The Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria (UP) conferred honorary doctorates (honoris causa) in Literature on author Dr Abraham de Vries, playwright Athol Fugard, and public intellectual Aziz Pahad. The virtual autumn graduation ceremony took place on 30 April 2021.
UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said he is elated that the Faculty is able to honour some of the country’s most creative and influential public intellectuals. “All the individuals who are having honorary degrees conferred on them espouse values that we hold dear as an institution; chief among those is employing your skills for the betterment and development of society. Congratulations to them all, and a hearty welcome to the UP family.”
Dramatist Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard is considered to be one of the world’s foremost living dramatists. Throughout his career, he has made a contribution of immeasurable importance to South African drama, literature and cultural life. His work is remarkable for its explicit focus on South Africa and on the lives of marginalised South African individuals and communities. In plays like Blood-Knot (1961), Boesman and Lena (1969), Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972) and The Island (1973), Fugard gives full humanity to characters usually pushed to the periphery of society and discriminated against.
“The Department of English extends its warmest congratulations to Athol Fugard on being awarded an honorary degree by the University of Pretoria,” said Prof David Medalie and Prof Molly Brown, Head of Department. “He is one of the world’s greatest living dramatists and has been a powerful chronicler, for more than six decades, of a wide range of South African experiences.”
“Fugard’s contribution is of inestimable importance to South African drama, literature and cultural life, and indeed to that of the entire English-speaking world,” added Prof Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities. “His writing shows the influence of global philosophical traditions such as existentialism, but his penetrating explorations of wider issues of identity and meaning are always firmly rooted in the local. There is little doubt that Fugard’s standing is not just local, but global. Indeed, he stands tall among the greatest playwrights of the 20th century.”
Aziz Pahad is one of the country’s most well-known public intellectuals, and is internationally known and recognised for his contributions to local and international peace, security, justice and international solidarity. Pahad’s career and contributions span more than six decades, starting as a young political activist in the anti-apartheid struggle and forced into exile in the early 1960s, culminating in his appointment in 1994 as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the first democratically elected South African government.
“Beyond his role as an astute intellectual, Pahad’s contributions and approach to diplomacy bring strong moral convictions, careful judgement and, above all, a quiet, influential determination in the search for solutions to South Africa’s challenges,” said Prof Maxi Schoeman of UP’s Department of Political Sciences. “He also stands out as a dedicated humanitarian and humanist who unfailingly believes in the power of dialogue. Honouring him in this way recognises the huge role Pahad has played in promoting peace, democracy and human rights at home and abroad.”
“Throughout his life, Pahad’s ideas and actions have been dedicated and aligned to the core values and principles of building a better South Africa, a better Africa, and a better world, thereby contributing to the ideals and practice of promoting global South and international cooperation towards strengthening the ideals of global, responsible citizenship,” added Prof Reddy. “This honorary doctorate is long overdue, and as a formidable thinker and leader, Pahad is most deserving of it.”
For more than 60 years, author Dr Abraham de Vries has made a significant contribution to South African literature. His short stories have challenged existing norms and introduced innovative narrative strategies. De Vries was an outspoken anti-apartheid and anti-censorship critic, and registered his opposition in demonstrative ways. As an Afrikaans writer, he has cherished the broadening of the scope of his language in a multilingual environment.
Prof Willie Burger, Head of the Department of Afrikaans, described De Vries’ work as truly South African. “Abraham de Vries is a writer from the Karoo, and his work captures so much of that part of the country, its history and its people. In spite of many traces of international modernism and postmodernism in his work, his rootedness in the Karoo makes his work truly South African, and focuses on the results of contact between people and thought, and on relationships, rather than on ideology or dogma.”
“Braam de Vries stands firm as one of the leading exponents of the short story in Afrikaans literature; this is aligned with his commitment to social and political liberty, and his conscientious commitment to Afrikaans as an encompassing symbol for all its speakers,” added Prof Reddy. “This makes him a worthy recipient of the honoris causa.”