Flurry of red gowns at June graduation

03 June 2013
Limelight: UCT will confer honorary doctoral degrees on Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu, honouring their contributions to music and role in the country's fight for democracy.
Limelight: UCT will confer honorary doctoral degrees on Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu, honouring their contributions to music and role in the country's fight for democracy.

South African music icons Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu to receive honorary doctorates

June graduation ceremonies at UCT, traditionally more modest events than their December counterparts, have always been marked by the predominance of postgraduate degrees awarded, particularly doctoral degrees. 2013 is no different and this week will see a flurry of red-gowned PhD graduands at the ceremonies. At the time of going to press, 75 PhD graduands were listed, up from 44 in June last year.

They are part of the total of 1 374 students from UCT's six faculties who will receive their diplomas, certificates or degrees during the four graduation ceremonies, split between 6 and 7 June. The figure is slightly up from the 1 340 students who graduated in June 2012.

Special guests

Guests at the June graduations will include Auditor-General Terence Nombembe, who will address the 10h00 ceremony on 6 June, and Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom, who will address the 15h00 ceremony on the same day.

Honorary doctorates for duo

At 10h00 on 7 June honorary degrees will be conferred on South African icons Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu for their contribution to music and role in the country's fight for democracy.

The honours recognise their achievements and reflect the respect and reverence they have engendered in communities that love their music and identify with their history and quest for freedom.

Apart from their international reputation as talented musicians, Semenya and Mbulu have, through their musical achievements, also served as unofficial cultural ambassadors for South Africa.

In 1981 Mbulu narrated You Have Struck a Rock, a documentary on African women's campaigns around non-violent disobedience. In the 1980s Semenya toured with the anti-apartheid musical Buwa. The couple returned to South Africa in 1990. In 2009 they were awarded the Order of iKhamanga in recognition of their excellent contribution to music and the struggle against apartheid.

Semenya is an accomplished musical director and composer, whose body of work includes conceptualising and conducting a Quincy Jones production at the Montreux Jazz Festival featuring several South African artists, including Mbulu and Hugh Masekela.

His compositions have been performed by music legends such as Cannonball Adderley, Harry Belafonte, The Crusaders, Lou Rawls and Nina Simone. He composed the African music for Roots and music included on The Color Purple soundtrack, which earned him an Emmy Award and a Grammy nomination, respectively.

Mbulu has recorded more than 20 albums on renowned labels with highly regarded producers. When she left South Africa for the United States of America in December 1964, she was already well established as a teenage star, having been featured in many big concerts, including the famous African Jazz and Variety Show, as well as the musical King Kong.

A protégée of Miriam Makeba, Mbulu went on to perform alongside other musical greats and is regarded by some as having the greatest voice of all the songbirds of the era.

UCT Book Award

At the 7 June afternoon graduation ceremony, the 2013 UCT Book Award will be presented to Sonja Loots for her novel Sirkusboere. (Meritorious Book Awards have been made to Carrol Clarkson for J.M. Coetzee: Countervoices, and to Fiona C Ross for her work Raw Life, New Hope.)

Loots' Sirkusboere tells the story, based on fact, of a group of traumatised, maimed and penniless veterans of the South African War (1899 to 1902) who were recruited in the aftermath of the war by legendary circus owner Frank Fillis to participate in a bizarre military spectacle at the 1904 World's Fair in St Louis, Missouri. Known as the Boer War Circus, it became one of the most popular events at the fair. The meticulously researched Sirkusboere is a story about trauma, diaspora, showbiz, freakery, racial discrimination, loss, displacement, rollercoasters and sport, and is described as “a wild bronco ride in history's rodeo”.

UCT Creative Work Award

UCT Creative Works Award, which recognises major creative works (such as art works, performances, productions, compositions, architectural designs, and so on) produced by UCT staff within the past five years. This year Associate Professor Johann van der Schijff will receive this award for his catalogue "Community Punching Bag".

Van der Schijff is a senior lecturer at the Michaelis School of Fine Art where he teaches new media in the undergraduate degree as well as doing postgraduate supervision.

His sculptural/new media works have been exhibited nationally and internationally. His research interests are in the areas of computer-aided design and manufacturing techniques and the design of interactive systems.

He says that growing up in South Africa and living in a violent country and continent, questions of power relations in society underlie much of his work, forcing the viewer into a position of choice in their engagement with his artworks.

UCT June graduation statistics


  2012 2013
Commerce 661 612
Engineering & the Built Environment 112 131
Health Sciences 106 138
Humanities 241 231
Law 107 98
Science 113 164
Grand total 1340 1374

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