UJ honours iconic figures, including renowned Venda sculptor, with Honorary Doctorates

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) will honour and celebrate four luminaries during its Graduation series.  The cohort of honorary recipients includes a former government leader, two respected academics and one of South Africa’s leading sculptors. These recipients are honoured for their outstanding work and personal sacrifices. They have made sterling contributions to humanity in the social, economic, and scientific fields in our country, on the African continent, and globally.

The Honorary Doctorates recipients are:

The first of the recipients of an Honorary Doctorate is Prof Chris Brink, a leader in the higher education sector that spans three continents. Brink is a distinguished scholar, and former Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Stellenbosch and Newcastle Universities.  He is a logician with a PhD from Cambridge University and an interdisciplinary DPhil, two Master’s degrees in Mathematics and Philosophy, and a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. His research areas include mathematics, logic, philosophy, and computer science. Before moving into management, he held an A’ rating from the National Research Foundation. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and has been awarded an honorary degree in Civil Law. Prof Brink accepted his Honorary Doctorate in person at a graduation ceremony held on Friday, 14 April 2023.

Joining Prof Brink is renowned South African wood artist, Noria Mabasa. Ms Mabasa is a sculptor who has been practicing and perfecting her artistic practice as a sculptor since 1974.  She is a custodian of indigenous knowledge and is a respected teacher who willingly shares her knowledge and skills. Known for her pottery and wood sculptures, she is a recipient of the 2002 Silver category of the Order of the Baobab, also receiving several other national and international accolades and awards for her outstanding artistry and creativity. Motivated by a series of dreams in which her ancestors spoke to her, she turned to wood as her chosen medium.

As the first Venda woman to work in wood, she broke cultural and gender stereotypes as the material had always been the preserve of male sculptors. Mam Noria’s carvings depict Venda mythology and spirituality, as well as portray traditional ceremonies and the daily lives of those in her community: women, children, and babies. She explores the hardships women suffered under apartheid: violence, loss, and displacement, while dealing with themes of race and gender. Her artworks depict the harsh realities of life in rural areas and strives towards social transformation. Ms Mabasa will accept her Honorary Doctorate in person at a ceremony to be held on April 19.

Another recipient is the Nigerian scholar-diplomat, Prof Ibrahim Gambari. He has been an exceptional ambassador for Africa, furthering the continent’s many causes, and has remained vigilant as a voice of the poor and downtrodden. He was the first United Nations Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa. As a scholar of Political Science and International Relations, he has taught and conducted excellent research, placing emphasis on Africa as a base for his intellectual work. Most notably for South Africa, he led the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid (in the years before democracy) actively working through the UN, and in collaboration with the anti-apartheid movement, to end apartheid. He has been a vocal diplomat, policymaker, and facilitator of peace processes, and has received worldwide acclaim, including South Africa’s highest national honour conferred on non-citizens, the Order of the Companions of O. R. Tambo. Prof Gambari will accept his Honorary Doctorate in person on April 25.

Lastly, Sir Hillary Beckles will also be acknowledged for his contributions with an Honorary Doctorate. Sir Beckles is a Barbados native, and giant in academia in the region. Currently serving as the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of The West Indies, a position he’s held since 2015. He is also an author, documentary film maker, and passionate about cricket. He is honoured on account of his sterling performance as an academic, higher education visionary, and student of reparatory justice that has inspired many across the world. He has demonstrated what it means to be a public intellectual and a community-engaged historian imagining futures, akin to UJ’s vision. Sir Beckles will accept his honorary doctorate on May 9.

Says Professor Bettine van Vuuren, UJ’s Registrar: “An Honorary Doctorate is conferred upon an individual as an acknowledgement of their significant contributions to a specific field or outstanding service to society, which relates to the University’s vision, mission, values and strategic goals and objectives. It is the highest honour that a university can bestow upon a person. The University looks forward to welcoming the new cohort of honorary doctorates to the UJ community.”

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