Four exemplary alumni honoured this year

Rhodes>Latest News

Four exemplary alumni honoured this year.
Four exemplary alumni honoured this year.

The Old Rhodian Union selection committee has chosen four worthy recipients of Rhodes University's Distinguished Alumni Award 2022: Million Belay Ali, Ann Burroughs, Kathleen Heugh and Raphael Tshimanga.

President of the Old Rhodian Union, Professor Rod Walker, said: "Rhodes University prides itself in producing not only leaders but well-rounded and noble individuals. This year's four distinguished winners are a true reflection of this ethos."


Dr Million Belay Ali

Co-founder of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), Dr Abi attained his PhD in Environmental Education from Rhodes University in 2012.

He has played a significant role in connecting environmental education with community development and policy influence work in Africa. He is one of the leading champions in promoting agroecology and the food systems approach.

Through his leadership, AFSA has become the largest membership organisation in Africa, with members working in 50 of the 55 African countries. Dr Ali is directly responsible for the network's most innovative projects, such as advocating for the establishment of an African food policy, agroecological entrepreneurship, healthy soil and healthy food, and so on.

In addition to his work with AFSA, Dr Ali advises MELCA Ethiopia, a non-profit organisation he founded. Under his directorship, the organisation assisted in registering two biosphere reserves in Ethiopia, launched an innovative youth programme, advocated for a better environmental governance, facilitated the conservation of sacred sites and began working on agroecology.

Furthermore, Dr Ali is an honorary member of the Indigenous Peoples and Communities Conservation Areas and Territories (ICCA) Consortium.

In the true spirit of giving back to his alma mater, Dr Ali has been involved in research activities with Rhodes University personnel and has spoken at several of our webinars. He has also been very involved with Distinguished Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka and the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC).


Ann Burroughs

Ann Burroughs completed a Bachelor of Arts and Higher Diploma in Librarianship and Information Science at Rhodes University. However, it is her lifetime of activism in defence of human rights that is the basis of her deserving this award.

Her social activism, which began early in her life, soon attracted the unwarranted attention of the apartheid authorities. Along with other activists, she was arrested and detained at the North End prison in Port Elizabeth, now Gqeberha, in terms of the emergency regulations issued by the apartheid state in the 1980s.

She was identified by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and eventually released from detention after five months. Her commitment to Amnesty International and its cause influenced her life considerably in due course.

Upon her release, she resumed her commitment to the struggle for democracy by working in the office of the Reverend Frank Chikane as personal assistant to the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, a position she occupied from 1986 to 1990.

When her husband received a Fulbright scholarship, they relocated to the United States, which she used as an opportunity to continue her pursuit of human rights ideals, obtaining employment with Amnesty International and occupying the post of National Media Director and Western Region Deputy Director. She served Amnesty International as an employee from 1991- 1999.

Her status and ability were recognised when, as a South African citizen, she was elected to the Board of Governors of Amnesty International USA, an organisation she chaired from 2013- 2018, and as Chair of the Amnesty International Global Assembly. She has occupied essential roles in critical social organisations such as the Volunteer Centre of Los Angeles and the Taproot Foundation, where she served as Executive Director in Los Angeles.

Burroughs currently serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Although this may appear to be an unusual role for a South African, it is not – her experience as an activist struggling against the racism and exclusion of apartheid dovetails nicely with the museum's focus on exclusion and preserving understanding of the history of Japanese Americans, including the forced removal and incarceration of 120 000 people whose only 'crime' was their race.


Professor Kathleen Heugh

Kathleen Heugh has had a lifelong commitment to post-apartheid, post-colonial and decolonial education of students throughout the South African schooling system. She has become the most well-known international scholar of multilingual education policy in former colonial countries.

The expertise she gained first as a student at Rhodes University, later at the University of Cape Town, and then working alongside Dr Neville Alexander and colleagues at the National Language Project and the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa has been sought after by governments and development and aid agencies across sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Asia Pacific for the last 30 years.

Dr Alexander asked her to join the National Language Project and, working alongside the Executive Dean of Humanities at North West University, Professor Pamela Maseko, developed language policy proposals for post-apartheid South Africa and eventually took them to each political stakeholder in the constitutional negotiations.

Immediately after the 1994 elections, she and Dr Alexander were asked by the Ministers for Provincial and Constitutional Affairs to fast-track the establishment of the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) and to initiate the Language Plan Task Group process for the Minister of DACST (1996). She was appointed to the first PANSALB responsible for language and literacy education and identifying key research projects in language education for the country between 1996 and 2001. She initiated the first (and thus far only) National Sociolinguistic Survey of South Africa through PANSALB (2000-2001).

In 2004 she was approached by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa and UNESCO to serve as one of five researchers undertaking a 25-country study of mother-tongue and bilingual education in sub-Saharan Africa. Her research has been the most widely circulated of this report, resulting in several follow-up UNESCO documents and a further substantive study of language policy in Ethiopia and Uganda.

Prof Heugh is currently the Professorial Lead of Teaching, Research, Impact and Outreach at the University of South Australia, where continues to pioneer language education, particularly multilingual education, both in her university in South Australia and through her networks in South Africa, across Africa, South America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific.

Prof Heugh was invited to Rhodes University in 2015 as a Distinguished Visiting Professor to the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA). During and after her five-week visit to Rhodes University, she played an important role in sharing her research and higher education teaching expertise in multilingual education in South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, India and Australia with ISEA and School of Languages and Literatures: African Language Studies staff and studies.

In 2021 Associate Professor Dion Nkomo invited Heugh to present the Rhodes University Keynote address to commemorate International Mother Language Day on 22 February (online).


Professor Raphael Tshimanga

Following a BSc from the University of Kinshasa, a professional hydraulic engineering course in Cairo and an MSc from the University of Dar Es Salam in Tanzania, Prof Tshimanga started his PhD at Rhodes in 2008 in the field of large-scale hydrology modelling. He has since established himself as one of the leading young hydrologists working in Africa today.

Professor Tshimanga has made significant contributions to our understanding of the water cycle of the Congo basin, a region that, until his research, was pretty much 'terra incognita' for hydrologists. He is rightly regarded as the world's leading authority on the water cycle of the Congo basin. He now leads his own group of Faculty members, PhD students and technical staff at the University of Kinshasa dedicated to studying this globally important basin.

This has been facilitated by Professor Tshimanga's establishment of the Congo Basin Water Resources Research Center to coordinate and promote scientific research within the basin. The overall mission of CRREBaC is to contribute to the sustainable management and development of water resources of the Congo Basin through research that provides scientifically acceptable information and feasible solutions to emerging water resource problems.

Therefore, his work paved the way for new water resources, transportation and hydropower assessments in the basin and has contributed significantly to development in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the wider West African region. This work has been published as a series of papers in prestigious International journals.

As a result of both his research skills and science leadership, Professor Tshimanga has found himself in high demand from non-governmental organisations working in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Professor Tshimanga has developed significant projects with the World Bank, UNESCO, IAHS, the Congo River Basin Commission and the African Ground Water Network, among others. In collaborations with these organisations, he has undertaken leading-edge research.

Furthermore, he is a Board Member of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), was involved in the creation of the African Water Resource Mobility Network (AWARMN) hosted at Rhodes University, and implementation of the intra-African academic mobility programme in water resources (2020-2025).