Stellenbosch University (SU) has honoured the late Ms Rachel Kachaje, who passed away earlier this year, with an honorary doctorate. The degree Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil), posthumous honoris causa, was awarded to her for her creative and visionary leadership in elevating the debate on disability to regional and global platforms.
Her husband Gibson accepted the award on behalf of the family at a small physical graduation ceremony for doctoral graduates from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences held at SU's Endler Hall in the Konservatorium on Monday 14 December 2020.
During the ceremony, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers said that Kachaje's “effectiveness in disability advocacy" did not go unnoticed and that the University “salutes her extraordinary work" in advocating for the full inclusion of people with disabilities at local, regional and international level.
“Kachaje was a disability activist for over 25 years, advocating for equal opportunities and rights for people with disabilities in Malawi, the African region and internationally. She challenged the prejudiced notions of disability and was known for her ability to inspire young people with disabilities, for her embodiment of the values of compassion, respect, excellence, accountability and equity," said De Villiers.
Kachaje, who became disabled at the age of three due to a polio outbreak, was working for the National Bank of Malawi when she first joined the disability movement in Malawi. She co-founded the Federation of Disability Organisations' (FEDOMA) in the 1990s and represented it in the Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD).
In addition, Ms Kachaje was a board member of the Africa Disability Alliance and the EquitAble Project at Trinity College and Stellenbosch University, co-founder of Disabled Women in Development, commissioner of the National AIDS Commission and secretary of the African Disability Forum Board, to name just some of her leadership roles.
She was elected Minister of Disability and Elderly Affairs in Malawi and in 2004 received a Malawi Human Rights Award and a Diversity Leader Award. She was part of the landmark negotiations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and contributed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) discussions.
“Kachaje had a proven ability in advancing the agendas of people with disabilities in general and in particular women and girls with disabilities. Her mission was to advocate and promote rights for people with disabilities and to lead a life that would always affect them in a positive manner," said De Villiers.
To watch the full graduation ceremony, click here.
In the photo above from left, Prof Wim de Villiers (SU Rector & Vice-Chancellor), Prof Anthony Leysens (Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences), Gibson Kachaje and Justice Edwin Cameron (SU Chancellor)