UKZN’s College of Humanities conferred a posthumous Honorary Doctorate in Education on the late Professor Hugh Paul Africa at the UKZN Graduation ceremony on 16 April.
The well-known educationist, who played a significant role in the transformation of South Africa’s education system, died in November last year at the age of 76.
Accepting the degree on his behalf, his wife Mrs Louise Africa described Africa as an “excellent educator” who was ‘blessed with the ability to articulate with amazing eloquence’. Had he been alive, she said, he would have received his honorary degree with great pride, since it was UKZN’s predecessor, the University of Natal that awarded him his Bachelor of Arts and Honours degrees in the early 60s.
‘My family and I are proud that Hugh’s legacy has been recognised by this University, the Institution that represents the start of his long and productive academic career,’ said an emotional Mrs Louise.
She reflected on his contribution to the development of Higher Education for over 50 years and her years spent with him.
‘His mother taught him that education is a greater and more reliable investment, whereas material wealth can be lost overnight. My husband took his mother’s lessons to heart. He was not afraid of adventure or risk.’
Describing their decision to leave South Africa for Zambia after their marriage in January 1963, Mrs Louise said Hugh was unhappy about staying in South Africa ‘to have his children labelled from birth’ and chose instead to be part of the project of building free, independent countries in Africa.
Africa went on to make major and distinguished contributions to advance Higher Education, transformation and scholarship in the region.
Returning to South Africa in 1994, he was at the forefront of Higher Education transformation in the post-apartheid era and he distinguished himself through his high sense of integrity and care for others. Africa served on the Council on Higher Education and also provided exceptional leadership as Chair of the Higher Education Quality Committee which instituted a national system of quality promotion and assurance.
He was the past Chair of the US-SA Fulbright Commission Board, the Vice-President for Africa on the International Council for Distance Education, and served on the Provincial Board of ABSA and the Board of the Institute for Global Dialogue. During 2001 he served as a member of the National Working Group and during 2003 was a member of the Higher Education Restructuring Reference Group.
‘Having been married to an academic for 50 years, and being exposed to much of his academic life, I have often participated in discussions and conversations when fellow academics would throw out phrases like “so and so does not suffer fools”. I would like for this audience to know that Hugh Africa was definitely not in the category that “did not suffer fools”.
‘He had a deep understanding of and tolerance for human quirks and shortcomings. He strongly believed in the right of every individual’s opinion to be heard and respected.’
Louise said she believed his early experiences of living and working with people of different cultures and outlooks helped to shape his profound acceptance of human nature.