In August 2008 UCT awarded an honorary degree to the late Professor Archie Mafeje for his achievements as one of Africa's greatest social scientists and to celebrate his huge intellectual contribution to emancipation in Africa.
Mafeje began his studies at Fort Hare and completed a BSc at UCT in 1959. His political activism led him to switch from the natural sciences to the social sciences, and he gained an MA in social anthropology at UCT in 1965 (cum laude).
He was studying for a PhD at Cambridge University in England when in May 1968 the UCT Council unanimously approved his appointment as a senior lecturer in Social Anthropology. A month later, after pressure from the apartheid government, Council withdrew the appointment, and made known "its future inability to appoint non-white persons to academic posts, unless allowed to do so in special circumstances."
This decision was met by vehement protest from UCT student leaders and a number of academic staff. In August 1968, about 600 students began an occupation of Bremner Building, which lasted for 9 days, demanding that the UCT Council reconsider its decision to withdraw Mafeje's appointment. Instead, Council agreed to establish an Academic Freedom Research Award in honour of Mafeje and placed a plaque in the library recording that the government had taken away its right to appoint lecturers at its own discretion.
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The university has bestowed high academic honours in the form of degrees awarded honoris causa on the following distinguished men and women.