An extra special Golden Grad celebration

12 December 2018 | Story Nadia Krige. Photo Supplied. Read time 8 min.
Madi Gray (second from right) with other veterans of the 1968 occupation on a visit to Bremner building during their week-long Golden Jubilee reunion in August this year.
Madi Gray (second from right) with other veterans of the 1968 occupation on a visit to Bremner building during their week-long Golden Jubilee reunion in August this year.

Tomorrow, 13 December, members of the University of Cape Town’s class of 1968 will reunite to celebrate their Golden Graduation. A highlight on the social calendar of many UCT alumni, the event offers a unique opportunity to reconnect with old friends and rekindle cherished connections.

For Madi Gray (formerly Lewis) – one of this year’s esteemed guests – the celebrations will be multifaceted, as her Golden Graduation coincides with her birthday, and is also expected to offer plenty of opportunities to reminisce about one of the most important events of her time at university: the 1968 Bremner sit-in.

“This will be a most unusual way to celebrate my birthday. Hopefully I'll be able to connect with friends from the golden days of my younger years,” she wrote in her RSVP to the invitation.

In a follow-up conversation, Madi said that while she has no idea which – if any – of her old friends will attend the event, she is looking forward to the surprise of seeing who arrives tomorrow.

“I’m assuming that everyone’s going to get a name tag, so we can recognise each other,” she laughed.

On average, between 10 and 30 people attend the Golden Graduation, which normally starts with a breakfast at the Development and Alumni Department (DAD) offices. Straight after the graduation they will move to the Richard Luyt room on upper campus where they will meet the formal graduation procession and some UCT executives.

This year’s event will also coincide with the special Robing Ceremony for the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, who they will meet during lunch afterwards.

Rising above difficult circumstances

While Madi thinks back on her time at university with fondness, they were by no means easy years.

Her father died when she was 11, which left her mother the sole breadwinner for their family of three. From the age of 14, most of her summer holidays were spent working at department stores like OK Bazaars and Ackermans.


“It was a point of honour to take part in anti-apartheid protests and demonstrations organised by the students.”

“This meant that there was no money to send me to varsity, and the year after completing matric found me working in the Provincial Library Service and attending part-time courses at Hiddingh Hall,” she recalled.

The following year, she received a small bursary that paid for her books (R40 a year) and was given a part-time job at the Hiddingh Hall library (R28 a month), which made it possible for her to study full-time and work in the evenings throughout her undergraduate years.

“I had little free time to spend in various societies,” Madi said.

“However, it was a point of honour to take part in anti-apartheid protests and demonstrations organised by the students.”

Her role in these actions increased in 1968 when she became news editor of Varsity. Under the leadership of editor Mike Popham and features editor Dave Fanning, the editorial staff didn’t shy away from tackling difficult political subjects.

Remembering the 1968 sit-in

At UCT, anti-apartheid student activism led to the 1968 Bremner sit-in, which served as a protest against the university retracting its offer of employment to Professor Archie Mafeje. This came as a result of the Minister of Education threatening to impose sanctions on the university if it did not comply.

As an active participant and Varsity news editor, Madi found herself at the centre of the sit-in and the protest actions that preceded it.

“We held two mass meetings four weeks apart to demand a response and the appointment of Archie Mafeje,” she recalled.

“When we hadn’t received a response from the university after the second mass meeting, we marched down together from Memorial Hall – as it’s called today – to Bremner and made ourselves at home.”

About 600 students – a 10th of the student body at the time – took part in the march, and 300 spent that night occupying Bremner. When the sit-in ended about 10 days later, about 120 students stayed on.

“We had quite a lot of support from the public – journalists, individuals, and even some companies,” she said.

“Clicks had just started and had – as far as I know – only one shop in Cape Town at the time. But what did they do? They sent us toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap.”

She was also part of a group that gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sit-in in August this year.

“The way we were treated is really like we were golden people who had done something really good in a period of total darkness,” she said of the anniversary event.

“It was fantastic to see the difference between the way we were treated this year and the way the student body was treated 50 years ago.”


“It was fantastic to see the difference between the way we were treated this year and the way the student body was treated 50 years ago.”

