Eusebius McKaiser, radio personality, author and a fellow of the Wits Centre for Ethics, delivered the keynote address at the graduation ceremony for higher degrees from the faculties of Engineering and the Built Environment and Humanities on Monday, 10 December 2012.
McKaiser said South Africa needed to establish a culture of pursuing academic excellence for the sake of it, in a field one felt passionate about, and to relieve the pressure to choose academic projects with obvious, practical benefits.
He recalled the uncomfortable relationship between the state and academic institutions in the 1990s, when there was a lot of pressure on academic departments to prove social worth and many were forced to close. He argued for ‘a space where you can choose to spend the next 40 years working on the metaphysics of colour rather than pretending you actually care about domestic workers’ by saying that the best way to help citizens was to breed intellectually curious people.
McKaiser followed this argument with his assertion that – many times – intellectual curiosity takes academic projects in the direction of the greatest social relevancy anyway. “There are obvious questions with obvious relevance to the lives of South Africans, and it surprises me that these questions don’t find their way – out of academic curiosity – into academic institutions,” he said.
McKaiser then posed some questions. “What is the connecting tissue between all the faculties? What should a Wits degree really be about? You should leave with a critical and sceptical attitude towards your own belief set.”
He said he was amazed by how uncomfortable South Africans were about upsetting the public discourse, and argued against a society that prioritised keeping the peace over intellectual and academic freedom.
McKaiser also used his keynote address to acknowledge in particular those students who came from difficult backgrounds. He said such students often felt they had to be grateful for the opportunity to study, and that the cost of that opportunity – social and emotional stress – was often not talked about.
Eusebius McKaiser studied law and philosophy at Rhodes University where he graduated with a Masters in Arts Degree in Philosophy. His thesis, In Defense of Moral Objectivity, argued against moral relativism and sketched the normative basis for universal moral principles.
After obtaining a prestigious international Rhodes Scholarship, McKaiser spent time at Oxford University working with Professor John Broome, researching whether or not persons are morally responsible for their beliefs. He then had a brief corporate stint, as an associate at McKinsey and Company, working in Europe and South Africa as a strategy consultant.
In 2009, he decided to pursue his true passions – political analysis, broadcasting and writing. He has written extensively in the print media about South African politics and current affairs. He has previously been a columnist for Business Day and The New York Times. His work has appeared in many other local and international publications, including Mail & Guardian, The Guardian, and The New Republic.
As a competitive debater, McKaiser has had a long, successful international career. In 2011, he won the World Masters Debate Championships. He has coached debating and public speaking in South Africa, Europe and the Middle East over the past 10 years.
McKaiser hosted Interface on SABC3 before becoming a talk show host on Talk Radio 702, as anchor of the daily evening slot, Talk At Nine. He has just released his first book, a collection of personal and critical essays, A Bantu in My Bathroom. This collection became a bestseller within 10 days. He is currently working on his second book, which will analyse the Democratic Alliance's strengths and weaknesses ahead of the 2014 elections.