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Rhodes University awards four Honorary Doctorates

Date Released: Wed, 15 April 2009 14:27 +0200

At this year’s graduation, Rhodes University will award four Honorary Doctorates to individuals who have demonstrated leadership and professionalism that has lead not only to success as individuals but to a positive influence on South African society as a whole.

Lynette Marais, Director of the National Arts Festival 1989 to 2008, will be conferred a Doctor of Laws honoris causa for her visionary leadership that has seen the Festival become the most significant Festival on the African arts calendar.

Sibongile Khumalo is one of South Africa’s most influential singers, pushing the boundaries of indigenous solo and choral traditions, popular urban and jazz repertoires, and western classical opera and oratorio. She is to be awarded a Doctor of Music honoris causa.

A South African poet and activist against the apartheid government, Dennis Brutus was banned to exile in the 1960s. Continuing to support activism against neo-liberal policies in South Africa, he will be awarded a Doctor of Literature honoris causa.

Issa G. Shivji is one of Africa's leading experts on law and development issues. For over 40 years his voice has been consistently and implacably opposed to the neo-liberal impact on the Africa continent. He is to be conferred a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Lynette Marais

Lynette Marais’ visionary and accountable directorship of Grahamstown’s National Arts Festival since 1989 has navigated the most important cultural festival in the country through often difficult economic and political terrains.

During the apartheid years, Marais fiercely insisted on giving all artists, regardless of race, colour or beliefs, the freedom of expression through art to the point of complying with the “cultural boycott” imposed against South Africa by progressive international artists. The Fringe Festival, safeguarded by Marais, is still the largest cultural event in South Africa that congregrates on a non-selection basis and which gives “access” to all practitioners.

Marais directed the Festival with a passionate understanding of the inequalities that dictate issues of accessibility in the arts. She guided the development of The Studio project which creates a dedicated festival venue in the township and offers a cross pollination of cultural experiences between festival visitors and the township-based artists and cultural practitioners. She directed the Arts Encounter Project which, over the past 20 years, has distributed over R4 million worth of tickets to local people who cannot afford to attend the Festival.

In Grahamstown, Marais has developed the arts to become a significant contributor to the stimulation, growth and development of the economy. Large sectors of the hospitality, corporate and informal business sectors, as well as the service and faith-based sectors, are dependant on the Festival for a significant portion of their annual income. During the two decades of Marais’ directorship, it is estimated that the Festival has contributed R688 million to Grahamstown’s gross domestic product.

She has been instrumental in engaging the Eastern Cape provincial government, the Makana Metro Council and the local hospitality sector to develop the Kwam eMakana project, which offers township-styled accommodation to festival attendees. This programme was initiated with an intensive hospitality service sector training programme and ongoing in-service training.

Through her leadership, Marais persuaded Standard Bank to sponsor the Festival for over 25 years. In addition, she has secured substantial grants from Business Arts South Africa, which recognises and complements corporate support of the arts.

She has also raised significant support from the National Arts Council, the Arts & Culture Trust and through various Embassies which have co-hosted productions at the Festival. This international collaboration has further resulted in many South African artists benefiting from international cultural exchange programmes.

For the past 27 years, in conjunction with the Festival Committee, Marais has curated the prestigious Young Artist Award which recognises South Africans of a relatively young age who have demonstrated exceptional ability in their chosen fields, but have not yet achieved national exposure and acclaim. Since their inception, a total of 94 awards have been presented, plus five special awards to artists in recognition of their contribution to the Festival and the arts in South Africa. Among these are artists who have grown to become national icons such as Sibongile Khumalo, Paul Slabolepzy, William Kentridge, Concorde Mkabinde, Andrew Buckland, and Acty Tang among others.

Recognised as one of South Africa’s most accomplished arts administrators, Marais was one of the key roleplayers in the National Arts and Culture Task Team which was set up to draft proposals for the White Paper on Arts and Culture. She has also generously offered advice to the KKNK Festival (Oudtshoorn) and to the Aardklop Festival (Potchefstroom). Over the years Marais has received several accolades for her uncompromising and committed service to the arts and cultural sector, including The President’s Arts and Culture Trust Award for Arts Administrator of the Year (1998).

