Stellenbosch University (SU) awarded honorary doctorates to five exceptional individuals at its December graduation on Monday, 13 December 2021. Prof Marlene van Niekerk, Judge Frederick Brand, Dr Marlene le Roux, Nicky Newton-King, and Prof John Volmink were honoured for their significant contributions to society in the areas of law, the performing arts, literature, business and education. They received their degrees at a small physical ceremony for doctoral graduates from the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Education, Theology and Law held at the Endler Hall in the Konservatorium on the Stellenbosch campus.
Prof Marlene van Niekerk
Prof Marlene van Niekerk received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil), honoris causa, for her immense impact on the Afrikaans literature and global literary landscape; for her unique contribution to the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch at SU's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; for her commitment to the development of a new generation of writers; and for her generosity in sharing her knowledge through the academic discipline.
In her acceptance speech, Van Niekerk expressed her gratitude to SU for a special and coveted award. She said creative writing is a form of research and can offer material that is complex enough to stimulate ordinary literary research in the long term. “One hopes that creative writing will survive as a skill, as a craft that one first has to master before you can improvise and renew freely."
One also hopes that the outcomes of creative writing as offered by Stellenbosch University will fearlessly undermine every prevailing form of hegemonical thinking through irony, ambiguity and by adding a strangeness to everyday language and perceptions."
Van Niekerk has had an immense impact on the Afrikaans literature and literary landscape, not only through her own writings, but also through educating well-known authors and winners of literary awards.
An extremely productive author, Van Niekerk has garnered 20 local and international awards and prizes. In 2011, she received the National Order of Ikhamanga (silver) in recognition of her outstanding intellectual contribution to the field of literary arts and culture through poetry, literature and philosophical works.
Apart from the literary value of her work, it has also contributed significantly to research. Her oeuvre has been the subject of six doctorates, more than 25 master's theses and over 60 scholarly articles.
Van Niekerk, who retired from SU's Department of Afrikaans and Dutch in 2019 as a distinguished professor, developed the successful MA programme in Creative Writing. Many students who completed the programme have proceeded to become established authors and have won a range of literary awards, including Hertzog prizes.
In addition to graduates from the formal writing programme, Van Niekerk also mentored a range of other scholars and authors, including several award winners, and served as supervisor for students of Afrikaans and Dutch, literary translation and biographical writing.
Judge Frederick Brand
Former justice of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, Judge Frederick Brand received the degree Doctor of Laws (LLD), honoris causa, for his dedication to the development of South African law; for his commitment to strengthening the judiciary in Africa through involvement in its highest courts; for his commitment to the training of a new generations of judges; and for sharing his expertise through his local and international scholarly contributions. Brand has made outstanding contributions to the field of law – nationally and internationally.
He thanked SU for bestowing this exceptional honour on him and said that the institution has always been a part of his life. “I'm still grateful for the teaching I received at the Faculty of Law. If I did make a contribution to the law, I owe a great debt to my colleagues, particularly at this faculty, for their influence."
Brand, who retired as a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2015, commenced his career as an academic in the Faculty of Law at SU in 1973. He later joined the Cape Bar and practised as an advocate for 15 years before commencing his judicial career in 1992.
His impact is especially evident from his highly influential judgments as justice of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal, and his extensive involvement in legal scholarship. He has written about 200 reported judgments, of which some have become leading cases in various fields of law and have been the subject of extensive academic commentary.
Brand has also been involved in adjudication elsewhere in Africa and has acted in the Court of Appeal of Lesotho and the Supreme Court of Namibia. He holds a permanent appointment on the bench of the Appeal Court of Botswana. In 2018 he was appointed for three years to a position on the Supreme Court bench of Fiji, and in 2019 was invited to join the Qatar International Commercial Court in Doha.
Dr Marlene le Roux
The degree Doctor of Education (DEd), honoris causa, was awarded to Dr Marlene le Roux for her commitment to the development of the performing arts; for her dedication to ensure access to the performing arts for young people from marginalised communities; for using the arts to educate, empower and to create community and as a tool of expression for the oppressed.
“What a special honour it is that Stellenbosch University deemed me worthy of this award. I accept this on behalf of so many disadvantaged women, persons with disabilities and also people who have no voice in life," Le Roux said when she received her honorary degree. She pointed out that the arts transcend political borders, bring us, as people, together and bind our communities to one another. “It speaks to the brutality of the past, as well as the challenges of the present. The arts afford children the opportunity to escape the harsh reality in giving them the opportunity to dream. Even more so, it inspires and develops."
