Colourful, joyous end-of-year graduation a ‘splendid moment of celebration’

18 December 2023 | Story Helen Swingler. Read time 8 min.
UCT celebrated graduation in style, capping nearly 2 000 candidates. <b>Photo</b> Robyn Walker.
UCT celebrated graduation in style, capping nearly 2 000 candidates. Photo Robyn Walker.

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) upper campus came alive after the post-exam hiatus to host five colourful and joyous graduation ceremonies on 14 and 15 December, what Vice-Chancellor interim Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy referred to as “a splendid moment of celebration”.

Graduations are the highlight of the academic calendar and the 2023 end-of-year season saw 1 899 graduands from all six academic faculties, and from undergraduate to doctoral level, qualify to be capped in the Sarah Baartman Hall.

Altogether 100 PhDs and 1 068 master’s degrees were awarded. In addition, a Doctor of Science in Medicine (honoris causa) was conferred on obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Mitchell Besser at the 14:00 Faculty of Health Sciences ceremony on 14 December.

Hon doc for esteemed health practitioner

A highly respected public health and global health practitioner and clinician, Dr Besser was born in the United States and is a graduate of Harvard Medical School. His professional career has been dedicated to the public health needs of women.

He was recognised for his public services and meeting the public health needs of women living with HIV in South Africa and beyond.

In 1999, Besser joined UCT’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, assisting with the development of services to meet the needs of pregnant women living with HIV and to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children.

He founded the Mothers2Mothers (M2M) organisation, which he used as a channel through which HIV-positive mothers could support and empower one another during pregnancy. He made substantial social and economic impact from his interventions in societies in different countries.


“His work has epitomised the values of service, integrity, respect, fairness, courage, and responsibility.”

Through M2M, 14.5 million individuals were reached with life-changing health services and education since 2001. The M2M programme has helped 4.4 million adults who have remained HIV-negative over the past seven years alone. In addition, 1.2 million people living with HIV have been able to access life-saving antiretroviral treatment since 2008.

The tribute published in the graduation programme reads, “Dr Besser had an impact in elevating the esteem of the University of Cape Town through his charitable and public health service on prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, which commenced while he was affiliated with the university. His work has epitomised the values of service, integrity, respect, fairness, courage, and responsibility – which have been at the core of every professional endeavour he has undertaken – and these are values that are also central to the university.”

In his communiqué to the campus community, Emeritus Professor Reddy noted, “UCT is privileged and honoured to have worked with an obstetrician and gynaecologist of his calibre and stature; a person who has expanded the frontiers of knowledge in a manner that makes real, tangible and impactful changes in people’s lives. We congratulate Dr Besser on this well-deserved accolade.”

Support and success

Of the almost 2 000 graduates, the Faculty of Commerce graduated 660 candidates, the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment 275, the Faculty of Health Sciences 364, the Faculty of Humanities 311, the Faculty of Law 85, and the Faculty of Science 204.

Congratulating the graduands, Reddy said graduation ceremonies give UCT a unique opportunity to recognise, honour, and celebrate new graduates’ academic success and achievements.

“As an African saying goes, Umntu ngumntu ngabantu (loose translation: We are all connected and one succeeds through the support of others), we firmly believe that our students’ success and support from academics and administrative staff is a testament to this.


“You have pushed the frontiers of knowledge and have opened new vistas for further exploration.”

“It is therefore befitting to acknowledge and congratulate UCT academics and support staff who worked tirelessly leading to this momentous period. We equally congratulate the family and friends of our graduands who offered them support and encouragement during their studies.”

He added, “To our graduands, you have now made an essential contribution to our accumulated stock of knowledge. You have pushed the frontiers of knowledge and have opened new vistas for further exploration. Your sacrifices, tenacity and persistence have brought you to this splendid moment of celebration. Congratulations!”

A community effort

Addressing graduates at the end of the first ceremony on 14 December, UCT Chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, said, “An important reason for celebrating graduation in a ceremony like this – with the procession, the blessing of the imbongi, the music, the speeches and the presentation of each graduand – is because UCT is a community. 

“There is only one name on each diploma and you each deserve to feel huge pride in what you have accomplished. But so many different people played a part, big or small, in all the hard work, financial planning and overcoming challenges to help you complete your programme of study. Not all of them are here today to share this experience with you. But they are part of your personal community of believers.”

Chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe addressing the graduates in the Sarah Baartman Hall. Photo Je’nine May.

Dr Moloi-Motsepe added, “I want to encourage you to take time, after the excitement has calmed down, to consider your place in your community, your workplace, your country. Whose community of believers will you join after today?”

Speaking about her own career as a medical doctor, she said she had started her career with the desire to improve women’s health.


“Where will you apply your energy to help make the world a better place?”

“Then I realised how many South African women needed help with other areas of their lives, so I wrote and published The Precious Little Black Book to empower them with information about their rights, health and economic empowerment. That was the start of a new and different career that now spans the fashion industry, sports, music, the arts and education – all to advance social development and reduce poverty and inequality.” 

Referring to each graduate’s personal aspirations, she invited them to “extend that list of aspirations to people you will commit to serve”.

“What service organisation will you support? Whose education will you help? Where will you apply your energy to help make the world a better place?”

The UCT community is underpinned by service to the broader community, the chancellor said.

Dr Melanie Atwell was one of 100 PhD graduates to be capped. She is with members of her family, Paddy Atwell (left) and William Atwell. Photo Nasief Manie.

“One of the reasons UCT has such a strong reputation around the world is because of our focus on social responsiveness and community outreach: using what we know about the world to help improve the world. And UCT is a proudly African institution because of our commitment to sharing African-based knowledge to provide African solutions to the problems we see. 

“When you march out of this hall at the end of this ceremony, I hope you take this thought with you: Wherever you will go after today, you will be a part of UCT. You are also already a part of other people’s lives.”

Moloi-Motsepe ended by reminding them, “You are all members of more than one community. That is a privilege and a responsibility and a choice. Because you now have greater potential to make a difference in someone else’s life, just as your community of believers made a difference to you.”

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