Son of Africa, we salute you

28 April 2022 | Tribute Dr Mamphela Ramphele. Photo UCT News. Read time 4 min.
Emer Prof Francis Wilson’s footprints will remain deeply etched at UCT.
Emer Prof Francis Wilson’s footprints will remain deeply etched at UCT.

Francis Wilson has left indelible deep footprints wherever he found himself as an academic, a citizen, a friend and a mentor of countless people including myself, whose lives he shaped.

He contributed to a brand of scholarship that challenged the ivory towers of academia not to avert their gaze from the ugly realities of poverty, inequality and inequities of racism, sexism and other forms of exploitation. UCT owes Francis Wilson a huge debt of gratitude for establishing and leading the South African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) as a platform for seminal transformative work. He practised economics as the social science it is. He resisted the common tendency to make economics into a mathematical science, but kept a sharp focus on human relationships at the centre of the exchange of goods and services.

Francis Wilson was a sensitive, effective enabler of countless people shut out of the enjoyment of socio-economic rights by the racist colonial system of our country. He was creative at finding pathways to access opportunities to unleash talents of excluded people to become leaders and professionals across South Africa. He was not only a talent-spotter of note, but also had the generosity of spirit to nurture talent. He shared his extensive global networks with his mentees to expand their horizons beyond their home country and continent.


“I am a prime example of Francis’s generous nurturing and support at the personal and professional levels.”

I am a prime example of Francis’s generous nurturing and support at the personal and professional levels. It was through him that I landed at UCT in 1984 after years of activism, pain and loss, banishment and single parenthood. He invited me to SALDRU to work with him on the Report of Second Carnegie Enquiry into Poverty. He valued the complementaries between us as a sound basis for a working partnership. A Black Consciousness activist and an academic from Scottish Missionary stock made for diversity that created a strong bond. He devoted himself to teaching me how to write, to expand my horizons from my then strong oral culture. It was the most enjoyable and amusing process. He tamed my flowery language into the discipline of academic writing at the ripe age of 37 years. I am eternally indebted to him.

He was an effective connector. He leveraged his privileged family and academic circles to expose those on the margins of our then discriminatory racist society to introduce us to people we could never have met otherwise. Most of the friends and professional support systems I have today are my heritage from Francis’s generosity.

Francis Wilson belongs to a select group of human beings who have understood that to be human is to be connected to, and interdependent, on others within the web of life. He lived his life at the personal, professional and political levels governed by the values of ubuntu.

We salute this son of Africa who has lived a truly high-impact, meaningful life. His footprints will remain deeply etched at UCT and in the many hearts and minds he touched. We can never forget his infectious energy and enthusiasm in all he did.

Hamba Kahle Buti! U lale ngo Xolo!

Mamphela Ramphele

Former UCT Vice-Chancellor and co-Founder of ReimagineSA

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