Madi added that around about the same time UCT was having its sit-in in 1968, Fort Hare University in Alice was holding a similar protest action. Because it was a “blacks only” university, the students were treated a lot worse by authorities – denied access to buildings and left to fend for themselves in the rain and the cold.

The Fort Hare students suffered severe sanctions and many were expelled, which made reregistering or getting a degree anywhere else almost impossible.

“I think it’s important to remember that a lot of them are having their Golden Graduation this year as well,” she said.

Beyond university

Her political awareness and protest involvement continued well beyond university, as she made it her mission to tell the truth about conditions in South Africa.

Shortly after graduating with her honours in psychology, Madi left South Africa and spent some time travelling. She finally settled down in Sweden, where she decided to pursue a career in journalism after it became clear that the psychology degree she had earned in apartheid South Africa would not be accepted because of Sweden’s academic sanctions against the regime.

“I worked mainly for small left-wing papers, most of which don’t exist anymore,” she said.

“I did journalism in the widest sense and also travelled around Sweden talking about the situation in South Africa.”

After the end of apartheid, she returned to her South African roots and has been dividing her time between Stockholm and Cape Town for the past 20 years.

“I’ve been going back and forth. So I now have two homes – not just emotionally, but in fact.”

Twenty years ago, Madi qualified as a registered South African tour guide and now takes Swedish pensioners on three-week tours around the country.

“In fact, the day after Golden Grad, I fly to Joburg to pick up 39 Swedes to give them the Christmas and New Year of their lives, travelling around South Africa.”

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Creative works and book awards

UCT recognises and celebrates major creative works and outstanding books produced by members of staff at the university.

Twin cities connect struggle and liberation sites Associate Professor Svea Josephy received a Creative Works Award for her solo exhibition, Satellite Cities, at today’s graduation. It is one of three such awards. 13 Dec 2018
Symphony of elements wins Creative Works Award Professor Hendrik Hofmeyr, of the South African College of Music, receives a Creative Works Award at today’s graduation for his composition Second Symphony – The Elements. 13 Dec 2018
Creative Works Award for Womb of Fire Dr Sara Matchett’s Creative Works Award winner, Womb of Fire, addresses how centuries of violence in South Africa continue to play out on women’s bodies. 13 Dec 2018
UCT Book Award for classics scholar Professor David Wardle’s work Suetonius: Life of Augustus has won him the 2018 UCT Book Award. 13 Dec 2018

Inspired to achieve

Read about some of our remarkable students who are graduating this season.

Four doctors, two families make it a double It’s not often that two sets of brothers who are close friends graduate from the same two faculties – and each with the title of doctor. 14 Dec 2018
Commitment, passion and dogged determination Due to graduate with a PhD in Medical Biochemistry, Kehilwe Nakedi reflects on her academic journey and the pleasure of seeing things finally fall into place. 12 Dec 2018
UCT remedies a past injustice The story of Raymond Suttner receiving his LLM from UCT almost half a century after withdrawing his thesis from examination has captured imaginations around the country. 11 Dec 2018
Unspeakable tragedy yields master’s degree When Mabuyi Mhlanga’s young daughter died in a car accident two years ago, she channelled her grief into addressing the issue of road safety around schools. 11 Dec 2018
‘I want to reach the places my father did not’ Tafadzwa Mushonga will be the first PhD graduate from the Centre for Environmental Humanities South, forging ahead from where her father left off. 10 Dec 2018
A passion for education From a young age, masterʼs graduand Sonwabo Ngcelwane has seen education as the key to rising above one’s circumstances – no matter how challenging. 10 Dec 2018
Never too late to overcome the odds PhD candidate Witness Kozanayi relied on his determination, the support and sacrifice of others, and a fascination for his homeland to fuel his academic success. 07 Dec 2018
Growing pesticide, lead threat to vultures Vultures play a vital housekeeping role in the wild, but like many African raptors they’re threatened by pesticide and heavy metal poisoning, says PhD candidate Beckie Garbett. 07 Dec 2018

Golden memories

Members of the University of Cape Town’s class of 1968 will reunite to celebrate their Golden Graduation this week. Madi Gray, a veteran of the nine-day Bremner sit-in of 1968, will be among those UCT alumni celebrating this milestone.