In recognition of his contribution to the field of social justice and education, the University of Pretoria (UP) recently awarded now retired independent education academic Professor Mokubung Nkomo an honorary doctorate.
“This award comes as a total surprise, but I accept it with deep appreciation,” said Prof Nkomo, who held the position of ombudsman at Unisa between 2014 and 2016. “It is the culmination of my long career, from the rural hinterland of Mashishing and the one-classroom, multi-grade mine school in Uitkyk, to earning a doctorate in the US and being employed at institutions of higher learning where I taught and conducted research, to returning to South Africa after 30 years and being engaged in academic institutions, among other entities.”
“We wish to congratulate Prof Nkomo for receiving this prestigious award,” said Sharon Mashau, Head of Faculty Marketing and Communication in the Faculty of Education. “His contributions to society are at a high level of excellence.”
Prof Nkomo was born in Mashishing (previously known as Lydenburg), to a domestic worker and a mine stock clerk, and says he was not predisposed to a career in education. “My parents did not go beyond high school, and the only books in our household were the Bible and Leeto la moKresto [The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan]. I was one of the thousands who were force-fed with the poisonous diet of the infamous Bantu Education Act of 1953. The resulting educational malnourishment left an indelible mark, a deficit that I fervently sought to correct in later life.”
It was also what inspired him to find his place in the education sector. “Starting school in the early 1950s under a seriously flawed education system, certainly for black people, inspired me to pursue a career in education.”
Professor Mokubung Nkomo receiving his honorary doctorate at a graduation ceremony held recently at the University of Pretoria.
Prof Nkomo completed matric in Swaziland in 1966, before receiving a scholarship to study in the US. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics (1969) from Pennsylvania State University; a Master of Education in Curriculum Design and Development (1973); and a doctorate in International Education and Development, which he obtained from the University of Massachusetts in 1983.
He began his career in the 1970s as a teaching and research assistant at the University of Massachusetts, and went on to hold several positions in other institutions, both in the US and South Africa. Prof Nkomo has been, among others, an honorary research fellow at the Human Sciences Research Council in Pretoria, Director of the Centre for Diversity and Social Cohesion at UP and Director of the South African Partnership Programme in New York. He also served as a postgraduate studies coordinator in the Faculty of Education at UP, supervising a number of master’s and doctoral students.
Prof Nkomo has written several scholarly books and chapters; and has had articles published in international, national and regional journals and in various magazine both in the US and South Africa.
He has also received several awards and research grants from multiple organisations, including the Ford Foundation, the International Development Research Centre in Canada and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
“I measure my achievements against my humble beginnings in Mashishing and the bleak circumstances of my life,” he says. “Given these circumstances early in my life, my projected career trajectory should have been defined by the constraints imposed by the system. My fate should have been abject poverty, chronic joblessness, or physical and mental disorders. The fact that I managed to steer away from a seemingly prescribed fate and end up where I am today is an extraordinary feat.”