Back in 1955, when young anti-apartheid activist Denis Goldberg graduated with a bachelorʼs degree in civil engineering, the University of Cape Town (UCT) was a different place.
A “sea of white faces” filled what is now known as Sarah Baartman Hall to accept their degrees. And as Goldberg bluntly put it, that year “not one black student studied at the so-called open university”.
Fast-forward more than six decades and Goldberg has returned to UCT, this time to accept an honorary doctorate from the institution for his unwavering and indelible contribution to the country, the continent and the world at large.
Addressing a packed venue during the one-day winter graduation ceremony on 12 July, Goldberg said he is proud to witness the rebirth of his alma mater.
“South Africa wasn’t here in 1955, but today South Africa is here. I am honoured to accept this honorary doctorate.
“When I graduated with my bachelorʼs degree, I didn’t get a hug from a gorgeous woman. And dare I whisper, a black woman at that. A lot has changed in South Africa,” Goldberg said of UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, to loud cheers from the audience.
“It takes years to turn a tanker around, but we’ve got to turn it around and we’ve got to do it quickly.”
He compared UCT to an oil tanker, telling academics, graduands and their families that turning it around will be a “helluva task”.
“It takes years to turn a tanker around, but we’ve got to turn it around and we’ve got to do it quickly,” he said.
While he continues to witness change happening within the university, which includes the renaming of certain UCT buildings, it’s not happening fast enough. The need to speed up the process of transformation is critical, he stressed.
“It has to go faster; people are getting impatient.”
And change comes from inside, he added.
“I do see nice things happening here and I am optimistic, [but] we need to take the banner and march forward.”
Phakeng thanked Goldberg for accepting an honorary doctorate from UCT.
She told the audience that if anyone in the world doubts the institution’s values, they should study its list of recipients of honorary doctorates.
“If anyone doesn’t know what we stand for, they just need to take a look at who we honour.”
“If anyone doesn’t know what we stand for, they just need to take a look at who we honour,” she said.
The institution presented 389 students with their qualifications during the July graduation ceremony. The degrees and diplomas include Goldbergʼs honorary doctorate and 102 doctoral degrees.
The atmosphere became sombre as the sister of Sikhumbuzo Manwood Skhura Yani, a PhD graduand in the humanities faculty, accepted his posthumous degree following his recent passing.
Other qualifications conferred were 61 master’s degrees, 143 MBAs, one honours degree and 82 diplomas and certificates.
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