In honour of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and his legacy at the University of the Western Cape, the Main Hall has been lit in purple every evening this week. So too has the Life Sciences Building on campus.
Initially known as the University College of the Western Cape, the university was started in 1960 with just 166 students. The institution was an apartheid construct to provide limited training for “Coloureds” only. They were destined for lower to mid-level positions at schools, the civil service and other institutions.
During his tenure as Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the Arch said: “I believe that education is the key to unlocking the door that will eradicate poverty and that young people have the power to make it happen”.
The little “bush college” heeded his call. It grew into a beacon of strength, and opened the doors of learning to the nation. It fiercely challenged the illegitimate apartheid government and became known as the “Intellectual Home of the Left”. The institution went on to shape our democratic South Africa.
Today its state of the art Life Sciences Building – which is set to become a landmark in Cape Town as the roof now carries the university’ name – houses some of the continent’s top biological research, with world-class work ranging from genomics to zoology.
Like the Main Hall, the Life Sciences Building will turn purple – a tribute to the Arch who, like fellow university leaders including former Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian O’ Connell, was determined to expand the academic programme beyond the apartheid government’s restrictions.
In 2011 the Arch officiated his last graduation ceremony as Chancellor at UWC. At the time, approximately 3000 students walked across the stage of the Main Hall to accept their hard-earned diplomas. Many of these students were the first in their families to graduate with a university degree.
The Arch was inaugurated in 1987, and during his term, he had capped hundreds of students –several of whom took to social media this week to share treasured images and memories of the moment.
In most instances, he shared a joke followed by his trademark – and exceptionally infectious – cackle. Sometimes he would smile generously or comment on their research.
Craig Govender, the physiotherapist for the Arch’s beloved South Africa national cricket team, wrote: “Honoured to have been capped by a UWC legend and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient”.
Dr Munkombwe Muchindu wrote: “What an honour to be capped by The Arch, as our Chancellor, during my graduation in 2011. The encounter was brief but he made me laugh when he cracked a joke about how complicated my chemistry PhD thesis title sounded”.
Janis Jordan remembered her graduation on 4 April 2005: “Momentous for many reasons but in particular, being capped with the academic cap by the Chancellor, the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. May his memory be for blessing!”
Jordan's sister, Kelly Crowther, said it was a "privilege" to be capped by the Arch: “Thank you for being a vessel of peace and your struggles bringing about great changes”.