On its 72nd graduation ceremony on the 28th of April 2021, Rhodes University will confer a degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) (honoris causa) on alumna and prolific author of fiction and non-fiction works, Dr Marguerite Poland.
Over the years, Dr Poland has made great strides to enrich the literary landscape with excellent works that draw on the rich tapestry of the diverse South African experience.
Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said: “I am delighted that her alma mater has seen it fit to honour her many and significant contributions, and we warmly congratulate her on this richly deserved recognition and notable achievement.”
Born in Johannesburg in 1950, Dr Poland became one of the first 4th generation students to enrol at Rhodes University in 1968 and her great-grandfather Reverend AW Brereton was the first Registrar of Rhodes University.
She received her BA, majoring in Xhosa and Social Anthropology, from Rhodes University in 1970, completed her Honours in Xhosa at Stellenbosch University and attained both her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Zulu Literature from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Dr Poland was the first recipient of the Fitzpatrick Literary Award for Children’s Literature in 1979 for her tale The Mantis and the Moon, which she received again in 1983 for The Woodash Stars. In 1989, The Mantis and the Moon received a Sankei Honourable Award for translation into Japanese. Over the years, she has written eleven children’s books, many of which draw metaphorically on the African tradition without retelling folktales. Fluent in isiXhosa and isiZulu, much of Dr Poland's work reflects her interest in African culture with some of her children's stories, inspired by African oral traditions.
Recessional for Grace is a novel that grew out of Dr Poland’s research for her doctoral thesis in Zulu Literature on the metaphoric naming of colour patterns for Nguni cattle. Her book The Abundant Herds: a Celebration of the Cattle of the Zulu People is an adaptation of her PhD dissertation. It draws on years of research into the tradition of cattle naming, a field in which there was very little written material available.
Over the years, Dr Poland has received plenty of additional rewards and accolades, perhaps most notably her award of the National Order of Ikhamanga (Silver) by the South African president in 2016.
Besides writing, Dr Poland also worked as a social worker in Gqeberha and Durban. She also worked as an ethnologist at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town.
She taught English for a year at St. Andrew's College in Makhanda, where she was commissioned to write a history of the school to mark the 150th anniversary of its foundation in 2005. The resulting publication, The Boy in You: a Biography of St Andrew's College, Grahamstown 1855–2005, was launched in South Africa and London in 2008.
For this, she was honoured by St Andrew’s College, who made an Honorary Old Andrean. She is the first woman to be elected as the President of the Old Andrean Club in 2021.
Dr Poland is currently working with the artists of the Keiskamma Art Project in researching for their proposed COVID-19 Regeneration Tapestry depicting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their community in Hamburg, Eastern Cape. This is the fourth initiative of the Keiskamma Art Project in which she has been involved.