Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke (centre) is flanked by (to the right) Nelson Mandela University’s outgoing vice-chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz, vice-chancellor designate Dr Sibongile Muthwa, (to the left) Chair of Council Ms Nozipho January-Bardill and outgoing Chancellor Ms Santie Botha after receiving the newly renamed and rebranded institution’s first honorary doctoral degree.
Being the first honorary doctorate recipient of the recently renamed and rebranded Nelson Mandela University reinforces the close relationship that former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke had with the institution’s namesake.
In his acceptance speech after being capped by outgoing Chancellor, Ms Santie Botha, yesterday Justice Moseneke said he felt privileged to receive an honorary Law doctorate from the only institution in the world to bear the name of the revered statesman.
“I am at a loss of words and this is because of my undiluted gratitude to this great university, its leaders, its academy, students, the people and the community it has served so well for many years, particularly under a democratic order,” he said.
“As this university honours me in this way, it reinforces my revolutionary connection as well as my father-and-son relationship with Rholihlahla Nelson Mandela, who trusted me as a father should a son, as a compatriot should trust another and indeed as a comrade should repose trust in another in spite of varied struggle credentials.”
Justice Moseneke is among 1728 graduates, including 31 doctorates, to be capped on 14 and 15 December at what will be the institution’s first graduation as Nelson Mandela University.
Known as the youngest prisoner of Robben Island, Moseneke was arrested at just 15 years old and spent 10 years on the island, where he met and befriended Nelson Mandela and other leading activists.
Justice Moseneke has spent 40 years in the legal profession, working his way up from an attorney, advocate, Senior Counsel, High Court judge, Justice of the Constitutional Court to Deputy Chief Justice and Acting Chief Justice.
He was honoured by the University for his towering legal mind and unwavering commitment to fairness and justice as an independent-thinking and imaginative jurist.
Justice Moseneke is currently leading the key redress process aimed at bringing about a sense of healing to the families of more than 140 Life Esidimeni patients, who died after being moved from the facility to various under resourced and unkempt others.
Excitement filled the Vodacom Madibaz Indoor Centre as hundreds of graduates crossed the stage, obtaining their degrees for studies in the Business and Economic Sciences and Law faculties at the morning session and Education in the afternoon; to massive applause and ululations from family and friends gathered in celebration of students’ achievements.
Moseneke, who was one of Mandela’s closest friends present at the launch of the new name in July, urged graduates to strive towards being upright citizens committed to becoming agents of change.
“Comrade Mandela emphatically rejected narrow self-serving party lines and hegemony in favour of inclusivity, of non-racialism, of non-sexism. He trusted in merit and compassion – the stuff that true revolutionaries and humanists are made of,” he said.
“As you graduate, you need no lessons on being true drivers of change. You have shown yourselves to be part of those disruptives who are going to make a real difference in our lives.
“Always remember that you must be routed steadfastly in being good, doing good and sharing goodness; not power, greed or arrogance.”
Moseneke also paid a moving tribute to his wife, Khabonina, for her support over the decades.
“My wife has been the silent, non-intrusive and solid bedrock of my life journey for 42 years, married to the same woman,” he said.
“Nawe ke, Khabonina, ndiyakubulela. I thank you, my bride, for your support.”
He also dedicated the honorary doctorate to his colleagues in the judiciary, where he has served the nation for 15 years, expressing his pride for their work in the last year since his retirement.
“I served the people of this land as a judge and I am proud to say that a year after my retirement, my judicial colleagues are awesome,” he said.
“History will show that they are great patriots. They are not what some politicians tell you on public media. Judges often stand between lawlessness and the modicum of democratic practice. They stand between your oppression and hard won rights to live well as human beings.
“I am proud to say that my colleagues do not blink when crucial and critical moments face this country. We all correctly spend a lot of time to induct the values of goodness, of hard work, of paying attention to detail, of being mad about justice and continue to serve the people and certainly not themselves.
“My fellow judges understand the onerous duty that our collective will, which is the Constitution, imposes on them. Having this opportunity, I reject with deep contempt any suggestion that any of our judges are acting for some ulterior motive.
“I have lived with them. I have led them. And they are wonderful patriots and will continue to keep you and me safe.”
Outgoing University chancellor, Ms Santie Botha, congratulated the graduates for their immense achievement, urging them to go forth and use those degrees to change the world, as the University’s strap line charges.
“You have set yourself a very difficult goal and you have achieved it,” she said.
“Never underestimate just how important this achievement is, as this phase is now complete. The next challenge you have to set yourself is what you are going to do with your degree.”