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The irony of humanity's success

- Refilwe Mabula

The achievements of scientific and technological advances have raised ethical issues, creating an irony around these developments.

Humanity has made great strides over the past 50 to 100 years in many areas such as technology, science and engineering, and health.  

In agriculture, these successes have seen primitive implements for agriculture advancing to more sophisticated farming methods and irrigation techniques. Through the globalisation and evolvement of science, engineering and technology, ancient farming tools such as sickles have now been replaced by more mechanised agriculture methods.

These developments were shared by Dr Sandile Malinga, the first Chief Executive Officer of the South African National Space Agency and a local and global space leader. Malinga was addressing graduands and guests at the first of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment’s graduation ceremony on Wednesday, 9 December 2015.

His lecture was titled: The irony of humanity’s success and the potential contribution that you, as a graduate can make in addressing it.

According to Malinga, the advent of vaccines, medical technology and research has also seen great advances in the health sector.

“As a result of medical advances and other improvements in simple things like access to clean water and sanitation, life expectancy at birth has increased substantially from about 50 years in 1950 to about 70 years today,” he said.

However, despite this modernisation, scientific and technological advances have raised ethical issues, creating an irony around these developments.

His speech attempted to advise students to not let their successes be an irony, but to rather use it to be responsible global citizens.

“Let your success today not be an irony. Let not your success be a conduit to your demise. I challenge you to be socially, environmentally and ethically minded in addressing our challenges. Our sustainability and continued existence demand that. The future is bright for you and for us, because of your success. I believe, there is no justification for you to fail. I believe there is no reasonable justification for you to fail humanity, our environment and your future offspring."

Outdrawing from Albert Einstein, Malinga said:,“ Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire urging the class of 2015 to develop a lifelong quest to acquire wisdom.”