Welcome and introduction to Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela

Vice-chancellor, Dr Badat, Deputy vice-chancellors, Dr Clayton and Dr Mabizela, Dean of Humanities, Prof Hendricks, staff and students of the Psychology Departments, staff and students of our fellow department, members of the public, it is with pleasure that I welcome you to the third Social Change award evening. The Social Change award was initiated by the Psychology Department in 2008. In this event we honour prominent members of the Psychology community in South Africa for their contribution to social change in the country. The aim of the project is to:

  • acknowledge people who have gone beyond the traditional bounds of the discipline and contributed, through intellectual, professional and personal labour, to social change in South Africa;
  • expose students to these kinds of role models within psychology

As I was preparing for this evening, it struck me that we were perhaps somewhat circumscribed in the initial laying out of the aims of this event. This thought was facilitated by reading a recent document released by International Social Science Council and UNESCO entitled the World Social Science Report. The report is billed as the “first comprehensive overview of the field in over a decade”. It contains numerous chapters written by prominent scholars throughout the world, including our own VC. The chapter that caught my attention, however, in the lead up to this event is the one that talks to psychology and social change written by Rainer Silbereisen, Pierre Ritchie and Bruce Overmier, from the International Union of Psychological Sciences. In the paper, they indicate that, “Research on the role of social change in family and individual development exemplifies the fruitful collaboration between psychology and sociology”. Examples of this are provided in the form of a research tradition founded by Edler (1974) which tried to explain the consequences of the Great Depression; research on the unification experience in Germany, which identifies new micro-level demands on families and individuals created by political change; research in China which views the effects of large-scale economic reforms on human development. I was struck, in reading the arguments made in this paper and by the examples provided, by the emphasis on simply understanding the implications of social change.

While we should never underestimate the value of activities that seek to understand the effects of social change on human development, it is equally important to understand that psychology as a discipline and profession, whether by design or by default, is always already intricately interweaved in social processes. And so, I would like to suggest that, in contradistinction with the sentiments expressed by Silbereisen, Ritchie and Overmier, we add the following aim to our Social Change project: that, through highlighting the work of prominent psychologists in social change in South Africa, we seek to think deeply about the role of Psychology in relation to facilitating as well as understanding social change.

Of course when we speak of social change, we are always making a value judgement in terms of the social good. I have to assume, for example, that none of us here would care to use the example of a psychologist who was responsible for some of most devastating social change in South Africa, namely Hendrick Verwoerd. Indeed the psychologist that we honour tonight is one who has spent a significant part of her working life dealing with understanding and remediating the psychological and social fall-out caused of Apartheid.

And with those words, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you tonight Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. Prof Gobodo-Madikizela’s career is a very productive one and so I have had to be picky in choosing what to highlight otherwise we would be here for a long time. So what follows is an explication of some, but not all, of her achievements. Pumla is a graduate of Fort Hare University, where she obtained her social work degree and honors degree in psychology, of Rhodes University, where she received her Master’ s degree in clinical psychology (and let me pause here to say how pleased we are to count Prof Gobodo-Madikizela amongst our alumni) and of the University of Cape Town, where she completed her doctoral degree. She worked initially as a community social worker and a clinical psychologist, and then taught in the Psychology Departments of the University of Transkei and later University of Cape Town. She was granted an extended research fellowship at Harvard University between 1998 and 2001 and was affiliated with the Radcliff Institute for Advanced Research, the Women and Public Policy Program, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, and the Harvard Divinity School. During this time, she taught at Wellesley College, Brandeis University, and Tufts University.Currently she is Professor of Psychology at UCT.

In nominating people to receive this award, we use two criteria: professional contribution and intellectual contribution. Of course, this is somewhat of an artificial divide, but perhaps you will allow me some latitude in speaking to these separately.

