The WDB Trust team is proud and energized for the award of the honorary doctoral degree conferred upon our Patron, Mrs. Zanele Mbeki

The WDB Trust team is proud and energized for the award of the honorary doctoral degree conferred upon our Patron, Mrs. Zanele Mbeki. This degree is rightful recognition of a lifetime of contributions to the empowerment of women and the advancement of feminism in different structures of our society. 

We invite our stakeholders to read the acceptance speech below:

Nelson Mandela University Graduation

The Honorable Chancellor: Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi

The honorable vice-chancellor: Prof Sibongile Muthwa,

The Chairperson of Council: Amb Nozipho January-Bardill

The Acting Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences:

Prof. Dalena Van Rooyen

Honorable Leadership from all Communities especially in the Eastern Cape;

Members of Senate, the Convocation and Students Leaders

Parents, grandparents, Friends and Esteemed Guests

NMU Staff, members of the Administration & other Personnel,

Fellow Graduands who are the Stars of this Day.

You and I are soon to join the distinctive breed of those who call themselves Nelson Mandela University Alumni. This is because of the very hard work that you have put in throughout this past year.  I also say hearty congratulations to a special graduating class. Special because only you can say that you are products of a uniquely women-led university at a time when normality is defined by male dominated institutions. I look forward to a time when your children will graduate; when normality will no longer be defined by gender.

Thank you to Prof Van Rooyen for making me part of the alumni of what is today the only women-led University in our country and probably on our continent. My hope is that because of this constellation of NMU leadership, this will be the first university to be guided by feminist doctrine in all disciplines. Feminist theory encompasses a range of ideas, reflecting the diversity of human experiences worldwide. Feminism counters traditional philosophy with new ways of addressing issues affecting humanity, calling for the replacement of the presiding patriarchal order with a system that emphasises inclusivity, equality, justice and fairness.

Social theory is written by people with the values of their time. For instance, probably using a patriarchal lens, Durkheim developed theories of social structure that included functionalism, the division of labor and anomie. These theories were established on the concept of social facts or societal norms, values and structures. However, ideas to set up social structures can be deconstructed and further co-created with carefully chosen values that translate into the society we imagine.

Feminism, therefore, emerges as (a theory of social structure) an ordering of society founded on the values of dignity and worth of all life and therefore respects conscious inclusivity and equality of people as well as for biodiversity and the environment.

20 months ago on 5th April 2019, I was sitting in the front row of the NMU Sports hall when the University Honoured Dr Vuyo Mahlati with an Honorary Doctorate in Business and Economic Sciences. Dr Vuyo sadly passed away on 13th October exactly 2 months before the next NMU Graduation. This University and her vast ‘diaspora’ of fans and colleagues celebrated her life, her achievements and impact throughout the month of October and many are still sharing their stories of times shared with her to this day.

In her short life Dr Vuyo made a huge impact in our country’s civil society, private sector and government programmes. This impact resonated on the continent and globally. This has been attested to by the litany of laudatory tributes that continue to pour in after her departure. SAWID (all 3 NMU leaders are SAWIDians) as one, among many collectives who worked with Vuyo and shared our dreams for this country, and for women the world over; it is still very difficult to let her go. As one who celebrated her NMU graduation with her in this hall, I am still seized with our dreams for women, in our country and the world over.

For that reason, I have decided to craft my acceptance remarks by continuing where Vuyo left off. Her final note in her acceptance speech was about universities’ role in advancing the discourse of inclusive growth.

In her speech, she defined inclusive growth as “NOT assimilation, i.e., not forcing others into spaces they do not identify with,” as happens today. She says inclusive growth “involves the reconfiguration of the ecosystem into one that respects and recognizes the reality of all and enables effective contribution by all. It requires the development of support systems and new instruments, learning from and about each other. It also pushes us to build new innovative, inclusive and sustainable institutions that are proudly owned by all and serve all equally. Further on, she describes inclusive growth as a trans-disciplinary assignment, a place for dialogue, decolonization, advancement of indigenous knowledge through the fourth industrial innovations as we reimagine our societies.

My own inclusive growth definition has expanded since the Covid-19 pandemic painfully exposed the invisible and unacknowledged systematic injustices we face including our inhumane treatment of the environment.  During the global lockdown, it was truly amazing for me to witness how, with the temporary shutting down of factories, home confinement of humans and grounding of planes, nature reclaimed its space.  For the first time through crystal clear skies Indians could see the peaks of the Himalayas and Batswana observed the lions blocking traffic on the highway without human interference.  In the reconfiguration of the ecosystem it is also essential that we restore the integrity of the environment and review how we exist with the plant and animal kingdom within it.

Our continuing conversation with Vuyo was the need to name and describe all that needs to be included into the new ecosystem framework in detail. So long as we name them piecemeal and in general terms, we shall run the risk of the USA Constitution where “all men are born equal” was assumed to cover all human beings when in fact the word men meant white males only. The Constitution excluded white women and all black people.

The (ERA) Equal Rights Amendment bill of the USA which seeks to extend equal rights to all women was still in 2019 not explicitly recognized in the USA constitution.

With the USA constitution in mind, we as South African women in struggle contributed to the Equality Clause for our emergent RSA constitution by naming all those who we recognized as excluded even during our Liberation Struggle. Twenty-five years after the adoption of our Constitution, I have found out that the Equality Clause of our much lauded Constitution did not include equality on ‘Class’ basis


I thought that it was a mistake and checked with the guard of our Constitution Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. He confirmed to me that ‘Class’ was not included in the Equality Clause; Yet in our struggle as women we fought ‘triple oppression on race, class and gender. When, how and why was ‘class’ not included in the equality clause. This is a question ready to be addressed by the SARCHI Research Chair on African Feminist Imaginations.

In 2007 among the projects that as SAWID we presented with Vuyo to government was the establishment of “A Women’s Research Centre” to monitor the progress of women in all spheres of human endeavour as well as provide the basis for required policies to ensure women’s advancement.

Having failed to persuade our government to set up a Women’s Research Centre. Vuyo and I once again visited CREDIF in Tunisia in September 2012 to thoroughly understand its operation and funding structure. CREDIF is the most developed women’s research centre in Africa.

CREDIF stands for the Centre for Research, Studies, Documentation and Information on Women. It falls under the Tunisian Ministry of Women. It was set up to monitor efforts for the advancement of women’s status, supporting their role in Tunisian society, on our continent and in the global community.

To perform its assigned task CREDIF operates at different levels:

Conducting research on women and their status in Tunisian society as well as on their contributions to the development of society based on gender relations. When we visited the first time CREDIF had a staff of more than 900 research & administrative personnel.

Fortuitously the SARCHI Research Chair of African Feminist Imaginations has come to NMU after Vuyo’s passing. It is my view that the SARCHI Chair can lay the ground to eventually permanently play the full role of CREDIF for our country.  A robust institution of this nature is necessary to create, nurture, and embody intersectionality, equality, and renewed spaces through ideas that will materialize in particular ways of being as individuals and communities. The time is ripe for deliberate, dedicated and assertive advance in this endeavour which is a collective awakening. The NMU students, alumni, academic body and support teams are pioneers in this journey.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen let me take this opportunity to once again congratulate my fellow grandaunts for attaining your Degrees, Diplomas and Certificates.  Be good ambassadors of this institution wherever you go whether you find employment or create your own.  I also commend your parents and guardians for the sacrifices undertaken to support your education.  I also commend the University Administration for the hard work and sacrifice to realize today’s achievement.

I thank you!