21 December 2020

It gives the University of the Free State (UFS) great pleasure to announce that honorary degrees will be conferred in 2021 on Dr Sipho Pityana, Dr Winnie Byanyima, Prof Adipala Ekwamu and Justice Zak Yacoob.

The awarding of the honorary degrees was approved during the meeting of the UFS Council on 27 November 2020. “This remarkable group of distinguished individuals are role models for all of us, and the university is honoured to recognise them for their achievements in various fields,” says Dr Willem Louw, Chairperson of the UFS Council.
Dr Sipho Pityana has established himself as a leader, businessperson, adviser, investor, and consultant in South Africa. Until recently, he was the Chairperson of the Council of the University of Cape Town. He is also an established and successful business leader, chairing Anglo Gold Ashanti through very difficult times with regard to the gold price, profitability, and corporate social responsibility. As President of Business Unity South Africa, he was at the forefront of engaging government on policy that would both grow the economy and ensure development for South Africa as a whole. He made a contribution to the world of business in difficult times by bringing about transformation, innovation, and inclusive fiscal growth.

Dr Pityana is a founder of Izingwe Capital (Pty Limited), a black economic empowerment group in South Africa. He transformed the business scene in South Africa. He has also been involved in civil society organisations, notably as Chair of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC). He is an inspiration to numerous people across the country and motivates people to work hard and pursue their interests and visions.  All the positions he has held demonstrate his skill and experience in managing complex and contested organisations and processes.

Dr Winnie Byanyima is the current Executive Director of UNAIDS, based in Switzerland. She was appointed by the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres. She is the previous Executive Director of Oxfam International, a confederation of 20 organisations working in more than 90 countries, empowering people to create a future that is secure, just, and free from poverty. Dr Byanyima is a global women’s rights leader, human rights defender, and a global authority on economic inequality. She was previously appointed to the Global Commission on the Future of Work, which was established by the International Labour Organisation, and the Commission on Global Economic Transformation, initiated by the Institute for New Economic Thinking. She served as a global ambassador for the Open Government Partnership. She has served on the United Nations (UN) High-Level Panels on Access to Medicines and on Women’s Economic Empowerment.

Prior to joining Oxfam, Dr Byanyima led the Directorate on Gender and Development at the UN Development Programme and the African Union Commission. She served 11 years in the Ugandan Parliament after having participated in Uganda’s resistance struggle against dictatorship. A signatory to her country's 1985 peace agreement, Dr Byanyima led Uganda's first parliamentary women's caucus, which championed ground-breaking gender equality provisions in the country's 1995 post-conflict constitution. In 2016, she was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of Manchester in England, which she first attended as a refugee and graduated in Aeronautical Engineering.

Prof Adipala Ekwamu, a crop scientist by training, received his BSc Agriculture in 1976 and MSc Agriculture in 1980, both from the Makerere University in Uganda, and a PhD in Plant Pathology from the Ohio State University in the United States of America.  He taught at Makerere from 1980 to 2003, rising to the position of full Professor and serving in various capacities at the university, including leading several strategic planning processes and setting up a university-wide competitive grant system to support research and student scholarship programmes. During his tenure at Makerere University, he founded the MUARIK Journal for publishing research findings from the university. In 1993, he founded the African Crop Science Society, which has remained one of the most vibrant professional societies in the continent to date. He also founded the African Crop Science Journal in 1993, which is today a leading journal in Africa.

In 2015, he founded the African Journal of Rural Development, an online open-access journal, to enable researchers and development actors to share their research and practice experiences on rural development issues in Africa. He has served on several national committees in Uganda, including leading the reform of the agricultural research system in Uganda, which led to the creation of the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO). He has served on several international committees, including as a member of the Advisory Committee of the International Foundation for Science, based in Sweden. In 2004, Prof Ekwamu was appointed Head of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), a network of 85 universities in 35 African countries, where he has served for 14 years.  

Justice Zak Yacoob contributed to the law and legal profession as an anti-apartheid advocate, constitutional expert, and judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. As an advocate, Justice Yacoob defended numerous political prisoners charged under the apartheid laws in cases dealing with detention, house arrest, and restrictive orders. From 1985 to 1988, for example, Justice Yacoob was part of a team that defended the leadership and members of the United Democratic Front and its affiliates in the ‘Delmas Four’ treason trial.

In the 1990s, Justice Yacoob contributed to the establishment of the constitutional pillars of the new South African democracy as part of the drafting team of the Bill of Rights in the interim and final Constitution. In 1994, he served on the Independent Electoral Commission, which oversaw the first democratic elections in South Africa. Justice Yacoob was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 1998 and served as a judge of this court until his retirement 15 years later. During this time, he wrote 31 judgments, including the landmark judgment in the Grootboom case dealing with the right to housing, arguably the best-known decision of the Constitutional Court.

Justice Yacoob’s life has been one of activism. He has played a leadership role in the Natal Indian Congress, the ANC underground, and the United Democratic Front. His activism and love for South Africa continue into his retirement, exemplified in his public opposition to South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court Statute, and his public stance against state capture. He has been heavily involved in the work of the South African National Council for the Blind and served as a board member of several NGOs. He was a member of the University of Durban-Westville Council from 1989 to 1993 and from 1995 to 1997. He was the Chancellor of this university from May 2001 until December 2003.  

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