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Change the world


In the 2020 academic year, unprecedented in its historical significance the world over, Nelson Mandela University will pay homage to five outstanding men and women, who have made a remarkable contribution to society, through their work in the fields of literature, economic development and gender advocacy.

The University will confer honorary doctorate degrees on South African Reserve Bank Governor, Lesetja Kganyago, former South African First Lady, Zanele Mbeki, and literary giants Sindiwe Magona and Ben Okri, as well as businessman and former MTN Chief Executive, Phuthuma Nhleko. The graduation ceremonies will take place during December 2020, with an option of autumn graduation ceremonies in April 2021.

Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown conditions that saw the April 2020 graduation ceremony held virtually, the University is exploring various options for its December and April graduation ceremonies.

Kganyago was reappointed as the Governor of the SARB for a second term in November 2019; his first was effective from 9 November 2014. He has more than 30 years’ experience in formulating and implementing public policy in various roles at the central bank and at National Treasury. During his time at National Treasury, a fundamental reform in the management of the national debt portfolio was completed and he successfully steered several public finance and financial market reforms.

He began a career in banking at First National Bank from 1987 to 1989, and joined the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) as an accountant. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1991 as its regional accountant in the former Northern Transvaal, later becoming a national co-ordinator of its Economics Department. Governor Kganyago holds a Master of Science degree in Development Economics from the University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) and a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Accounting and Economics from the University of South Africa.

His commitment and substantive contributions to country and the people of South Africa, and to the economic discipline in various roles, is what has led to this honourable recognition by Mandela University through its Faculty of Business Economic Sciences.

Former South African First Lady, affectionately known as MaMbeki, is honoured by the University through the Faculty of Health Sciences for her contribution to social development and excelling on all frontiers that has simultaneously helped to advance scholarly knowledge.

Mrs Mbeki works with local and global organisations, promoting South African women’s economic empowerment and development. She serves as a trustee and director on several national and international boards that promote gender equality, social and economic development, and the upliftment of poor communities.

She has devoted her life to  initiatives that  are dedicated to the upliftment of women and visibility of gender issues; the improvement of the quality of life and status of children, youth and people living with disabilities; social justice and social ills many of which are remnants of the legacy of apartheid.

Magona is an author who was born in Gungululu Village, in the Eastern Cape, but grew up in Bouvlei, near Cape Town, and later worked as a domestic worker. She completed her secondary education through correspondence and graduated from the University of South Africa.

After securing a scholarship from Columbia University in New York, USA, she went on to graduate with a Master of Science degree in Organisational Social Work. She produced nine books, including four novels, autobiographical works, two collections of short stories, three novellas, an anthology of poetry and more than 150 children’s books.

She is one of South Africa’s most prominent writers globally.  Her work is influenced by her experiences as a black woman who has endured poverty and navigated South Africa’s racially defined socio-cultural-economic landscape as a mother, wife and community leader.

Contributing towards peaceful change during the years of the liberation struggle in South Africa, she was one of the founding members of the Women’s Peace Movement in the mid-seventies. She spent 25 years in New York working for the United Nations first in the Department of Public Information on the anti-Apartheid radio programmes until 1994, and then in other parts of the UN until her retirement in 2003.

She has since returned to Cape Town and is presently Writer-in-Residence at the University of the Western Cape and is ambassador at large for Sparklekids, in Hermanus.

Mandela University honours Dr Magona, through the Faculty of Education, for her outstanding achievements in literature and playwriting and for using her pen as a weapon in the struggle for peace, social change and freedom.

Nigerian-born and UK-based Ben Okri is a Booker prize-winning, internationally renowned writer with 11 published books and several collections of poetry and essays. He is an acclaimed scholar, whose works have been translated into more than 20 languages around the world.

Okri moved to the UK as a child, where he went to school in London, and returned to Nigeria with his parents on the eve of the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s. The war had a defining impact on his life. When he was deemed too young to pursue studies in his desired field of Physics, he spent the summer reading through his father’s library, where he found his true vocation as a writer.

Starting with poetry, he moved on to publish articles and essays about the living conditions of the poor in the slums of the Nigerian capital, Lagos. He went to write short stories and, ultimately, what was to become his first novel, Flowers and Shadows.

He endured a brief period of homelessness when funding for his scholarship fell through, sometimes living in parks and other times with friends – a period he deemed very important to his work, intensifying his desire to write. He went on to develop an illustrious writing career during which he contributed enormously to the growth and enrichment of African Literature, a contribution which is being honoured by the University through its Faculty of Humanities.

Former MTN head Nhleko is described as a team-oriented, objective-driven leader with the ability to listen before making a decision.

Under his leadership, the multinational mobile telecommunications company grew its subscriber base to nearly 200 million, which propelled it to the heights of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Nhleko, who presently holds a Transformational Leadership Fellowship from the University of Oxford, is listed among the Top 50 global trailblazers. He has been highly instrumental in the expansion of the mobile operator industry into the developing markets of Africa and the Middle East, contributing to resultant coverage to connectivity for populations in 21 countries. His honorary doctoral degree will be awarded through the Faculty of Engineering, the Built Environment and Technology.

(Left to right) South African Reserve Bank Governor, Lesetja Kganyago, former South African First Lady, Zanele Mbeki, literary giants Sindiwe Magona and Ben Okri, and businessman and former MTN Chief Executive, Phuthuma Nhleko. 

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777