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Honorary Doctorate Conferred on Human Rights Icon

April 18, 2017

Judge Thumba Pillay.

Legal luminary, Judge Thumba Pillay, has received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in recognition of the immense role he played in the advancement of social justice and human rights.

Pillay dedicated his life to the struggle against apartheid and contributed to the development of a democratic South Africa.

During his address to Law graduates, the 81-year-old human rights activist remarked that the historic moment marked his first ever capping at a Graduation ceremony.

‘The irony underlying the conferment of this degree honoris causa is not lost on me or my contemporaries who studied at the former segregated University of Natal and boycotted successive graduation ceremonies until segregation was removed,’ said Pillay.

The retired judge encouraged graduates not only to be active citizens but credible leaders. He also emphasised the importance of the resurgence of civic and non-governmental organizations and public interest groups not confined by political party loyalties.

‘As important and as duty bound as it may be for the vast majority of students whose parents at great personal sacrifice saw them through their studies to help raise the income levels of their families and build successful careers, it is equally important to be a good citizen. The activism at student level also equips one for the future because it involves interaction with fellow students from diverse backgrounds and enhances nation building,’ he added.

He warned graduates and parents that the mere obtainment of a degree is not the end.

Pillay dedicated his doctorate to his wife and children who grew up with all the tension and restrictions imposed on a “banned” person.

He also dedicated the award to his parents for their unshakeable belief in him as well as to his fellow students at the former “Non-European Section” of the University of Natal who fought alongside him.

He also thanked his colleagues in the legal profession who, during apartheid, contributed to the fight for human rights.

The Graduation ceremony was preceded by the 15th Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge Memorial Lecture. At the lecture, Pillay delivered an address on the Mxenge Legacy. The talk was titled: “Lessons learnt in the pursuit of Human Rights and a just society for now and the future”.


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