Stellenbosch University
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Record number of qualifications to be awarded at SU December 2019 graduation
Author: Corporate Communication
Published: 05/12/2019

​​Acclaimed South African actor, director and playwright Bonisile John Kani will be awarded an honorary doctorate by Stellenbosch University (SU) during its December 2019 graduation.

Kani will receive the degree Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil), honoris causa, in recognition of his 50-year internationally-acclaimed career in the performing arts and playwriting, for his unwavering commitment to ensure that young people have access to the performing arts and for using the arts as a tool to educate, develop communities and give a voice to the oppressed.

Kani has written and starred in several plays, with his most recent international successes including films such as Black Panther (2018), The Lion King (2019) and Murder Mystery (2019).

This year the University will again award a record number of qualifications (degrees, diplomas and certificates) at its December 2019 graduation ceremonies – 5 853 compared to 5 769 in December 2018. There is also an increase in the number of doctorates – 154 compared to 149 in December 2018.

At the ceremonies, the University will also give recognition to some of its foremost academics and other staff members with the awarding of the SU Chancellor's Awards.

Nine ceremonies are to be held in the Coetzenburg Centre in Stellenbosch from Monday 9 to Friday 13 December 2019.  Kani is to receive the honorary doctorate on Friday 13 December at 10:00.

The schedule of the December graduation ceremonies are as follow:

  • Monday, 9 December 2019 (10:00): Faculties of Theology and Engineering
  • Monday, 9 December 2019 (17:30): Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (Group A)
  • Tuesday, 10 December 2019 (10:00): Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (All programmes excluding PG Diplomas)
  • Tuesday, 10 December 2019 (17:30): Faculties of Economic and Management Sciences (Group B)
    and Medicine and Health Sciences (only PG Diplomas)
  • Wednesday, 11 December 2019 (10:00): Faculty of Science
  • Wednesday, 11 December 2019 (17:30): Faculties of Education and Military Science
  • Thursday, 12 December 2019 (10:00): Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences (Group A), AgriSciences
    and Law (excluding BA Law, BCom Law and BAccLLB)
  • Thursday, 12 December 2019 (17:30): Faculties Economic and Management Sciences (Group C)
  • Friday, 13 December 2019 (10:00): Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (Group B)

Streaming: All the graduation ceremonies can be followed live on the internet at


John Kani's commitment to using the performing arts as a tool for education, community and an expression for the oppressed would become one of the bedrocks of a much-celebrated career spanning some 50 years.

Bonisile John Kani was born in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, on 30 August 1943. His connection to drama, which started in school, continued after he matriculated.

As a young black man growing up in apartheid South Africa, his first desire had always been to be part of the struggle. His need to tell the stories of the oppressed and to see the effect they had on people developed his deeply held belief that theatre was a powerful tool for change and would become the catalyst for all of his work, acting, directing and writing.

In 1965 he joined the Serpent Players where his association and friendship with Winston Ntshona and Atholl Fugard started. In 1972 Kani, Fugard and Ntshona developed the seminal Sizwe Banzi is Dead and in 1973, they created and produced The Island. They took both plays to local and international stages and in 1974 Kani and Ntshona both won the coveted Tony Award for Best Actor in these two plays.

In 1977, Kani and Barney Simon established The Market Theatre, which focused equally on theatrical work and social upliftment. In 1990 they also founded The Market Theatre Laboratory, giving young people from marginalised circumstances the opportunity to study the performing arts.

In 1982, Kani and Sandra Prinsloo shook the very foundations of white South African society when they kissed on stage in Strindberg's Miss Julie at the Baxter Theatre. In 1987, he became the first black South African to play Othello in South Africa in 1987.

Kani has written and starred in three plays: Nothing but the Truth (2002), Missing (2014) and Kunene and the King (2018). All three deal with deeply difficult South African themes of forgiveness, exile, isolation, identity and loss.

Kani holds four honorary degrees and his long list of awards include the Hiroshima Prize for Peace from the Swedish Academy, the Olive Schreiner Prize and the South African Film and Television Lifetime Achievement Award. 


  • Photos and Video: Due to security and other measures taken, members of the media should please give an indication of attending one or more of the ceremonies. Please note that the stage area is very small and that photography and videography is contracted to a private service provider. Any requests for photos and videos should be communicated well in advance to the Media Office (tel 021 808 4921 or  

The University can unfortunately not guarantee the availability of the recipient of the honorary degree for interviews, but please liaise with the Media Office as soon as possible.