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King of Mbhaqanga celebrated at another level

Having travelled all over the world promoting South African music and culture, Moses Ngwenya believes that mbhaqanga music builds families and communities and unites society. As he received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) on 13 November 2020 at Unisa, Ngwenya said after completing standard 6, it was his first time setting foot at such a dignified university, let alone attending a graduation ceremony of such a prestigious nature. “Like the first day at school, the first day at university is always special and memorable,” he enthused.

Prof Mandla Makhanya (Principal and VC, Unisa) (right) congratulates Moses Ngwenya on the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) conferred on him by the university.

Affectionately known as ‘Black Moses’, Ngwenya and his fellow band members—David Masondo, Tuza Mthethwa, Zenzele Mchunu, and Themba American Zulu—formed the popular mbhaqanga music group, the Soul Brothers. The group recorded more than 40 successful albums that sold over four million copies. They also won numerous South African Music Awards (SAMA) in the category of best Mbhaqanga Album, as well as a Lifetime Achievement award. For this, among other reasons, it is fitting that they be hailed as the Kings of Mbhaqanga.

In his congratulatory address, Professor Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Unisa, said the day was very important in the calendar of the university. “I want to assure you that moments such as this one were very scarce in a sense that it is not all the time that we recognise and appreciate those among us who are excellent.” He highlighted how Unisa as a university shaping futures in the service of humanity provides opportunities to those who want to pursue higher education, regardless of their circumstances.

“Despite the fact that I completed standard 6 many years ago, little did I know that I would be taken back to the classroom to pay my dues. I am today accepting a degree honoris causa in front of a big crowd comprising professors, academics, students, parents, friends, and family—all eyes on me. It is a humbling moment to accept this honorary degree. With the work produced by the Soul Brothers, this recognition is an urgent call for intellectuals and scholars to begin exploring this rich area of research,” challenged Ngwenya.

Joyful as he was, Ngwenya expressed that it was also a sad moment for him to receive the award without the four brothers with whom he started his journey and wished they were present to receive their honorary doctorates, as well. He briefly reflected on the journey of the group and how the other members had lost their lives. For that reason, he said, the award did not belong to him alone but to his fallen Soul Brothers and the group’s supporters, too.

Mbhaqanga musician Moses Ngwenya delivers his acceptance speech after Unisa conferred the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) on him.

Ngwenya lauded Unisa for its commitment in contributing to decolonising African knowledge. He said the university was there to change the continent and to recognise the importance of honorary degrees, which contribute to the lesson to change the narrative discourse about African knowledge and practice. He stated that the degree shows the important role they have as mbhaqanga artists in building society.

“As I accept this honorary doctorate, I would like to take that my partnership with Unisa is enforced. I am ready to work with students to research about mbhaqanga music should the need arise. Let me also extend my gratitude to all who sat in the panel and approved that I could be honoured as a doctor. It really means a lot. I would also like to dedicate it to my sister, ‘Sis Grace’, who passed away four months ago,” concluded Ngwenya.

In consideration of the great contribution made by Moses Ngwenya to the mbhaqanga music genre over the years, the university saw fit to honour his excellence.

*By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020/11/19