Honorary doctorates for June graduation

12 June 2006

Four extraordinary men will grace this week's graduation ceremonies, each receiving an honorary doctorate from the university. They are actor Bonsile John Kani, archaeologist and rock art specialist David Lewis-Williams, economist Professor Amartya Kumar Sen and historian Professor Thomas Tlou.

Below are extracts from their citations.

Bonsile John Kani - Doctor of Literature

In 1965 a young aspirant actor and employee of Ford Motors was hastily recruited to play the part of Haemon in Sophocles's Antigone because Simon Hanabe, who had been rehearsing to play the part, had been arrested shortly before the opening. Such a story was common in the South Africa of the 1960s but this particular understudy was not common. Despite the iniquities of the apartheid system that threw up obstacles in his path for over 30 years, he went on to become one of the most significant personalities of South African theatre, recognised throughout the world for his performance and the plays that he has written or brought into being through collaborative creation. For 40 years he has strode across the stages of the world as the embodiment of the struggle of ordinary South Africans to maintain a sense of human dignity and integrity in the face of oppression. This he has done through his masterful portrayal of characters such as Sam in Master Harold and the Boys. His awards include a Tony Award on Broadway, the Hiroshima Foundation Award for Peace, and the Order of Ikhamanga from President Thabo Mbeki, recognising his contribution in the struggle for liberation of his country through his work in the arts.

David Lewis-Williams - Doctor of Literature

There are few scholars who grasp the opportunity to shape and transform their own disciplines. Only the rare among the few is also able to transform public understanding and assist in the construction of a nation's identity. David Lewis-Williams is one such. In 1981 he published his monograph on rock art, Believing and Seeing. Its effect was extraordinary. It did what hundreds of articles and books over the previous century had not managed to do - it shaped the study of rock art into a scholarly discipline and gave it the rigour and poetics of his own remarkable, theoretical and literary reach. Rock art, he contested, was not just about the illustration of a lifestyle, it was the realisation of a rich religious and intellectual tradition that was at the heart of San society. This, at the time, was an almost radical position to adopt. Yet, controversial as his position initially was, his debating and linguistic skills and scores of articles and conference presentations eventually attracted many followers. It was his influence that provided us with the /xam motto on the new South African Coat of Arms. He has been responsible for the reconstruction of aboriginal identity.

Prof Amartya Kumar Sen - Doctor of Economic Sciences

Professor Sen has made distinguished contributions to three fields: normal welfare economics, political and social philosophy, and, most famously, development theory and policy, with a particular emphasis on how poverty is conceived and measured. Sen's work in the first area alone would have merited his 1998 Nobel Prize. His 1970 book Collective Choice and Social Welfare is among the great classics of the discipline. When Professor Sen now criticises "welfarism" as an unduly narrow way of understanding wellbeing, we must be aware that this is coming from the person who did more than any other to make clear what welfarism is and shows. Professor Sen was born and raised in India. He has been a great patriot. In India there are of course problems of poverty and redevelopment. For about 20 years he has been the most prominent voice among economists on this most important of all economic topics. His most widely-read book, Development as Freedom, was based on a series of lectures he gave to the World Bank in 1996. Professor Sen has done more than any other public intellectual to bring to prominence the close relationship between the devaluation of women and barriers to development as freedom.

Professor Thomas Tlou - Doctor of Literature

Professor Thomas Tlou is a respected historian and a distinguished son of Africa whose contributions to higher education in his native Botswana and in Southern Africa and the continent as a whole are many and lasting. In 1984 he became the first Motswana to hold the post of vice-chancellor of the fully-fledged University of Botswana, retiring in 1988 after 12 years of leadership in a period that was both formative and turbulent for the higher education sector in Southern Africa as a whole. He also served as Botswana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations between 1976 and 1980, as chair of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and as a member of the executive board of the Association of African Universities. In the latter capacity he was instrumental in facilitating the re-entry of South African universities into the continental academic fold through interaction with AAU members just prior to 1994. A significant outcome of this for UCT was the creation of the USHEPiA programme, of which Tom Tlou was an early and strong supporter. He has been honoured by the French government as Chevalier dans L'Ordre des Palms Academiques and is a recipient of the Botswana Presidential Order of Honour.

Vice-chancellor and principal Professor Njabulo S Ndebele will receive two honorary doctorates later this year; a Doctor of Laws from Cambridge University and a Doctor of Literature from the University College London.

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