Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On El Anatsui and Peter Magubane's honorary doctorates at University of Cape Town

Group photo after a luncheon in El's honor hosted by the Vice Chancellor of UCT, Professor Max Price at his university residence. Seated left: Artist and UCT Professor, Bernie Searle. El seated 2nd left. Professor Price standing right; Deputy VC and art historian Professor Sandra Klopper standing 2nd right. 
It is no more fresh news that on June 15, just a week ago, El Anatsui received an honorary doctorate from University of Cape Town, the top-rated university on the African continent. This came in the heels of another doctorate last month from Harvard.
El getting his hood!
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Perhaps only a few in the South African art world also heard that the veteran photographer, Peter Magubane, was the other honoree. It was amazing to see Magubane, who has slowed a bit, deliver a moving speech about his life and work, accompanied by a well-edited film, based on his photographs, that sketch a visual history of anti-Apartheid struggle from the late 1950s through to the 1980s.
Peter Magubane takes the stage,
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

In fact, that award ceremony on June 15, was also an occasion for celebrating the courage of all the school children and youths who rose in defiance of the Apartheid regime's educational policy on June 16, 1976 in Soweto (the day after the UCT graduating ceremony was the 40th anniversary and national holiday); an event burned into the world's consciousness through Sam Nzima's now legendary photograph of dying Hector Pieterson in the arms of distraught Mbuyisa Makhubo, his sister Antoinette by their side.

As the award ceremony carried on, I could not but wonder, looking at the extremely few number of black graduands, how long it might take before South African universities begin to reflect the nation's demographic: less than 10% white, and more than 70% black. In that impressive hall, seeing continuous lines of gowned white students, punctuated by the occasional black was a sobering experience. Then it struck me: no wonder the country's black youth, like in 1976, have now thrown down the gauntlet, demanding radical change in the status quo. Rhodes Must Fall. Fees Must Fall. Unfortunately, the ANC, now a sordid shadow of the political organization that spearheaded the campaign for democratic freedom in South Africa, is filled with self-serving fat cats too mired in their own cesspool to hear the anguished cry of the students and youths out in the streets and university campuses nationwide.