Keeping scholarly legacies alive through academic gown bestowal

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Dr Sam Motitsoe proudly wears the red gown given to him by Emeritus Professor Cliff Moran. 
[PIC CREDIT: Vusumzi Tshekema]
Dr Sam Motitsoe proudly wears the red gown given to him by Emeritus Professor Cliff Moran. [PIC CREDIT: Vusumzi Tshekema]

For the recently held October graduations at Rhodes University, two PhD graduates were gifted gowns from well-respected academics.

Emeritus Professor Cliff Moran bequeathed the gown he received from the university when he received an honorary doctorate in 2005 to Dr Sam Motitsoe, and Professor Lynette Steenveld passed her gown to graduate Dr Luzuko Jacobs, who she supervised.

The interlocuter between Dr Motitsoe and Professor Moran was Centre for Biological Control Director Professor Martin Hill.

“Professor Moran was the Head of Entomology at Rhodes University for many years, served a few terms as Dean of Science, is an A-rated scientist internationally-renowned for his work in biological control,” explained Prof Hill.

Prof Moran left Rhodes University to take up the Dean of Science position at the University of Cape Town in 1986.

In 2005, Rhodes University bestowed an honorary doctorate (DSc) on Prof Moran for his services to entomology in South Africa.

“It is Prof Moran’s honorary doctorate gown that was bequeathed to Sam,” explained Prof Hill. “Since Prof Moran still serves as a mentor to many entomologists in the country, it is completely appropriate that Sam now has the PhD gown. He is taking up the baton passed on by one leader in the field to another.”

According to Prof Moran, the gown had been in a cupboard at his home for years. “So, I asked Prof Hill if he had any ideas about anyone who might be happy to get it. He mentioned that he had a recent PhD graduate (Sam) who would be a worthy recipient,” he said.

Dr Motitsoe was truly honoured to receive the prestigious regalia from a person he describes as “one of the greatest and respected applied entomologists in South Africa and internationally.”

He believes the future of the discipline (entomology) lies in the young minds they train. “Academic succession is equally important. The gesture really warms my heart and certifies our efforts as early career academics in the space. I also promised Prof Moran that I would take good care of the gown, and when the time is right, I will pass it over to a young entomologist,” said Dr Motitsoe.

Dr Motitsoe, a COVID-era graduate from 2020, wore the gown for the first time at the 09h30 graduation celebration ceremony on 13 October 2022.

An equally heart-warming gown handover took place between the Director of Communication and Advancement, Dr Luzuko Jacobs and his supervisor, Emeritus Associate Professor Lynette Steenveld.

She said, “I gave my academic gown to Luzuko because we have travelled a long journey together, culminating academically in his being capped. I am tremendously proud of him and feel it has been a privilege to be his supervisor.”

Prof Steenveld wore the gown for her graduation in 2007, awarded for her research on “Race against democracy: a case study of the Mail & Guardian during the early years of the Mbeki presidency, 1999-2002”.

Her honoured recipient believed the gesture to be profoundly symbolic and inspirational. “It feels like she has bequeathed me her extraordinary scholarly legacy,” Dr Jacobs said. “It transforms the academic gown from a piece of cloth into a significant intellectual responsibility. It is a constant reminder of the applicable high standard in seeking emancipatory knowledge and pushing the frontiers of human intellectual endeavour.”

Besides the gown, Prof Steenveld personally gifted Dr Jacobs her entire library of scholarly literature. “I am passing the baton,” explained Prof Steenveld. “I believe Dr Jacobs will continue to make a progressive impact in any position he holds.”

Dr Jacobs’ thesis foregrounds land expropriation without compensation and reveals strong links between ‘regular’ media discourses, inequality and inter-race animosity in South Africa.