Honorary Doctor delivers powerful speech at graduation ceremony

17 October 2019

“I am deeply humbled by this distinguished honour, and in embracing and celebrating this moment, I pay homage to South Africa’s artists who have used their bodies, hands, voices and minds – sometimes against immense challenges – to bring us to where we are in our evolving democracy.” This was the view of Ismail Mahomed, Chief Executive Officer of the Market Theatre Foundation and one of the country's biggest proponents of the arts, in a thought-provoking speech he delivered after receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University at a Spring graduation ceremony hosted yesterday, 16 October.

Dr Ismail Mahomed, Chief Executive Officer of the Market Theatre Foundation, received an Honorary Doctorate from TUT yesterday.

Dr Mahomed was honoured for his advancement of the arts in the country for more than 30 years.

“At this time in our country’s history, when we are fighting to take back our State after it was captured, we also need to be vigilant and fight back to take back some of our arts and cultural institutions that have fallen into the hands of some corrupt leaders in managements and on some of the councils of these organisations,” Dr Mahomed stressed. 

“By taking back these arts institutions and by placing artists at the core of why these institutions exist, we will be able to guarantee future generations of South Africans of having a cultural legacy that will allow them to celebrate us in the way that we celebrate the artists who have come before us.”

Dr Mahomed added that our democracy is still a fragile work in progress and that the project that we embarked on as a nation on 27 April 1994 has a long way to go before it is realized. “But, the one significant catalyst that spurs us onward towards attaining our dream for democracy is the rhythms of our poets, the pulses of our dancers, the beats of our music, the images created by our artists, the thoughts provoked by our writers and the power of imagination that all our creatives inspire in us,” he said. 

“Our artists give us the power to critically reflect on our past, engage with our present time and envision our future. Even in moments of absolute silence, the voice of our artists speaks louder than the oration of any politician, because artists who are driven by integrity will never have to bribe any constituency with t-shirts, chicken wings or empty promises.”

Dr Mahomed is widely known for his work as a playwright, theatre director and arts administrator. His artistic footprint stretches all over the globe, with his work being staged, not only on the home front, but also in countries such as Chile, Denmark, Germany and the US. 

The Market Theatre Foundation is blossoming because of his strategic vision and well-grounded management skills. In a relatively short space of time, he has grown the theatre’s box office, venue hire, broadened its sponsorship base and introduced a series of international collaborations, residencies and exchanges, among others.

His career is also marked by several other accolades, such as receiving the Standard Bank Standing Ovation Award from the National Arts Festival in recognition of his visionary contribution to the artistic growth of the Festival. He also received the Chevalier le Ordre des Lettres et Arts Award (Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature Award) from the French Government. 

Dr Mahomed told e-TUTor that the Honorary Doctorate is “the final cap” that endorses all the other accolades he has received for his work, and that it comes almost at the dusk of his career, which started off as a Maths teacher.

Asked what his message is to students opting for studies in the Arts, he said that a qualification in this discipline is a great advantage and a very important key to open doors. He added that new media, especially digital media, have provided artists with more avenues to showcase their work. “Theatre, for instance, is no longer confined to a black box and it has prompted artists to explore non-conventional spaces to perform.” 

Speaking at the ceremony Prof Lourens van Staden, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, said that it is an honour for the University to associate itself with an individual the caliber of Dr Mahomed. “He has undisputedly devoted a lifetime to the advancement of the Arts, which is very dear to the University’s heart,” Prof van Staden added.

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