2017 Cranefield College Graduation address by Mr Bonisile Makubalo

Principal of Cranefield College, Prof P. Steyn;

Chairperson and members of our Governing Council;

Cranefield management, all lecturers and staff


Proud parents, partners and relatives of the graduands;

Ladies and gentlemen,


Welcome to the 2017 graduation of Cranefield College, it is an honour and a privilege for me to address you today on this auspicious occasion.

This, is a once in a life time moment for all of you graduands, therefore, take a deep breath – OBSERVE AND ABSORB THIS MOMENT!

  1. Introduction
  • Calibration

It may come as a shock but in the interest of full declaration – I would like to tell you that my views only represent my choices and experiences and NOT the ultimate truth. This means you can challenge them and in fact I’m sure there are many alternative views and paths. Therefore, what you get out of this address will entirely depend on you.

I’m quite aware that this is a special day for the graduands and their loved ones and therefore I will make a short speech.

  • Take a Moment
    • Xenophobia – we all should strongly reject this bad development
    • Higher Education Convention – outcome was disappointing, hope they’ll catch up.
    • This year is the 100th Year Commemoration of the sinking of the SS Mendi ship – we remain proud of their sacrifices.
    • We note and advance the National Library week


  1. Contemporary Events

“When your mind is closed and your spirit is covered with the snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty.  But as long as your mind is searching optimistically for a new and better path, there is hope you may die young at ninety”

Samuel Ullman

  • Global Geopolitical Scene

Let me outline the key events impacting the current geopolitics:

  • The rising influence of China and Russia
  • Davos 2017 for the first time had the Chinese president setting the global agenda for the United Nations focus on peace and development. This was backed by a commitment for a substantial financial support for the UN.
  • As for Russia, 2017 has placed them in a high position of significant impact on stability (military) and economic influence in the Middle East. This is clearly demonstrated by their role in Syria and at Opec (having been the mediator between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the low oil production resolution – limit production to a range of 32.5 to 33 million barrels a day).
  • The EU has its economic and Military/Defence challenges. The economic challenges leading to rapid changes of leadership in Italy, Greece (possible GREXIT) and BREXIT in the UK. The Military/Defence challenges as a result of the new US policy on NATO and the challenges with Turkey.
    • The election of President Trump and the US internal strife from then on till now.
    • The rise of fake news and the loss of confidence on some mainstream media organisations.
    • The rapid modernisation and increase of the nuclear arsenal by Russia, China and the US (more especially during the Obama administration) – violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but also not forgetting North Korea and Iranian nuclear ambitions.
    • The political and military instability in the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Israeli/Palestinian conflict) and the horn of Africa (Libya).

The abovementioned events provide a limited list of the contemporary geopolitical events – as you could notice/observe I avoided the merits and demerits but rather presented them as they are. If we were to employ the Pareto principle, we would all agree that the new US administration represents the most fundamental policy shift that has a decisive domestic (security, justice, economy) and global impact (balance of power, international treaties, economic, American exceptionalism doctrine – with an added twist of “America first”).

Please note I have chosen to illustrate the US because of its sheer influence on humanity in terms of cohesion, trade, peace, commerce and globalisation.

  • South African Political Scene
  • The 2016 Local government elections resulted in a fundamental political shift. Voters asserting their choice and the emergence of coalition governments – these are new normal.
  • 2017 will test the ability of the opposition parties to maintain their coalition arrangements as much as it will test the ability of the ruling party to be a constructively effective opposition.
  • 2017 being an elective year of the ANC, has a full year long calendar due to the following:
    • Finalisation of wisdom lists
    • Branch General Meeting to select conference delegates, NEC nominations and policy resolutions.
    • Regional, Provincial and National list conferences.
    • National policy conference (that traditionally seats midyear –that’s planned for June).
    • National Consultative conference (call for and agreed with the veterans).
    • Lastly, the December national elective conference
  • It’s not impossible to realise that the above full calendar could defocus the cabinet during this critical year in which our country needs to avoid a downgrade and recession.


South African Economic Scene (23 years since 1994):

  • Substandard growth projection at less than 1% whilst an established fact is that we need at least an above 6% year-on-year sustainable growth to address our socio-economic challenges.
  • The financial underperformance of the large SOEs- the return on equity of the 16 largest SOEs in the 2015/2016 fiscal year was only 0.8%, well below any reasonable estimate of the cost of capital.
  • World-class capital markets and well-capitalised banking sector. The government is not dependent on borrowing only from foreign markets and risking exposure to currency swings (Foreign debt at 10% of the total R2 trillion). (28 Feb 2017 Business Report, page 18).
  • The continued threat of being downgraded to junk status and its resultant negative impact.
  • Lack of sustainable government and business cooperation driven by mistrust. Political divisions and business not investing in the economy
  • According to an article published on the website on the 23rd of May 2016 by Mike Cohen, Liezel Hill and Kevin Crowley, South African business had a combined cash balance of R725 billion in their banks rather than being invested in the economy. The country desperately needs to unlocking domestic investment.
  • Regression of social cohesion and transformation
  • Excellent NDP with no commitment and thus making it a pipe dream. We have missed most if not all of the NDP milestone and that makes it impossible to see achievement of these good targets, to me the biggest danger is what will happen to the “deferred dream” of poor South African.
  • The growth of inequality as represented by the Gini coefficient.


