Almost 30 years after first rounding off his studies at Cambridge University, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Njabulo S Ndebele, returned to his distinguished alma mater last month, this time to receive an honorary doctorate in law.
Prof Ndebele was in good company. He was one of seven recipients of honorary degrees, all capped by Cambridge Chancellor, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at the Cambridge ceremonies in June.
The other graduands were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams; Professor Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England; Dr Charles Vest, president emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Professor Edward Witten, Charles Simonyi professor of mathematical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; Professor Ahmed Zewail, Linus Pauling professor in chemical physics at the California Institute of Technology; and novelist Margaret Drabble.
"It was a good and humbling feeling to be in the company of my fellow honorary graduands," says Prof Ndebele. "A very special honour."
Prof Ndebele had another honour. He spoke on behalf of the graduands in a reply to the Chancellor's toast after the graduation ceremony.
"This timeless graduation binds us to all who have been here centuries before, and to whom we feel bound together by an institution, in its various manifestations, as permanent as human society," he said at the occasion.
Prof Ndebele first went to Cambridge in 1973 - on his first overseas trip - as part of a foreign student programme. He attended Churchill College and studied English literature, completing his honours and master's degrees. He held his own in class, he says, because of the high standard of his undergraduate training at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (now the National University of Lesotho).
But Cambridge has a special place in his career. It was here, after all, that he was exposed to the writings of James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Bertolt Brecht, "writers with probably the deepest influence on my own writing".
During his time at Cambridge, Prof Ndebele received the Cambridge South Africa Bursary Fund, made possible through voluntary contributions from undergraduates at the university.
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