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Stellenbosch University names six new honorary doctorate recipients
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Anél Lewis]
Published: 20/10/2023

A South African Reserve Bank deputy governor, a leading astrophysicist involved in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project and a winner of the prestigious Alan Paton Award for non-fiction are among six individuals named to receive honorary doctorates from Stellenbosch University (SU) at upcoming graduation ceremonies.

SU confers honorary doctorates upon extraordinary recipients who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields and made a significant contribution to society.

The latest recipients of this honour are Prof Pumla Dineo Gqola, academic and author; Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain-Nhlapho, Global Disability Advisor of the World Bank Group; Dr Robert Martin Adam, a highly accomplished physicist; Prof Lehana Thabane, an internationally recognised biostatistician; Nomfundo Tshazibana, Deputy Governor of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) and CEO of the Prudential Authority; and Prof James Robinson, a world-renowned economist and political scientist.

“As an institution that advances knowledge in service of society, SU is proud to be associated with six individuals who have committed themselves to making a difference within their communities, as well as globally," says Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor. “We recognise these recipients' stellar contributions in their respective disciplines, where they have distinguished themselves as advocates, thought leaders, innovators, and changemakers. Their work is firmly aligned with the University's Vision 2040 of being Africa's leading research-intensive institution."

Five of the six recipients will receive their honorary degrees at the upcoming graduation ceremony in December, as well as Prof Kenneth Shropshire (DCom) whose honorary degree stands over from previous years. Robinson will receive his honorary degree at the March 2024 graduation ceremony.

More about the recipients and their honorary degrees

Prof Pumla Dineo Gqola

Gqola will be awarded the degree Doctor of Literature (DLitt) honoris causa. Her landmark monograph, “What is slavery to me? Postcolonial/Slave memory in post-apartheid South Africa" (Wits University Press, 2010), was the first full-length study to shed light on slave memory in South Africa and sparked critical dialogue. She earned the prestigious Alan Paton Award for Non-fiction in 2016 for her seminal work, “Rape: A South African Nightmare" (MF Books/Jacana, 2015). Most recently, through her concept of the “Female Fear Factory" (MF books / NB, 2021), Gqola explores the deep-rooted crisis of violence by unravelling the mechanisms that perpetuate rape culture and toxic misogyny.

Beyond her academic pursuits, Gqola has demonstrated a commitment to social justice and gender equality. She was appointed to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) Ministerial Task Team on sexual harassment and gender-based violence in South African public universities, highlighting her dedication to creating safer spaces for all. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Trustees of the African Feminist strategic litigation firm, Women's Legal Centre. As the 2023 Falling Walls “Science Breakthrough of the Year" award winner, within Social Sciences and Humanities, Gqola's work continues to challenge the wall of violence against women and gender-based violence.

Ms Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain-Nhlapo

McClain-Nhlapo is awarded the degree Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil), honoris causa, for her lifelong work on social justice and equality. Her early career focused on child rights, and she worked with prominent legal scholars including Dullah Omar, and Bridgette Mabandla. After a serious car accident in 1994 left her with a spinal cord injury, McClain-Nhlapo widened her focus to include disability rights and she organised the first conference on children with disabilities in Parliament. She was also one of the principal authors of the South African Disability Strategy.

She has been involved with UNICEF as the Child Protection Officer responsible for children in extremely difficult circumstances, and later as Commissioner responsible for Social and Economic Rights at the South African Human Rights Commission. She always seeks to centre disability rights in all her endeavours. McClain-Nhlapo is currently the Global Disability Advisor to the World Bank Group. The honorary degree honours her commitment to raising awareness of the challenges facing disabled people at local, regional and international levels.

Dr Robert Martin Adam

Adam is awarded the degree Doctor of Science (DSc), honoris causa for his substantial contribution to science, technology and society. He is a highly accomplished physicist whose works span across a wide spectrum of disciplines. As the Director of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa, he played an instrumental role in the completion of the MeerKAT radio telescope. His strategic acumen also contributed to South Africa's successful bid to host the SKA Observatory. He was the managing director of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) from 2017 to 2022.

Further extending his scientific reach, Adam has made a significant impact in the field of astrophysics. He was part of the team that made groundbreaking observations of the Galactic Centre and carried out intensive studies of the magnetar PSR J1622–4950. He now works as a consultant in strategy and technologies.

Prof Lehana Thabane

This internationally recognised scholar and biostatistician is awarded the degree Doctor of Science (DSc) (Medicine and Health Sciences), honoris causa for his contribution to clinical trial methodology. His work in the development and application of novel statistical methods and trial designs, including platform trials for Covid-19, paves the path for innovative medical and behavioural interventions globally.

Thabane is sought after by other eminent members of the international scientific community to serve as lead statistician on pivotal trials. He has a particular passion for developing future scholars and has supervised more than 200 MSc and PhD students and mentored more than 10 international fellows. He is also a keen advocate for racial and ethnic diversity and equality in academic and clinical settings.

Ms Nomfundo Tshazibana

The CEO of the Prudential Authority is awarded the degree Doctor of Commerce (DCom), honoris causa for her promotion of economic growth and stability in SA. Tshazibana's academic career started early, as this gifted learner matriculated at the age of 15 and obtained her first degree, a Bachelor of Commerce, at the age of 18. She has held prominent positions in National Treasury, the International Monetary Fund and SARB.

Now a deputy governor of the SARB and CEO of the Prudential Authority, she is committed to growing the next generation of public sector economists and improving the quality of economics training. This honorary degree recognises her exceptional contribution to policy and decision making.

Prof James Robinson

As a thought leader on economic development and political institutions, Prof Robinson is awarded the degree Doctor of Commerce (DCom) honoris causa. He is recognised for his commitment to working in the global South and active collaboration with emerging scholars in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. He has played a key role in establishing and advancing the field of quantitative economic history in SA.

Robinson's affiliation with SU goes back several years. He actively supported SU as it prepared to host the first-ever World Economic History Congress on the African continent in 2012, and he was one of the keynote speakers. Engagements following this event precipitated the establishment of the Laboratory for the Economics of Africa's Past (LEAP), to elevate African voices in the academic fields of Economic History and Economic Development. He has invested much of his time and resources to promoting scholarship in the global South.