Turning to Pumla’s professional contribution to social change in South Africa:

Although Pumla is most well known for her most recent work around trauma and reconciliation, her interest in social issues has a long history. In the 1980s, she was an expert witness to the Supreme Court of South Africa, working with human rights lawyers who were defending young black anti-apartheid activists. In 1991, she was a founding member of a children's rights organization in the Eastern Cape. As a result of this she was appointed chair of the first UNICEF project on the situation analysis on the state of children in South Africa. In 1996, she joined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as a committee member on the commission's Human Rights Violations Committee. She was based in Cape Town, where she initiated and developed the Commission's first outreach program. During her term on the TRC, she coordinated and chaired victims' public hearings of the TRC in the Western Cape region. She is a founder member of Women Waging Peace, a global initiative for women headquartered in Cambridge Massachusetts, whose members work in regions with a history of past and continuing conflict.

Turning to her intellectual contribution, Pumla has written many journal articles, book chapters and conference proceedings. I wish to concentrate here on her published books which include a sole authored book entitled A Human Being Died that Night: A Story of Forgiveness, a co-authored book entitled Narrating our Healing: Perspectives on Healing Trauma, and a co-editor book entitled Memory, Narrative and Forgiveness: Perspectives on the Unfinished Journeys of the Past.

Perhaps the most famous of these is A Human Being Died that Night: A Story of Forgivemesss. Anthony Collins, in a review of this book published in the South African Journal of Psychology, had this to say:

On the most literal level, A human being died that night is a thoughtful reflection on a series of interviews with a person who systematically committed a catalogue of serious violent crimes. More specifically, it is an encounter between a black South African woman (which is to say, a survivor of the apartheid era) and the man who earned the sobriquet, “Prime Evil”: Eugene de Kock, foremost terrorist of the apartheid state, head of the notorious Vlakplaas covert police unit. … It is also a symbolic confrontation between the victim and persecutor.

This book confronts all … issues in a way that is neither reductionistic nor moralising. It is powerfully engaging at an emotional level, but without becoming sentimental. The book achieves an astonishing feat – retrieving humanity from a situation where ostensibly there is none. It is an important and challenging book, both as a psychological study and as an attempt to think through our collective history and future. It is one of those rare works of which one cannot avoid saying: everyone should read it.

A Human Being Died That Night, which has been published in South Africa, the United States and the Netherlands, won the Alan Paton Award in South Africa, and the prestigious Christopher Award in the United States.

In addition to her academic work, Pumla has played a key public intellectual role, being the author of newspaper articles, delivering several public lectures, being a guest on radio and TV shows, and facilitating workshops. I want to cite a small section from one recent newspaper article, in which she comments on the possibility of a presidential pardon for Eugene de Kock. This small section is indicative of Pumla’s incisive and critical thinking:

My comments here are in no way a campaign to diminish De Kock’s crimes or to undermine the legacy of the traumatic loss caused by his actions. I believe, however, that keeping De Kock behind bars would encourage “the great forgetting” -- to paraphrase Adam Rothschild’s description of the forgotten horrors of colonial Europe.

Releasing De Kock would open up the possibility of a movement towards a new politics of remembrance, one that would help invigorate dialogue about the kind of future we want and the future of young South Africans. De Kock would remind us of how easy it is to cultivate hate, and that the repetition of destructive messages from people in positions of power can no longer be entertained as just metaphors.

Pumla has delivered several endowed lectures and keynote addresses internationally and has been the recipient of many awards, including an Honorary Doctorate from Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award. She has been honoured among “100 People who Made a Difference” in the Permanent Exhibit of Hall of Heroes in the National Freedom Centre in Cincinnati, Ohio in the United States, 2005.
It thus with great pleasure that I invite her to speak to us tonight on the topic ‘In search of human solidarity: transcending the boundaries of the self and the meaning of moral imagination”

Collins, A. (2003). Review of A Human Being Died that Night: A Story of Forgivenes. South African Journal of Psychology, 33 (4), 272-273.

Gobodo-Madikizela, P. (2010). An anatomy of violence. Mail & Guardian, Jan 15, 2010. Retrieved September 16, 2010 from http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-01-15-towards-an-anatomy-of-violence.

Silbereisen, R., Ritchie, P., & Overmier, B. (2010). Psychology at the vortex of convergence and divergence: the case of social change. In F. Calloids & L. Jeanpierre (Eds.), World Social Science Report: Knowledge Divides (pp. 213-216). Paris: UNESCO & ISSC

Read the speech delivered by Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela here

Last Modified: Thu, 15 Aug 2013 12:16:40 SAST