Le Roux, who is the first woman to hold the position of CEO of the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town, is a renowned advocate for communities who have been denied access to rights and opportunities.
Le Roux, who started her career as a music teacher on the Cape Flats, joined the Artscape Theatre in 2001 as the Director of Audience Development and Education. She went on to change the face of Artscape's audiences, artists, and programming, and has been steadfast in empowering and supporting disadvantaged groups in finding fulfilling careers in the arts.
Le Roux introduced outreach projects that range from theatre appreciation workshops to taking complete productions, along with workshops and educational theatre, to rural areas and communities where arts and cultural opportunities are limited.
She is recognised both locally and globally for using the arts as a means of creating social cohesion and for promoting artists with disabilities.
Le Roux is the recipient of, among others, the French Chevalier dans l'Ordre national du Merite (a French Knighthood merit award); the Mkodaba Award from the National Department of Arts and Culture for making theatre accessible to all, and the Commonwealth Point of Light Award.
Ms Nicky Newton-King
The degree Doctor of Laws (LLD), honoris causa, was bestowed on Ms Nicky Newton-King for her visionary leadership and contribution to the transformation and strengthening of the South-African economy; for her dedication to the development and implementation of South African financial law and regulation; for her commitment to the development of a new generation of leaders; and for her remarkable achievements in the business sector.
Newton-King, the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), is a trailblazer who has made an enduring contribution to the fields of law and commerce in South Africa.
In her acceptance speech, Newton-King said it is an honour to be in the company of esteemed former recipients of honorary doctorates at SU. She lauded SU for “charting a course that has this university consciously playing its part in the creation of a country that is there for all its people."
Newton-King, who started her career as a commercial lawyer, was the first woman to run the JSE in its 125-year history. Prior to her appointment of the JSE's CEO, she served as the JSE's Deputy CEO for eight years and, prior to that, in various other executive roles in a 23-year career at the organisation.
She drove significant milestones, not least the demutualization and listing of the JSE, the acquisition of the SA Futures Exchange and the Bond Exchange of SA. She led the JSE through the successful implementation of major technology projects which transformed the organisation's trading and clearing service offerings and championed the importance of business being a socially responsible participant on matters critical to the national agenda. These initiatives contributed significantly to the JSE's positioning as a leading, multi-asset class exchange.
Newton-King was selected as one of the World Economic Forum's 100 Global Leaders for Tomorrow and is also a recipient of the South Africa's Businesswoman of the Year award.
Prof John Volmink
The degree Doctor of Education (DEd) honoris causa, was awarded to Prof John Volmink for his visionary and innovative leadership in steering curriculum reform in the South African education sector; for his commitment to excellence and the core intellectual dimensions of education, namely knowledge creation and teaching and learning; and for his ongoing commitment to improve the quality of and access to education in Africa.
Volmink said it is a profound honour to receive this honorary doctorate from SU. “I am proud that as of today I can be counted among the alumni of this great institution and the elite within the Faculty of Education whose leadership and intellectual contribution I greatly respect." He emphasised the importance of education and added that “our future will be determined by the extent to which we attend to the professional preparation and retention of those entrusted with the education of our children."
Through his exceptional leadership skills, Volmink has made an outstanding contribution to education in South Africa. The impact of his contribution is felt at all levels of the South African education industry, from schooling through to higher education and the broader South African society.
Volmink, who is the chairperson of Umalusi, the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training, started his career as a high school teacher and later held various teaching and management positions at local and international universities. In addition to his proven leadership in higher education, Volmink has made significant contributions to education, in particular, to curriculum reform, the advancement of mathematics education and the quality assurance of schooling in post-apartheid South Africa. Every post-apartheid minister of education has requested him to play a leading role in the transformation of education in South Africa.
He has also demonstrated a deep commitment to development in Africa, through chairing and establishing numerous non-profit organisations. The largest of these is the education organisation MIET Africa that operates in the Southern African Development Community region. The organisation works with vulnerable youth, and through its programmes aim at developing the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes, to enable them to become active and responsible citizens.
- Click here for a video of Prof Marlene van Niekerk's acceptance speech.
- Click here for a video of the acceptance speeches of the other honorary doctorates.
Photo: Marlene van Niekerk, John Volmink, Marlene le Roux, Nicky Newton-King, and Frederick Brand proudly show off their honorary degrees. Photographer: Stefan Els