Sibongile Khumalo

Sibongile Khumalo is one of South Africa’s most influential singers and an icon of the post-apartheid performance generation. Khumalo’s South Africa is a land of song in which the indigenous solo and choral traditions stand alongside the popular urban and jazz repertoires.

Her love of western classical genres such as opera and oratorio has resulted in the creation of her own unique art idiom that goes across cultures. She was bestowed with the Order of Ikhamanga Silver for her contribution “to the development of South African art and culture in the music fields of jazz and opera”

Under the guidance of her father, Khabi Mngoma, a music professor, Khumalo began studying music at the age of eight. She holds music degrees from the University of Zululand and the University of the Witwatersrand, her research being devoted to South African choral music. She also has a Postgraduate Diploma in Personnel Management from the Wits Business School.

During the 1980s Khumalo taught at the University of Zululand, the Federated Union of Black Arts where she was also Head of the Music department, and the Madimba Institute of African Music. She was also the Arts Centre coordinator at the FUNDA Centre.

Khumalo launched her full-time singing career in 1992 at Kippies Jazz International, and was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award at the National Arts Festival in 1993 for her sell-out show, The Three Faces of Sibongile Khumalo, featuring jazz, South African indigenous music and opera. In 1996, she released her debut album Ancient Evenings. A year later she was the mezzo-soprano soloist for Sir David Wilcocks in the Verdi Requiem during the South African tour of the London Bach Choir.

She has appeared as a soloist with South African symphony orchestras and has also performed leading roles such as Carmen, Amneris in Aida and Azucena in Il Trovatore at the Cape Town and State Theatre Operas. She has performed at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, the Barbican Centre and the Kennedy Centre. She has made her own the title role in Mzilikazi Khumalo’s Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu, presented by Opera Africa, with appearances also at HetMuzik Theater, Amsterdam and at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago. 

Khumalo’s oratorio repertoire includes among others, Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, both the Verdi and Mozart Requiems, and Khumalo’s Zulu epic uShaka ka Senzangakhona. She has earned four South African Music Awards for her popular music and jazz recordings, and three FNB Vita awards for her opera and concert work.

In 2007 she toured Europe with Jack DeJohnette and others in a collaboration entitled Intercontinental. She sang in Phillip Miller’s REwind Cantata at the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival and performed in Opera Africa’s Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu, in Oslo, Norway. In addition, she co-produced and co-directed Sistas Healing our Souls with South African singers including Abigail Kubheka and Gloria Bosman at the Cape Town City Hall.

In 2008 she toured the USA with Hugh Masekela and was also invited to perform at the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival. In South Africa she produced and sang in the For Letta-Sound of a Rainbow concert at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, in celebration of the music of Letta Mbulu.

Khumalo remains involved with the Khongisa Academy for the Performing Arts started by her late father. In March of 2007, she founded the Khabi Mngoma Foundation, whose purpose is to fundraise for the Khongisa Academy and also to provide bursaries for deserving and highly gifted learners in the arts.

Dennis Brutus

A South African poet and activist against the apartheid government in the 1960s, Dennis Brutus was educated at Fort Hare College and the University of the Witwatersrand.

He taught for 14 years in South Africa and participated in many anti-apartheid campaigns, particularly those concerned with sports. The South African government eventually banned him from attending political and social meetings and made it illegal for any of his writings to be published in South Africa.

In 1963 he was arrested for attending a sports meeting. When released on bail he fled to Swaziland intending to make his way to Germany to meet with the Olympic executive committee. At the Mozambique border he was handed back to the South African security police. Realising that no one would know of his capture, he attempted an escape again, only to be shot in the back on a Johannesburg street and sentenced to 18 months hard labour on Robben Island.

When he finished his term in prison, Brutus was permitted to leave South Africa with his wife and children on an “exit permit”, a document which made it illegal for him to return. He lived in London from 1966 to 1970, where he worked as a teacher and a journalist. In 1970 he took a position as a visiting professor of English at the University of Denver, and subsequently became professor of English at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois from 1971 to 1985 before moving to the University of Pittsburgh in 1986. In 1983 he was granted political asylum in the United States.

During the 1970s and 1980s he remained active in a number of anti-apartheid organisations, particularly SANROC (South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee), which led a movement to have South Africa excluded from the Olympic Games because of its discriminatory sports policies.

