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Unisa confers honorary doctorate to iconic visual artist Angus Van Zyl

On 10 April 2024, Unisa marked a convergence of significant milestones as it kicked off its autumn graduation ceremonies at the Muckleneuck Campus, Tshwane. The joyous occasion resonated deeply with two momentous celebrations: South Africa's 30 years of democracy and Unisa's remarkable 150th anniversary of shaping futures and changing lives.

The auspicious day became even more special as the university conferred the Doctor of Philosophy in Art History (Honoris Causa) to South Africa's celebrated iconic visual artist, Angus Van Zyl Taylor, for his invaluable contribution to the field of visual arts. In addition, his contributions to society, art and sculpture are aligned with Unisa's mission of serving humanity. Furthermore, his contribution as an artist, sculptor and lecturer embodies Unisa's mission of serving society by promoting the African perspective of respect, peace, and love.


Dr Benni Lekubu, Angus Van Zyl Taylor, Prof Puleng LenkaBula and Prof Moloko Sepota

Among his myriad accolades, Van Zyl is a previous winner of the PPC Young Sculptors Award (1994) as well as a recipient of the Eduardo Villa Best Sculpture Student (1994). He was bestowed with an Alumni Laureate Award by the University of Pretoria (2005) and the prestigious Helgaard Steyn Award (2017) for his notable contribution to South African sculpture.

A legacy of pioneering education in the country

Unisa's Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC), Professor Puleng LenkaBula, stated that Unisa has played a vital role in transforming higher education in the country so much that it is often referred to as the grandmother of universities within the nation, the first to offer Open Distance and eLearning (ODeL) since its establishment in 1873. "150 years later, the university remains strong with all its qualifications accredited and recognised all over the world," she said to a resounding applause.  


#UnisaDistinguishedScholars with the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, Prof Puleng LenkaBula

The VC stated that over the past few years, the university has produced stellar academics and illustrious alumni, including Presidents Nelson Mandela, Dr Thabo Mbeki, and the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa. "In addition," she said, "Unisa graduated two Reserve Bank Governors, Gill Markus and Lesetja Kganyago. And over the past few years, Unisa has produced ten VCs, including myself."

The VC applauded the tireless work of the university's academics, affirming that it is through their commitment to teaching and learning that it leads in the knowledge arena and that the university can thrive in premier rankings such as the Times Higher Education, Webometrics World Rankings, among others.

Adding other notable achievements, the VC said: "Our professoriate with PhDs has moved from 39% to 62%, an area that ensures that our university systems are strengthened. Unisa produces about 30% of chartered accountants in the country and over 50% of teachers in both the public and private sectors within the country, as well as in other countries. Furthermore, our masters and doctoral students have increased with nearly a thousand more applications compared to 2023, totalling 22,367 applications for this year, implying that the university is investing in research and development in line with the explications of the National Development Plan. We are committed to enriching and ensuring that masters and doctoral development are invested in with quality supervision."   


Angus Van Zyl Taylor

During his acceptance speech, Van Zyl Taylor thanked the university's management, council, community, and other stakeholders. He said that his artworks have been profusely influenced by inclusivity - the philosophy of ubuntu and that he does not add commercial value to them. He continued: "I love my country and my people. They form part of the inspiration towards my work. When they applaud the work that I do for society, I take it as the greatest compliment of a lifetime." He added: "My team and I will go forth and further towards achieving more things in our journey from this day."

Van Zyl Taylor's works appear in many locations, from public plazas and malls to private collections. He was once commissioned to work for the prestigious Lange Voorhout Exhibition Museum aan Zee in Den Haag, Netherlands, opened by the then Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

About 40,000 students are set to graduate at Unisa during the autumn graduation ceremonies—a symbol of Unisa's steadfast commitment to shaping futures in the service of humanity. As the nation celebrates three decades of democracy, Unisa's graduates stand as a testament to the power of education in building a more just and equitable society.

*By Godfrey Madibane, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

**Photography by Shooheima Champion, Multimedia Centre

To watch the graduation ceremony, click here

Dr Angus Van Zyl Taylor Unisa Radio Interview 

Publish date: 2024/04/11

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