Graduation marks farewell to Chancellor Graça Machel

12 December 2019 | Story Helen Swingler. Photos Brenton Geach. Read time 5 min.
Graça Machel presides over her last graduation season as chancellor of UCT in the newly named Sarah Baartman Hall. She has served the university for 20 years, and her second term ends on 31 December.
Graça Machel presides over her last graduation season as chancellor of UCT in the newly named Sarah Baartman Hall. She has served the university for 20 years, and her second term ends on 31 December.

When she became chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) 20 years ago, Graça Machel presided over graduations in the Jameson Hall. After two terms in office, Machel is officiating at her last graduation season, but this time in the newly named Sarah Baartman Hall – a strong symbol of transformation over two decades.

December’s 1 771 graduands will be capped at six graduation ceremonies on 12, 13 and 23 December. The first of these, at 10:00 on Thursday, 12 December, saw 260 graduands of the faculties of Law and Health Sciences capped.

In her congratulations, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng assured graduands of a bright future: “You are getting a degree from one of the best universities in the world and the best that Africa has to offer.”

Postgraduate student Gyu-Min Kim, who graduates on 13 December, accompanied opera student Siphe Kwani in a rousing rendition of “Stars” from the musical Les Miserables.

She said that as they stood at the edge of what they had achieved and what they would make of themselves in the years to come, they were not alone.

“Today we mark [another] moment of transition in the life of the university; we bid farewell to Mrs Graça Machel who has been chancellor of UCT for the past 20 years. We will say a fuller goodbye at this afternoon’s graduation ceremony, but I want to say a few words now: thank you.


“You are getting a degree from one of the best universities in the world and the best that Africa has.”

“You have been a faithful support to me and my predecessors. You have stood with UCT at our most vulnerable times as our mother, our elder and our conscience. You have shared our anger and our joy. You are a woman of action and by your example and your encouraging words, you have called us to be active in our transformation as a university and as a society.

“Thank you for inspiring us … to be proud of being African and to be leaders that change the world. It’s been a great pleasure working with you.”

Honorary doctorates

The graduations will also see UCT confer three honorary degrees: to renowned scholar Professor Jonathan Jansen, to world-leading biochemical engineer Dr Georges Belfort, and to leading scientist in molecular genetics and biochemistry Dr Marlene Belfort.

UCT Book Award and Creative Works Award

Other members of the UCT community who will be honoured are the joint recipients of the 2019 UCT Book Award, Professor Alphose Zingoni (Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment) and Anna Tietze (Faculty of Humanities) as well as recipients of the 2019 Creative Works Award, shared by Clint Abraham (Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment), Associate Professor Dizu Plaatjies and Dr Andrew Lilley (both of the Faculty of Humanities).

Among the well-wishers in the Sarah Baartman Hall this morning were Golden Graduates from 1969, celebrating 50 years since their own graduations.

Curious with purpose

Guest speaker at the 10:00 ceremony was cardiac surgeon Professor Peter Zilla of the Chris Barnard Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery. He urged graduands to develop the life mantra, “curious with purpose”.

“Graduation is a highlight we share all around the world … however, it comes with privileges and responsibility. One of the privileges is that higher education gives us the tools to be curious with purpose … And now society needs you to go out and ask questions with purpose.”

He said higher education also prepared graduands for leadership. Leadership was not management, however, but rather ongoing curiosity, exploring uncharted territory and finding creative solutions.

“Life on purpose should be your governing principle,” he said, referring to his hero, Dr Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor.

“His mantra stated that the detour through purpose is faster and more successful than the direct route. Let me assure you, your curiosity and purpose will make your life both colourful and meaningful.”

Citing examples from his own life and pioneering work, Zilla said, “You are the leaders of tomorrow. Challenging circumstance can only break your spirit if you stop asking questions and if you stop believing that you can come up with creative answers.”

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December graduation 2019

The University of Cape Town will be celebrating the graduation of 1 960 of its students over six graduation ceremonies on 12, 13 and 23 December, which include the conferral of three honorary doctorates and the presentation of the UCT Book Award and the UCT Creative Works Award. This graduation season, we also bid a fond farewell to our chancellor, Mrs Graça Machel, who has been the titular head of the university for the past 20 years. Her compassionate and dedicated service to the university will be deeply missed.
Farewell Chancellor Graça Machel

Our stories: inspirational graduates

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Former Miss SA’s road to graduation Tamaryn Green will graduate with her MBChB from UCT on Monday, 23 December, and says she will forever remember the “challenging yet fulfilling” seven-year journey. 19 Dec 2019
Through dysphoria to a doctoral degree Velile Vilane’s journey to a PhD from the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment goes beyond the degree – it’s about coming into being. 12 Dec 2019
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‘Education was my only hope’ Monica Damane, who will graduate on Thursday, 12 December, with her MSc in engineering says the road to this achievement has been far from easy. 11 Dec 2019
‘I refused to be called a failure’ Having endured personal setbacks and defied the odds, Furaha Abwe will graduate with his PhD in Architecture and Planning on Thursday, 12 December. 11 Dec 2019
Swimming upstream – the second-chance graduand This week UCT celebrates its inspirational graduands, students such as staffer Nombuso Shabalala who reclaimed her life after a traumatic event had left her becalmed. 10 Dec 2019
Burn the boat to win the island Having worked her way through to her doctoral studies, Delta Ndou will soon don the sought-after red robe to receive her PhD in Media Studies at UCT. 10 Dec 2019
Dream big and apply yourself fully Musa Kika arrived at UCT to study for an LLM, but his master’s was upgraded and he will be graduating in December with a PhD. 09 Dec 2019
Graduation speakers