Mary Burton was awarded an honorary doctorate in social science. Burton was involved first in the struggle for human rights in South Africa, then in national reconciliation in the post-apartheid era. She was president of the Black Sash from 1986 to 1990. She also served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a commissioner on the Human Rights Violations Committee, from 1995 to 1998.
Burton served two terms on the UCT Council, including one as deputy chair from 1999 to 2005. In 2003, she received the Order of Luthuli (silver) from President Thabo Mbeki. The following year she received the Western Cape's highest award, the Order of Disa, and the Reconciliation Award, conferred by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
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