A Purposeful Life – Lapalala Wilderness School Opening Address

by Dr RJ Khoza - 26 November 2022


Thank you for inviting me to this Year End Function of Lapalala Wilderness School which also celebrates your move to the new premises. May I start by paying homage to those who cooperate to make this wonderful project work:


Chairman Dr John Hanks for championing the practical implementation of striking a healthy balance linking people, profit and planet. What is uniquely praiseworthy about the Lapalala Wilderness School is that you do this with students and young adults from formative years through tertiary education to the world of work.


May I extend my salutation to the visionary, missionary Parker Family for the founding sponsorship of this wonderful initiative. Thank you too to the Patron, Mr Clive Walker for ensuring that the flame lit by the Parkers keeps burning.  Our deep sense of gratitude is extended to the benefactors of this project:  Mr Gianni Ravazzotti, entrepreneur, corporate leader and very importantly philanthropist.  Mr Mavuso Msimang, apart from being a trustee of the Lapalala Wilderness School you continue to be a major source of inspiration as ANC stalwart and national luminary. As Director of this exemplary school concept in practice, Mr Mashudu Makhokha, your role is pivotal. To members of staff, both teachers and administrators, may I echo Henry Adam’s observation that “A teacher affects eternity. He/she can never tell where his/her influence stops.” To this, Aristotle adds that “Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than parents for parents only gave life, teachers inculcate the art of living.” Teachers nourish and shape character.


May I finally pay my respect to the students and alumni of this school in its 35 years of existence. Yours is to promote light in a nation that may otherwise be plunged in darkness.


I have chosen to address you on the subject: A Purposeful Life. Life is a journey from B(irth) is D(eath). Those who live their lives meaningfully, prepare for the journey of life, embark on it with personal purpose or mission, go through the journey with a sense of destiny. We were all brought into this world for a purpose. Identify your purpose or mission and pursue it with determination. Whatever you chose to pursue as your career do it with diligence, dedication, and distinction.


The mission of this school is “To help our children and young adults discover the value of biodiversity in our natural world and our place within it, and to identify and nurture Africa’s future conservation champions.” This is as good a platform and launch pad as anyone could wish for. In my opinion all South African schools should have biodiversity and Nature conservation as a subject in their curriculum. Consciousness, knowledge and caring about the Triple P’s: People, Profit and Planet are fundamental to human sustenance and sustainability.


I indicated earlier that I wish to address you on the theme: A Purposeful Life. I will use the life of Professional Eskia Mphahlele to illustrate the importance of a purpose driven life.


When one of his proteges, Professor Muxe Nkondo visited him during the last days of his life, following an exchange of greetings, Eskia paused for a pregnant moment and posed this profound question: What was it all about? The question is at the core of a purpose driven life.


It is a question that those of us who have been around for decades and are now contemplating transition to eternity should ask ourselves: What was it all about? It may just spur us to muster enough energy to deliver some good before our final departure. For you, the current generation of South Africa’s intelligentsia and other serious minded youths and young adults of the day, the question MUST be put in the present tense: What IS it all about? What is the cardinal purpose of your life? What is likely to be your legacy? What impact are you having on your family, your community, your corporation, your nation? What positive difference are you or will you be making?


The well-known humanitarian and Nobel Peace prize winner, Albert Schweizer advises wisely: “I don't know what your destiny will be but one thing I do know: the only ones amongst you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” I guess Eskia Mphalele's life as we know it answered the profound question he posed in that he indeed was Eskia the teacher, Eskia the poet, Eskia the writer, Eskia the thinker, Eskia the African Humanist, Eskia the Cultural Activist, Eskia the quintessential educator, Eskia the perennial fountain of inspiration. That is surely worthy of a salute by posterity.

This address takes place at a time when the world is in turmoil, struggling to navigate through untold turbulence. This turbulence predates COVID-19 and is compounded by this unprecedented pandemic.


The prevailing turbulence is pervasive: National, continental and international.


In our beloved country, South Africa, the turbulence is characterised by, inter alia:


  • A succession of plans that suffocate in government shelves with no pragmatic timelines, deadlines and durable commitment to implementation.
  • National visions that blur to oblivion before they become rallying forces capable of uniting and aligning the nation.
  • A yawning and menacing debt to GDP ratio that threatens to engulf our political economy, and call to question our sovereignty through indebtedness to the IMF.
  • Galloping unemployment statistics, particularly among the youth, sure to fuel uncontainable instability.
  • Widespread corruption that defied even valiant efforts at dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. There is nothing more depraved and inhuman than stealing money meant for the destitute. All South Africans of goodwill must do something about this brazen, crass, obdurate culture of corruption.


As for our beloved continent, Africa, the somewhat low intensity but just as debilitating and potentially devastating signs include:

  • The waning of the once powerful, unifying and compelling vision of the African Renaissance and the emergence in its place of limp wristed AU leadership that seems to take the continent nowhere.
  • A continent that continues to be in fragments, apparently oblivious of the 21st Century Version of the Scramble for Africa.
  • Rampant hunger, malnutrition and starvation on a continent with countries that should be food baskets for the world, not basket cases.
  • Internecine strife in the build up to and post elections, stolen elections, denied elections in the form of indefinite postponements,
  • Atrophy of wholesome practices like the African Peer Review
  • Large scale genocide inspired by ideology or religious fanaticism such as that by Boko Haram and more.

Amidst this turbulence what do you individually and collectively plan to do with your lives to answer the quintessential question: What is it all about?

Frederick Douglass, Afro-American former slave and deep thinker advised his followers on self-determination as follows: "Our destiny is largely in our hands. If we find, we shall have to seek. If we succeed in the race of life it must be by our own energies and our own exertions. Others may clear the road, but we must go forward, or be left behind in the race of life. If we remain poor and dependent, the riches of other men will not avail us. If we are ignorant, the intelligence of other men will do but little for us. If we are foolish, the wisdom of other men will not guide us; if we are wasteful of time and money, the economy of other men will only make our destitution the more disgraceful and hurtful. "

Back to the quintessential question What is it all about? Allow me to enunciate a few core values and what I suggest we exhort you to commit to:

  • Pledging to transform the current breakdowns in our society into breakthroughs.
  • Replacing defeatist notions with victorious thoughts.
  • Supplanting can't do attitudes with a sense of efficacy, consciousness of oppression with consciousness of victory.
  • Replacing harassment of our women and children with a super abundance of affection and care.
  • Doing away with self-effacement and to replace it with self-effectiveness.
  • Dispelling pervasive incompetence and to champion African accomplishment at par with the best there is.
  • Replacing immoral behaviour with ethical conduct.

From this day on let us strive to dispel failure and shame from our lives and commit ourselves to success and even greater success in all walks of life as South Africans and contemporary leaders.

I have personally developed a mantra that I chant to myself. It is a mantra of an ideal African:

An African who is master of their destiny

An African who has a clear and compelling vision

An African who is known for what he stands for

An African who is a profoundly moral being

An African who is imbued with integrity, able and competent

An African who leads a renaissance

An African who takes responsibility for his actions

An African who builds a future

An African who when she looks in the mirror sees the hand of God


It is my humble submission that against the above profile of what I consider to be an ideal African every one of us can establish his / her own purpose driven life.