Monday 15 April 2024

Address on the acceptance of an Honorary LLD from Rhodes University, Makhanda


Rhodes University Graduation

Acceptance Remarks on the award of the degree

Doctor of Laws (LLD) (honoris causa)

The Most Revd Thabo Makgoba

Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town

4th April 2024

Honourable Chancellor.


Director of Ceremonies,

Parents, Students, and, I am proud to say,

Fellow Graduates,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It goes without saying that it is a great honour to receive this honorary degree from Rhodes, especially in the company of the other distinguished recipients at this week's ceremonies. My heartfelt thanks to the university for the privilege of being admitted into the halls of this institution.

But I did not get here on my own, having been nurtured by this community and by my fellow citizens of South Africa. So I receive this honour also for those excluded from studies by NSFAS failing to pay their fees, by those unfairly excluded from university for other reasons, and – beyond the borders of South Africa – for those whose varsities and colleges have been bombed and destroyed and for children who are prevented by fear of violence from going to school.

My longstanding ties with this city make me especially grateful for receiving an honorary degree from Rhodes. I arrived here more than 35 years ago, when I came to study at the then St Paul's College, the Anglican Church's residential seminary for the education and formation of clergy. At the time, I still had courses to complete for my BSc at Wits, so I enrolled at Rhodes for Chemistry II and would dash after Old Testament and Greek classes at the college to the Rhodes chemistry lab. I can't recall how many beakers I broke in the lab, suffice to say it was so many that I lost my lab deposit money. It was hard work, but by grace alone, I just managed to pass.

Not only did I enjoy academic life here, but I also made long-lasting friends, and your two staff members, Dr Manona and Mrs Manona, became my in-laws when I married Lungi in 1991. The wedding was attended by a wonderful muti-racial congregation including David Russell, the Bishop of Grahamstown at the time, the staff of St Paul's college and Rhodes professors.

Student life here was lively, to the extent that the irresistible loud music from one of the cafés used to distract me from my evening meditations, and I recall bringing from Johannesburg the Release Mandela Committee, opening a branch at the College and interacting with the Rhodes Black Students' Society. I also served as a student priest at the Cathedral and at St Clement's Church in Watermeyer Street, as well as being assigned to minister at the Prison and at DSG. My student years here thrust me into a real non-racial environment, but it was distressing to experience the poverty of this city east of the College campus.

Thirteen years later, I returned to his area when I became Bishop Suffragan of Grahamstown, based in Komani, then succeeded Bishop David Russell when he retired, moving to Durban Street as Diocesan Bishop in 2005. Once again, I became involved with Rhodes, sharing duties on various Rhodes Council committees under the intimidating chair of Council and Dr Woods. In that time, we in the church also led protest marches, holding to the fire the feet of those in power at Bisho. We also campaigned for the supply of anti-retroviral drugs, and I chaired the group resisting the removal of the High Court to Bisho. The struggle continues!

When I was elected and installed as Archbishop of Cape Town in 2007, the theological theme of the Incarnation that was nurtured for me here became clearer, and three values emerged which both support and complement one another and have underpinned my ministry ever since.

The first is the dignity of all. In the church, this means that all are welcome in God's house and among God's people. Among our current challenges is the need to provide pastoral care and ministry to people in same-sex partnerships and other members of the LGBTIQ+ community. We have struggled with this issue for more than a decade, but in the coming weeks we will release draft prayers for same-sex couples, which will be debated by our church's highest legislative body in September.

The second value is the importance of celebrating our differences. This is particularly important for our multi-cultural and multi-religious society – we need to recognise that our our differences are beautiful and that they mean we complement each other, making the whole of our society that much stronger than simply the sum of its parts.

And the third is to respect the environment. God created us not to dominate and exploit the earth, but to respect the whole of creation, including both humankind and nature. Working for environmental justice thus underscores our dignity and gives us reason to celebrate God's world.

In the time since I have been in Cape Town, our Makgoba family foundation has inaugurated an annual lecture at Rhodes, which is our way of giving back to this community some of the blessings we have received. We have been greatly enriched by hosting these public lectures, bringing all to the table to discuss ethical and moral leadership issues.

When I heard from Prof Sizwe, the V-C, of your decision to award this honorary degree, I was overwhelmed. This is a place that I love – for the college, our schools, DSG and St Andrew's, the Diocesan offices and Cathedral, my in-laws' house in York Street and this fine university. As the psalmist says, I wept for joy.

As I receive this honour, I pray for the flourishing of all the residents of this city, for the renewal of its failing and decayed infrastructure, for good governance in this province and for the welfare of our beloved country. Abroad I pray for a ceasefire in Gaza and for the release of all hostages and prisoners held without fair trials.

Thank you, Vice-Chancellor and Makhanda, for giving me a voice and the confidence to plead for those on the periphery of society. On behalf of those, especially in this City of Saints, who are on the margins, I humbly accept this great recognition you have conferred on me. Let us renew our commitment to provide education which will bring about inclusion and equality of opportunity for all.

To my fellow graduands, congratulations. Let's rebuild this city, this province, this country and this region of Africa. To that end, please go and vote on May 29, and the Namibians among you, go and vote in November. God bless you.

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