Rhodes University to honour the people’s advocate, Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza SC at its virtual graduation

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Rhodes University honorary doctorate recipient, Advocate, Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza SC.
Rhodes University honorary doctorate recipient, Advocate, Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza SC.

On its 72nd graduation ceremony on the 28th of April 2021, Rhodes University will confer a degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) (honoris causa) on African Court for Human Rights and People’s Rights Judge and Cricket South Africa’s Social Justice Ombudsman, Advocate Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza SC.  

Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela said the honorary doctorate on Advocate Ntsebeza is in recognition and celebration of his long, sustained and exceptional contribution as an advocate and an activist for political and human rights, human dignity and social justice in our country and beyond. “I am delighted that the Rhodes University community has seen it fit to honour Advocate Ntsebeza’s many and significant contributions and warmly congratulate him on this notable achievement. His unwavering commitment and dedication to the social justice demanded of him to take a brave and courageous stand against the formidable force of apartheid. Our country owes him an inestimable debt of gratitude and appreciation for all the sacrifices he has made throughout his life in our liberation struggle and as a voice of conscience for that which is good,” said Dr Mabizela.

Advocate Ntsebeza was born and bred in Cala, in the Eastern Cape. Like many young South Africans in the 70s, Advocate Ntsebeza was involved in the struggle against apartheid. He has Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in History and African Languages (IsiXhosa) from the University of South Africa (UNISA), B.Proc, a four-year law degree from UNISA, Postgraduate Certificate in Constitutional Litigation at the University of South Africa (This is a one-year specialised course in Constitutional litigation offered by UNISA) and LLM from the University of Cape Town.

Before going into law, Advocate Ntsebeza worked as a teacher at Dilizintaba Secondary School in Tsolo and at Ndema Senior Secondary School in Tsomo. He also taught at Jongilizwe College for Sons of Chiefs and Headmen where he had the privilege of shaping the minds of the likes of General Bantu Holomisa, General Themba Matanzima and General Derrick Mgwebi. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu, was also a student at Jongilizwe in 1976.

He was arrested in 1976, and served time in prison, during which time he completed his law degree. Between 1985 and 1993, he was the Chairperson of Prisoners Welfare Programmes (Priwelpro). Priwelpro was set up by Advocate Ntsebeza and two ex-political prisoners in one of the Bantustans of South Africa, the then so-called independent homeland of Transkei, Priwelpro agitated for the release of political prisoners from Transkei, Robben Island and elsewhere. It also agitated for the release of all political detainees. Priwelpro was also involved in Court interdicts against the torture of those arbitrarily detained.

Among other highlights of his career, he was appointed as a Member of Council for the University of Transkei between 1994 and 2000. From 1995 to 2000, he was appointed a Member of Council of the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope, a governing and disciplinary body of all attorneys in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape Provinces.

In 1996, he was appointed by former President Nelson Mandela as a Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In the TRC, he became the Head of the TRC’S Investigative Unit and Head of its Witness Protection programme, a structure established by statute within the TRC to protect witnesses, especially witnesses from the old order security structures who, at a great risk to their lives, came forward with very sensitive information about the atrocities of the apartheid past.

From 2001 to 2013 he was appointed a Lead Counsel: South Africa in the Apartheid Litigation in re: Ntsebeza v Citibank and Others (New York Court): Case Number: 09-2778-civ-L: US Court of Appeals: Second Circuit. In 2012 he was instructed by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), as Lead Counsel on behalf of the families of the 37 mine workers who were killed by the Police in Marikana. He represented the families throughout the Commission, which was chaired by Farlam JA [Ret] throughout the judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana tragedy. He represent the families as their Lead Counsel, in a damages claim against the Police, on behalf of the widows and other dependents of the 37 mine workers who were killed by the Police in Marikana.

In 2002, Advocate Ntsebeza was a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of Connecticut in the US. In 2005 he served as a Commissioner on the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry in Darfur, a position he was appointed to by the then UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan.

The most recent appointment for Advocate Ntsebeza SC was in February this year, when he was voted by a large majority of members of the All Council for a judgeship position, for an initial period of six years, in the African Court for Human and People’s Rights. He is the former Chancellor of Fort Hare University. He has recently been appointed as the Cricket South Africa’s new Social Justice Ombudsman.