UKZN’s College of Humanities conferred honorary doctoral degrees on three individuals for their outstanding contributions in a variety of arts fields in South Africa.
They were Dr Muziwakhe ‘Madala’ Kunene (Doctor of Music), Dr Paul Mikula (Doctor of Architecture) and Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah (Doctor of Literature). Appiah was conferred with his honorary degree in absentia.
Affectionately known as Madala, Kunene, a world-renowned guitarist, was recognised by the University for his outstanding contribution to the South African music industry. He decided he wanted to be a musician early in life and fashioned his own guitar from a cooking oil tin and strings made from fishing line.
In his acceptance address presented in isiZulu, Kunene expressed gratitude to the University for his musical recognition. He also took to the stage to perform one of his songs that had audiences enthralled. Kunene reflected on his humble beginnings playing the guitar with friends in Mkhumbane, Durban, in the 1950s. Despite the challenges they faced as artists, including poverty and oppression, they persevered and contributed to South African music.
Kunene encouraged graduates to pursue their dreams, despite obstacles, and to make meaningful contributions to society. He said, ‘As your journey starts today, it is important to know who you are, and to truly follow what is your gift. We are not only studying for ourselves, but we are studying to improve society.’
Turning professional in the 1970s, Kunene has shared the stage with great musicians including Doc Mthalane, Songamasu, Shor Philips, Mankunku Ngozi and Busi Mhlongo.
Kunene started recording music in the 1990s and in 1995 released an album Madamax with Swiss guitarist and songwriter Max Lasser. He later released King of the Zulu Guitar – Vol. 1, which sold well overseas and was a SAMA-nominated album.
In 2004, he composed the score for the feature film Yesterday, while in 2014,
he collaborated with various local and international artists to produce: Madala Kunene – BAFO the Mentor, The Forest Jam Sessions, Vol. 3.
Released in 2015, the album 1959, featured musical giants including Lu Dlamini, Hugh Masekela, Sthembiso Hlela, Max Lasser, Vishen Kemraj, Sazi Dlamini, Steve Newman, Guy Buttery and others and in 2016 he collaborated with Syd Kitchen to release ‘BAFO – What Kind’.
Mikula was recognised by UKZN for his outstanding contribution to architecture and the preservation and promotion of KwaZulu-Natal’s arts and cultural heritage. ‘I’m not one of those people desperate for recognition. But it feels very nice and it comes out of the blue. I’m glad about that, it’s welcome,’ he said.
Mikula’s family immigrated to South Africa when he was 14. After matriculating, he enrolled for a Bachelor of Architecture degree at the then University of Natal qualifying in 1967, and going on to earn a reputation as a distinguished and respected architect. Besides setting standards in modern architecture locally, Mikula has lobbied for appropriate construction, often low technology. His trailblazing efforts are much admired and have received honours from the profession.
He has wide social and cultural interests, with arts activism being his particular passion.
In 1982, he turned his attention to the rich Hindu temple heritage of KwaZulu-Natal, and initiated a study and publication of a book in collaboration with two colleagues. His love for Zulu culture, music, arts and crafts, saw him turn big ideas into reality. In 1995, he established the BAT Centre in leased premises on Durban’s Esplanade, before founding the Phansi Museum in Glenwood, an African art centre housing a large collection of Zulu cultural artefacts, where he serves as managing trustee.
He has been instrumental in encouraging the careers of numerous successful crafters and artists including Thami Jali; Sfiso ka-Mkame; Clive Sithole; Derrick Nxumalo; Elliot Mkhize and Zamokwakhe Gumede, and is arguably single-handedly responsible for promoting the burgeoning of a very successful telephone wire basket craft industry.
Appiah, a leading African intellectual was recognised by UKZN for his distinguished services in the advancement of knowledge in the areas of Literature and Philosophy.
He said, ‘It is always, of course, gratifying to receive the respect of your academic peers. When the recognition comes from a university that has a global reputation, it is doubly gratifying. The major reason for my excitement is that this is the first time I have been granted such an honour on the African continent, the continent on which I grew up.’
He noted that as a philosopher who has studied social identities, he has been led to reflect on the connection between different parts of the continent, despite their differences in colonial history and culture. Appiah argues that the concept of an African identity is a relatively recent development, originating in the African diaspora, and that it has been an important theme for Black intellectuals for over a century.
Appiah has held senior positions in both philosophy and African studies at several of the world’s most illustrious universities, and has published a vast, influential and celebrated body of work that is at the leading edge of current thinking about questions of identity, nationalism, cosmopolitanism, universal ethics, and progressive social change.
Appiah’s emancipatory thinking about the meanings of Africa and its place in, and relation to, the world has become central to progressive discourse about the continent, its people, ‘races’, histories and cultures.
Appiah is a veteran at migrating between cultures. Trained in the rigors of Cambridge’s legendary school of analytical philosophy, he wrote his first two books on specialised topics in the field of language and logic. Though the author of a great many other books on philosophy, identity and social theory, the work for which he is perhaps best known is In My Father’s House (1992), his book on Africa’s struggle for self-definition in a world dominated by Western values. It became an instant classic and placed Appiah at the forefront of contemporary African studies – a field in which he has since published widely.
Although Appiah has already received several honorary doctorates, all were awarded by universities in the developed world, while UKZN is the first African higher education institution to do so.