There were five distinct phases in his development as a poet, each marked by formal and thematic shifts which tended not only to reflect his changing preoccupations and professional concerns, but also to document profound transformations in his conception of the nature and function of poetry.

His first book of poems, Sirens, Knuckles, Boots (1963) contained a variety of lyric forms invested with many of the standard poetic conventions. Brutus attempted to compose multi-level lyrics that would challenge the mind. During his five months in solitary confinement he reexamined his verse and began to write simpler, unornamented poetry. His Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison (1968) contain brief, laconic statements about his experiences as a prisoner.

After he left South Africa Brutus’ poetry changed again. While travelling the world as an anti-apartheid crusader, he wrote many nostalgic, plaintive lyrics recalling the beauties and terrors of his native land. Collected in Poems from Algiers (1970), Thoughts Abroad (1970), and A Simple Lust (1973), this verse was more richly textured than what he had written in prison, yet he continued to aim for lucidity rather than symbolic nuances.

In 1973 Brutus visited the People’s Republic of China to attend a sports meeting. Impressed by the extreme economy of Chinese verse, he began experimenting with epigrammatic poetic forms resembling Japanese haiku and Chinese chueh chu, in which very little is said and much suggested. The results were brought together in a pamphlet called China Poems (1975).

In Brutus’s later work, found in Strains (1975), Stubborn Hope (1978), and Salutes and Censures (1980), he moved towards a balance between the extreme density of his complex early verse and the extraordinary economy of his nearly wordless Chinese experiments.

Despite these remarkable changes in poetic posture, Brutus’s political stance never altered. In 1993 after the abolition of apartheid Brutus visited South Africa for the first time since 1966. He continues to support activism against neo-liberal policies in contemporary South Africa.

Issa G. Shivji

Issa Shivji is one of Africa's leading experts on law and development issues. He has a boundless commitment to an Africanist ideal of proper social, political and economic emancipation for its entire people.

His books, The Silent Class Struggle, published in 1972, and then more significantly Class Struggles in Tanzania, were compulsory readings for all students keen to understand the continent from an African perspective.

Shivji has influenced at least three generations of African intellectuals. Even South African scholars, normally cut off by the academic boycott, could not ignore his analyses on a wide variety of topics, from the concept of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, to the role of education and culture, to human rights, to the nature of the post-colonial state, to the land question, law and constitutionalism, democracy, development, nationalism and so on.

He was a scholar when progressive thinkers across the world converged on the University of Dar es Salaam to try to map out a future for a young independent country emerging from many years of colonial rule. The famous Dar debates undoubtedly form a central feature of the historiography of African Studies. Shivji has written very eloquently about this period in his book, Intellectuals at the Hill.

Shivji brings an engaging radicalism to African Scholarship. His work is sophisticated, original, theoretically informed and empirically rich. His arguments carry a deep appreciation of the destructive effects of particular policies on African people. He has published 18 books, many of them of groundbreaking significance to our scholarship.

Amongst his seminal works is the book The Concept of Human Rights in Africa which is an attack on the dominant narrowly focussed rights-based discourse. In his most recent book published last year entitled Pan-Africanism or Pragmatism: Lessons of the Tanganyika Zanzibar Union, Shivji shows that he has lost none of his intellectual powers. A very influential recent book is his Let the People Speak: Tanzania Down the Road to Neo-Liberalism, a collection of 90 short essays by Shivji at his best as a public intellectual.

Shivji is not only a renowned African legal and social science scholar, he has played a crucial institutional role as well. He was a founder member of CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa) in 1973. He has held many posts as editor of various journals and newsletters and he has been involved in a wide variety of important consultancies, most notably, he was the chairperson of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters in Tanzania.

Shivji served the University of Dar es Salaam for almost 40 years starting as a tutor in 1970 and developing into a Professor of Constitutional Law. He retired in 2006, but was appointed again last year to the distinguished Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Research Chair in Pan African Studies at the same university. He has also served as an Advocate of the High Court and the Court of Appeal in Tanzania since 1977 and Advocate of the High Court of Zanzibar since 1989.

His work is essentially characterised by a multi-disciplinary approach. He knows the history of our continent, he understands its sociology and its politics and he is a keen interpreter of its economics and law. His work is epitomised by a normative concern that his scholarly contribution is used for the benefit of the masses.

Issued by Rhodes University - Communications and Development Division