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Change the world


Nelson Mandela University’s Professor Alethea de Villiers has recently been promoted to be the first Black woman as full professor in Music in South Africa.


“Being promoted is not a seamless process. Achieving all the criteria for promotion was not simple; it involved hard work, dedication, long hours, learning to manage rejections, as well as making personal and financial sacrifices” says Prof De Villiers.  

“Thanks to God’s grace, unexpected mentors, my two sons’ support and encouragement, and the support of the University’s Research Office, I was able to be upwardly mobile” she says.

“Academia is my dream job. Someone once told me that one can make it as big or as small as one wants to. I find that to be true. Academia has allowed me the space to pursue my innate curiosity and learn more, meet people, explore beautiful locations, and develop and mentor people” Prof De Villiers says.     


Her research interests include democratic citizenship, multiculturalism, cultural studies, and contemporary music.

These values inspired her as Music Department Head from 2018 to 2021 to change the department from being a home of the orchestra to a home of music. She introduced steel pans and marimbas, raised the academic stature of contemporary voice and started a chamber choir.

Prof De Villiers also reconstructed the BMus, including the development of a BMus extended programme, to increase access and facilitate transformation, while sustaining international benchmarks.

“I also created opportunities for my colleagues, enabling staff development, increasing research and creative output, leading to promotions and awards. Furthermore, it is a great privilege to develop the next generation of academic scholars and music teachers” she says. 

“In the future, I want to continue to explore new areas of research connected to multiculturalism, such as contemporary music, steelpan and marimbas, and to collaborate with others to revisit music history texts”.    

Highlights from her career are her appointment as President of SASMT (2022-2025), appointment to the Presidential Committee of the International Society Music Education (ISME), being a Commissioner for ISME (2012-1018), and working with her post-doctoral fellow, Dr Benjamin Izu and postgraduate students.

She was part of the first group of students of Colour to study at the former UPE in 1984 and completed her MPhil in 2001 focusing on teaching strategies for multicultural music education in the Intermediate Phase. Her DEd in 2004 researched teacher education in South Africa, addressing the challenges of educating for democratic citizenship.

At the doctoral dinner she had the honour and privilege to meet and speak to Miriam Makeba, who received an honorary doctorate at that same ceremony. “She was a lovely, warm, gifted and wise lady”, Prof De Villiers says.  


Prof De Villiers believes that women in academia and the workplace, need a good support system at home. Motherhood is important and while one is busy raising children, it can feel as if one has a job and not a career. However, it is important to value oneself, one’s interests, pursuits, and hobbies, she says.

“I find while it is important to schedule time, to read and to write, it is also vital to schedule time for one’s family. I also believe in daily rituals or timetables - it is the only way things get done. Be kind to yourself and to others. It is a strength. Lastly, it is never too late to embark on a new chapter. 

The piano

“The idea of making music on the piano fascinated me from a young age. I loved the piano; it was the first instrument that I encountered. It usually had pride of place in the lounge in my relatives’ houses. Both my parents played the piano, as well as my uncles, aunts, and cousins on my mother's side of the family. My mother was my first piano teacher, while my father bought me my first piano.” she says.

At University she continued with piano as her main instrument and also learnt the flute, as second instrument, which she used to play in church, especially Taize music. She also had a few lessons on the organ.

Education and hard work

“My philosophy of life has been influenced by my parents and schooling. My parents valued education, with my mother teaching me to read and write before I went to school. They made tremendous financial sacrifices to ensure that my late brother and I did not lack anything and received the best education that they could give us”, she says.

Her parents also instilled Christian values and a strong work ethic as well as her teachers at Frank Joubert Primary School in Schauderville and the former Holy Rosary Convent High School, now Priory High School.

Prof De Villiers started as piano teacher at De Vos Malan Primary School in Schauderville, moving on to Dower College of Education, was seconded to the Education Faculty at UPE and works in the Humanities Faculty. She is an NRF-rated scholar and to date has produced 24 DHET accredited publications.

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160