From planning to procession with UCT’s gown master

28 March 2024 | Story Nicole Forrest. Photos Robyn Walker. Director Boikhutso Ntsoko. Videography Boikhutso Ntsoko, Ruairi Abrahams. Video Edit Boikhutso Ntsoko. VP Team Roxanne Harris, Ruairi Abrahams, Boikhutso Ntsoko, and Nomfundo Xolo. Read time 7 min.
UCT’s gown master, Mogamat Benjamin

Mogamat Benjamin has worked at the University of Cape Town (UCT) since 1979. He has held a few positions within the Properties and Service Department over his 45-year tenure at the institution, but the role he holds in highest esteem is his current one: gown master.

While all of Benjamin’s work has been critical in ensuring that things on campus run smoothly for both students and staff, it’s the title of gown master that has given him the most joy. What makes this job so rewarding, he said, is to see students reap the reward of years of hard work as they prepare to be capped at graduation.

“It’s so nice to see the expressions on the students’ faces when they come to collect their gowns and degrees. It’s just an uplifting time and they’re saying, ‘Wow, I made it!’, and we can really say that they deserve it because of all the hard work they’ve put in. It’s just a fantastic feeling,” he explained.

Much like the stress, sweat and tears that go into getting the degree, it takes a great deal of behind-the-scenes work to put smiles on the faces of the many students who will walk across the stage in the Sarah Baartman Hall on graduation day.

Piecing the puzzle together

The simplicity of the gown master title belies the massive organisational undertaking that this role involves. The duties of the job aren’t confined to simply handing out robes and hoods each year. It naturally takes a fair bit more than that to ensure that thousands of students can fully enjoy the moment they’ve worked so hard for.

“It’s a lot to do with logistics. To get everything in place, we need to plan, hold meetings with stakeholders, establish what’s required from the university; what’s required from the registrar’s office. We have to work with student records, the grad office, admissions and other entities.

Mogamat Benjamin holds in highest esteem the role of gown master.

“Everybody, as a team, comes together and we all contribute to this amazing event at the university, to make it a success and to maintain the tradition of our institution that makes this graduate ceremony unique,” said Benjamin.

This is undoubtedly a colossal logistical task – especially seeing as much of the setup must be done in both the Sarah Baartman Hall and the Otto Beit Building, where the academic procession begins. But it’s not enough to faze Benjamin. Rather, he views the organisation as a puzzle to be solved.

“It’s just like fitting pieces of a puzzle together. Everything just starts to work together and comes together to create this amazing event. There are problems that arise now and then, but we are usually so prepared that the grad just goes and flows.”

Planning and preparation

Although planning is made somewhat simpler because the running order of the ceremonies has remained relatively unchanged for years, the scale of the events mean that preparations must begin months in advance to ensure that every detail is exactly as it should be.

“Two to three months ahead of graduation, gowns need to be dry cleaned and we need to start mobilising all of those different teams within the university to ensure that everything will be on track for the big day.”

Mogamat Benjamin said the best part of his role as gown master is to see students reap the reward of years of hard work as they prepare to be capped at graduation.

Closer to the day, Benjamin and his team start deep cleaning the venue and setting everything up to accommodate the graduands and their loved ones as well as any honourable guests who might be in attendance.

“In the old days, we used to have a whole week to prepare, but we don’t have so much time with the way the academic calendar is arranged now. So, we only get to start about three days out,” he explained.

“First, we bring in a cleaning team on night shift to do a deep clean of the hall. Then, during the day the next day, we do all the prep: setting up the hall with the chairs, the podiums; the setting of the stage; the flowers; the sound system.”

The big day

When graduation day finally arrives, Benjamin’s focus shifts to getting everyone and everything into place to ensure that the proceedings can go off without a hitch.

“On the day of graduation, it’s walkabout time. So, the stakeholders will be there, and we’ll go through the order of service to ensure that everything is in place and nothing has been overlooked.”

At the same time, Benjamin’s months of coordinating between various UCT entities starts to come to fruition as students begin the process of graduating.


“It’s just fantastic to see all of these smiling faces and to be able to interact and chat with them on a personal level.”

“It starts at the alumni office in the Otto Beit Building, where all the information about each student is kept; for example, whether they have other degrees that we need to be aware of. Then they move to admissions to collect their tickets, then they move to finance,” he said.

“We are then at the last stage. We issue the gown and the hood for the students, which is very important because each faculty – and some departments, even – have different hoods depending on what you’ve studied.”

Getting to interact with the students on their graduation day is without a doubt Benjamin’s favourite part about his role.

“It’s just fantastic to see all these smiling faces and to be able to interact and chat with them on a personal level. You can talk a bit about life and bring some lightness to the day – because it’s not all so serious – and you get to see them making their parents and families proud. So, it’s a really great thing to be able to do.”

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