evening.

Jonas Alber

Sibongile Khumalo

Composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen (right) and librettist Brent Meersman (third from right) with theatre icon Pieter-Dirk Uys (centre).

Top performers from the Unisa Music Grade Examinations accompanied the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra.