Graduates must become ‘more African‘

14 December 2018 | Story Carla Bernardo. Photos Michael Hammond. Read time 5 min.
Lauded academic, author, activist and UCT alumnus Prof Pumla Dineo Gqola (right) received the President of Convocation medal from VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng.
Lauded academic, author, activist and UCT alumnus Prof Pumla Dineo Gqola (right) received the President of Convocation medal from VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng.

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Commerce graduation on Friday, 14 December, was a space for the celebration and cementing of what it means to be African, in the context of oppression and in a world of unprecedented change.

The official ceremony began when lauded academic, author, activist and UCT alumnus Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola received the President of Convocation Medal. The medal is awarded annually to a past student who has made a significant contribution to society.

Lorna Houston, the President of Convocation, detailed Gqola’s many contributions to African literature, among those her critically acclaimed Rape: A South African Nightmare.

She said it was just one of the ways in which Gqola, whose approach was “interdisciplinary … transformative and healing”, had addressed the oppressive systems that have tormented black people, specifically black women.

The consequences of oppressive systems such as apartheid were also addressed. Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) for Research and Internationalisation in the Faculty of Commerce, Professor Michael Kyobe, spoke of UCT’s complicity in denying many past students and staff “full and dignified” participation in the life of the university.

For many who defied the apartheid regime, because of the colour of their skin or because of their political ideology or sympathies – such as Raymond Suttner, graduation was not an option, he pointed out.


“Bring the full length and depth of your Africanness to the global stage.”

As part of righting this wrong, UCT Council and Senate invited past students to attend “re-graduations”. One of these “restorative rituals” took place during the Faculty of Commerce’s ceremony when Erik George Eduard Jacques Vicher received his Bachelor of Commerce degree.

He was among UCT students between 1950 and 1993 who chose not to graduate, or to participate in a graduation ceremony, to protest the university’s lack of acknowledgement of the injustices of apartheid and the effect on other UCT staff and students.

With the past acknowledged and present celebrated, it fell to keynote speaker for the graduation ceremony, Mamello Selamolela, to prepare graduands for the future.

A lifetime of learning

Selamolela, a UCT alumnus, managing executive for Vodacom’s central region and an expert in the telecommunications industry, shared with graduands her projections for work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and what it meant to be African in a future world.

Graduates must become more African
UCT Council and Senate invited past students, including Erik George Eduard Jacques Vicher, to attend “re-graduations”. These are people who couldn’t graduate at the time either because of the colour of their skin or because of their political ideology or sympathies.

Graduation, she said, was a culmination and reward for years of hard work, persistence and sacrifice under the glare of unrelenting pressure and expectation. And in a rapidly changing and uncertain world, Selamolela put to graduands that now is the time to seize the opportunities in order to meet the obligations that await them.

She appealed to them to view graduation not as the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, but rather as an exercise setting them up for life.

“Your degree or diploma is the foundation that sets you up for a lifetime of learning … creativity, leadership, the ability to cope with ambiguity ... and the vital skill of getting things done.”

But, said Selamolela, even with their degrees and diplomas, graduands would have to prepare themselves for a world in which many of the jobs for which they are qualifying will no longer exist.

The questions facing them include how they will prepare themselves for a world where technology’s pervasiveness in society continues to escalate, and where the repetitive parts of existing jobs will certainly be replaced by robots.

“How do we tackle problems we cannot yet imagine? How will we reshape society? How do we prepare our young people for the new world,” asked Selamolela.

“These are the very real questions we as a global society have to tackle.”

Celebrating Africanness

As university graduates, it would their responsibility to help influence and shape the future world.

The skills and traits she listed as critical for the future world included critical thinking, problem-solving, empathy, humour and love.

Above all, the key to the graduands’ future success, said Selamolela, will be the celebration of their Africanness.

“I implore you to bring your full length and depth of your Africanness to the global stage.”

This defining feature must be “audible and palpable in the boardrooms of the world”.

“As we become more global, we have to become more African, not less,” she said.

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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.