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Honorary Doctorate awarded to Archbishop Thabo Makgoba: Look for God among the weak and powerless

During Stellenbosch University's centenary celebrations, the university has chosen to confer fourteen honourary doctorates on distinguished individuals from various fields and walks of life. Among them, is Archbishop Thabo Cecil Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town “for being the voice of reason that helps society navigate turbulent times”, for “serving as a moral compass to society by espousing the values of human dignity, mutual respect, justice and enduring peace, for his deep commitment to quality education for all” and for being the “calm presence steering society towards a better life for all.”

The Archbishop accepted the degree “on behalf of all the lay people in our respective churches, the people who are pillars, who hoist us up to meet the challenges of today” most of whom, he emphasised, were not able to benefit from a university education, either during apartheid because of the colour of their skin, or after apartheid, because they could not afford to.

After thanking the university for the honour, the archbishop noted that since the honorary degree was in theology, it was appropriate to say a word about the incarnation – the doctrine that states that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity who became flesh and is fully human and fully divine.

He asked the assembled convocation rhetorically “What does the incarnation mean in South Africa today?” Such a question might prompt us to reflect that if we are serious about the doctrine of the Incarnation then we must accept that God chose to enter our world, and so we should be able to see God in each other, to find God in all things as the Jesuits say, or to recognise God in those we meet. It means, as Pope Francis is often reminding us, to find God in the ordinary.

The archbishop explained that for him, the incarnation “means that God is part of the contemporary world, so although the president and members of his cabinet, or the captains of business or industry or the leaders of universities or churches may play important roles in our society, we should not be looking for God in the space they inhibit. No we should be looking for God in other places. Just as the wise man in the Christmas story found Jesus in the stable, we need to look for God among those whom we regard as unimportant, those who are seemingly insignificant, those regarded as illegitimate, illiterate, defenseless, of no worth to the economy and have no consequences to society.”

Talking to graduates and thanking the University for this honour, the Archbishop said: “Let us dedicate ourselves to serving our society in a way that will both enable those that are the least among us to lead lives as full and rich as those we aspire ourselves.”


The University's official citation for the award of the degree Doctor of Theology, (DTh), honoris causa to Archbishop Thabo Makgoba is as follows:

"The degree Doctor of Theology, (DTh), honoris causa, to Thabo Cecil Makgoba for serving as a moral compass to society by espousing the values of human dignity, mutual respect, justice and enduring peace, for his deep commitment to quality education for all, and for being the voice of reason that helps society navigate turbulent times.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1990, Thabo Cecil Makgoba was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in 2007 – at 47, the youngest ever to occupy this office. This catapulted him onto the world stage. Using platforms such as the annual World Economic Forum, he has since taken a clear moral and ethical stance on various modernday complexities facing the world. These include restoring faith in the economy, fostering political stability, the sustainability of communities, and re-thinking values in a post-crisis world. His resolve to use his vocation to improve society is evident from his study on spirituality in the South African mining sector, which earned him a PhD from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2009.

An outstanding feature of Makgoba’s archiepiscopacy is his commitment to equal access to education for all, which has seen him play a key role as the proverbial cool head in the recent upheaval at our tertiary institutions. He ensured an Anglican Church synod debate on the higher education crisis and issued a statement of support for a more wholesome education dispensation for the current generation. Makgoba also convened the chaplains and student leaders of Western Cape universities to offer students the opportunity to approach the church about their demands and concerns. Moreover, he unreservedly supports the Anglican Diocese of False Bay’s formal relationship with Stellenbosch University through our Faculty of Theology.

Wholly dedicated to service to society, Makgoba is a patron of a number of non-profit organisations, a teacher on ethical leadership and stewardship for MBA students at UCT, and a former commissioner of the Press Freedom Commission. His many awards notably include the prestigious Cross of St Augustine, which he received in 2008 from the Archbishop of Canterbury for distinctive service to the Anglican community.

Stellenbosch University acknowledges Archbishop Thabo Cecil Makgoba for being an exemplary servant leader and a calm presence steering society towards a better life for all."

(Citation and Video from: Stellenbosch University)

Image: Ursula van Nierop

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Matthew Charlesworth SJhttps://matthewcharlesworth.name/
Matthew Charlesworth studied information systems and management at Rhodes University for several years before entering the Society of Jesus in 2005. After studies in London, Nairobi and Toronto he was ordained and ministered at Holy Trinity Parish in Braamfontein before joining the staff of spotlight.africa and the Jesuit Institute. He is responsible for the website and technical aspects of spotlight.africa and occasionally finds time to write on Church issues. He is also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa.

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