UP awards honorary doctorate of literature to Prof Njabulo Simakahle Ndebele

Posted on April 04, 2013

He has received similar honorary doctorates from universities in the UK, the USA, the Netherlands, Japan and South Africa. The University of Cambridge awarded him an honorary doctorate in Law in 2006 and in 2008, the University of Michigan repeated this honour. He has also received awards from Lincoln University, USA, and the National University of Lesotho, and is an honorary fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.

Ndebele was born in Johannesburg in 1948 and grew up in Charterston Township near Nigel, the setting for many of his best-known stories. He matriculated from St Christopher’s High School in Swaziland before going on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy (cum laude) from the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.

He obtained a Master of Arts in English Literature from the University of Cambridge in the UK and was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy in English and American Literature and Creative Writing by the University of Denver in the USA in 1983.

From 1984, Prof Ndebele was Head of the Department of English at the National University of Lesotho, becoming Dean of the Faculty in 1987 and Pro Vice-Chancellor in 1988. In 1991, he moved back to the city of his birth where he became Head of the Department of African Literature at the University of Witwatersrand. He was appointed Vice-Rector of the University of the Western Cape in 1992 and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the North in 1993. He also served as Chair of the Human Sciences Research Council at that time.

From 1998, he was a scholar-in-residence at the Ford Foundation in New York until he took up the post of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town in July 2000. Ndebele served as Chair of the South African Universities Vice-Chancellors’ Association (SAUVCA) and as President of the Association of African Universities.

‘Njabulo Ndebele is one of our country’s foremost writers and academics. As an internationally respected author, he has published short stories and novels as well as very important works of criticism and social commentary,’ said Prof Norman Duncan, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities.

According to Duncan, the importance of Ndebele’s highly influential critical essays cannot be overstated, which over the past three decades have been central to debates regarding the relationship between culture and politics in South Africa. His work has been published in literary and scholarly journals and anthologies in South Africa, the United States and Europe.

Ndebele regularly plays the role of a public intellectual through his interventions in the media on topical issues facing South Africa in its ongoing transition. In 2007, Fine lines from the box: further thoughts about our country was published. Ndebele has been on the panel of judges for several literary prizes, including the Commonwealth Literature Prize for Africa.

His award-winning fiction has made a crucial contribution to South African literature, while his criticism and cultural commentary shapes debates about writing, the responsibilities of writers, the making of culture and the relationship between artistic production and politics in South Africa.

In addition, he has been a key figure in higher education in the country over an extended period. He is described as an exceptional leader with a demonstrated commitment to values such as equity, respect for diversity, the importance of economic development and corporate citizenship.

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