Don's Diary

June 7, 1996

Friday. Arrive Jan Smuts, Johannesburg at breakfast time to 70 degrees of sunshine, quickly blighted by the realisation I am short of one bag. Relieved to say that at least the suitcase carrying the irreplaceable ceremonial robes is not the one missing, but alarmed it is the one with all my suits and ties.

Panic. How to preside at a degree ceremony when the limit of my wardrobe is shirt sleeves, or a striped blazer? By 2 pm South African Airlines still finds no trace, so I stride out from the Sandton Towers in search of a suit. Can you alter it today? Nothing easier - we can deliver by 4.30. They do, and naturally the missing bag is located and delivered less than half an hour later.

Saturday. A momentous day. We open with a prayer, offered with great feeling by Mrs Adelaide Tambo MP, widow of former ANC leader Oliver Tambo.

Our first tranche of South African students, studying here in Johannesburg, is celebrating successful completion of their studies.

Of 24 MBA graduates, 22 are black; the largest group of black students ever to gain MBAs in this country. All held responsible full-time jobs while studying; many are women with small children. These are gritty achievers. They are now even better equipped to move into senior positions, where black role models and mentors are so desperately needed.

We had planned an official degree ceremony today, but without exception the students insist they want to come to Leicester in July to graduate with fellow De Montfort students at "our university".

I was able to announce officially for the first time that President Nelson Mandela is to receive the highest honours of De Montfort University at a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace in July. The assembly went wild, producing the greatest noise in a day of loud cheers.

The woman founder of a student prize was almost unable to speak. "I have lived here more than 30 years" she told me, "but I have always thought of myself as British. This is the most important day of my life. For the first time I feel a part of this country, and proud to be."

Monday. Flew to Durban yesterday, linking up with fellow-members of a Department of Trade and Industry delegation. Events constitute a week-long programme of "Britain Means Business" workshops.

At the minister's reception, which marks the official launch, British colleagues enthuse about their minibus visit to schools in the KwaZulu-Natal bush, struggling to deliver unbelievably high quality, low-tech education to keen students on as little as Pounds 1 per student head per annum.

Tuesday. Education Day. I originally intended the education, training and development workshop to have 100 participants; we expanded to 200 due to furious demand. This morning, an extra 100 recipients of individual invitations, who had not registered, show up. This, I keep being told, is The African Way. The magnificent Royal Hotel rises to the occasion, accommodating 300, including a hot lunch and evening cocktails and canapes, efficiently and without fuss.

Building on earlier events in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the emphasis is again on partnership and mutual interest, with each workshop offering twin presentations from SA and the United Kingdom, followed by free-wheeling discussion. The process identifies potential for future collaboration, including school governor training, contacts between professional and awarding bodies, tourist industry training, industrial training assessment methods, management development audit, industrial design, and the management of change.

The DTI's Committee on South African Trade (COSAT) has developed the database UKSANET, launched at today's event. Accessible by Internet, hard copy will also be available for the first year at least. Queues form for a hands-on go.

Both in spite of and because of unprecedented numbers, a highly satisfactory day.

Wednesday. Out and about with the minister. We are given a boat tour around Durban Harbour , then lunch in a revolving restaurant with representatives of the black business community. They have much to impart about the realities of business development in the townships.

Afternoon tea in the Royal Grill with representatives of the Asian business community. In stark contrast to the black business people, these come mainly from well-established and often family-based business backgrounds.

Thursday. Health Day. I attend a workshop at the University of Natal on primary health care services. As usual, talking informally between sessions brings a number of worthwhile contacts.

On to Durban Country Club, where the Durban Chamber of Commerce is our host for lunch.

Then a brief meeting at Health Systems Trust to discuss possibilities for providing nursing training support to health care projects being established in rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal.

I am beginning to flag, and looking forward to the weekend, to be spent with friends at their beach house near Port Elizabeth.

Michael Brown

Pro vice chancellor at De Montfort University.

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