It may appear that the two observations represent doom and gloom, but to the contrary (to me) they represent opportunities. These are political and business opportunities for:

  • Honest and dedicated humanists to play a role (be it public or private).
  • To influence, change and build our socio-political environments for unity than division, for cohesion than exclusion, for country first than party, for creating opportunities for South Africans than the selected (often) incompetent few.

Above all these, nothing will beat individual commitment, hard work, dedication, selflessness and education. You 2017 graduands, you represent this important future that our country needs so much. I therefore once more congratulate you for being on the right path, but let us see if you are adequately prepared for the coming challenges.


  1. Quest for Knowledge, expertise & Influence

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give”

Winston Churchill

Bruce Lee – you may not be aware that as much of a martial artist he was also a philosopher – once said “those who walk in the dark and don’t know the light, will never seek the light”. This means those who want to know more will have to always open themselves up to knowledge and learning. My experience has taught me that when we think graduation represents the last lap in the quest for knowledge, we often make a dangerous mistake of slowly becoming irrelevant. My former Chairman and the current Imperial Holdings CEO, Mr Mark Lamberti used to say “If you grow faster that your organisation you are becoming valuable but, if your organisation grows faster than you, then you’re becoming redundant”, may this never happen to you.

The prevailing challenges in our businesses -but highly conspicuous in the SOE’s – is the one of boards and executives filled with individuals who want power and influence without knowledge and expertise. In life there are attributes that we currently don’t have an instant cure for, such as a pill/tablet of knowledge – the process of imbibing knowledge remains a domain of the dedicated, committed and hard workers, such as yourselves. Therefore, fraudulently buying a qualification can never match the knowledge accumulated in the education process. This means, instant education/knowledge does not exist just like instant expertise – these are achieved through refining processes.



“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson


What should we do?

We must show that intellect, application, diligence, creativity, innovation, service, judgement, integrity and just plain hard work will succeed long after the dishonest opportunists have been forgotten. We must protect our reputation with strong character and sound judgement and we must nurture it in the knowledge that we cannot talk our way out of a situation we have behaved our way into. We must accept that we cannot apply one set of ethics for our family, a second for the office and a third on the golf course. We have to accept that there’s an expiry date on blaming others for your actions. You have to claim and take full charge of your life. What is there to lose?

Your future will only be limited by the choices you make.


How to sustain motivation and maintain a good perspective

Michael Josephson provides us an excellent context on significance in his poem that I truly love entitled “What will matter”.

Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end,
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies, will finally disappear.
So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you come from or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end. It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant. Even your gender and skin colour will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought but what you built,
not what you got but what you gave,
What will matter is not your success but your significance,
What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught,
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion ,courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew,
but how many people will feel a lasting loss when you are gone.
What will matter is not your memories but the memories of those who loved you.
What will matter is how you will be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance but choice.
Choose to live a life that matters


Live each day as though it was your last, cause one day it will probably be true!

Congratulation to all of you 2017 graduands and may you grow in wealth, wisdom and may you be TRUE TO YOURSELF in everything you do.

Our country desperately needs the best version of you.

I thank you

About the Speaker:

Mr. Bonisile Makubalo
ND (Mech. Eng.), MBA, PhD Candidate at Cranefield College, IoDSA.

Born in the Eastern Cape and matriculated with a university exemption from Limekhaya High. Bonisile completed a Mechanical Engineering National Diploma from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (former PE Technikon).

He also completed an Executive Leadership Program at Unisa Business School, a New Managers Program certificate from UCT Business School and a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) from the Management College of Southern Africa. Bonisile is currently registered as a PhD candidate in Commerce and Administration at Cranefield College.

He has worked for GMSA (former Delta Motor Corporation) as a Product and Project Engineer in the Product Development and Planning Department. He joined Denel as a Design Engineer in the Mining Section and worked as Business Unit Manager Mining and later the Business Development Executive. He was responsible for the entire Mining Business Unit from Marketing, Logistics, Production, Global distribution, Research and Development and Technology Transfer.