Prof Maluleke pays tribute to CUT’s Prof Pamela Dube

This article was first published in the Daily Maverick

30 June 2023

Pamela Zibuyile Dube, Vice-Chancellor Principal of the Central University of Technology, has followed her life’s dreams along the golden path of her own Yellow Brick Road, building her journey on the lessons of the home in which she was raised: that in order to successfully negotiate one’s place in the world, one must nurture and appreciate one’s own identity — and that one should always strive to lead a life of service and purpose.

Central University of Technology's Vice-Chancellor Prof Pamela Dube.

There is a yellow brick road that snakes and slithers across the length and breadth of the KwaMakhutha township, south of the port city of Durban. From east to west, the yellow brick road zigs and zags between vales and hills, slicing through the hamlet of Isipingo, all the way to the stunning seaside town of Amanzimtoti, where bundles of turquoise water leap into the sky and spiral into curling waves.

The KwaMakhutha yellow brick road is, of course, not visible to the naked eye. It is a road steeped in the mythology of folklore; visible only to the discerning and the astute. To young Pamela Zibuyile Dube, born and bred at Section 8 KwaMaKhutha, the yellow brick road was as real as the Batha Sibisi Way of KwaMakhutha and as tangible as the Amanzimtoti River.

One particular childhood memory stands out for young Pamela and her only sibling and sister, Penelope Ntombizethu Dube. It is the memory of their father, Sipho Matthew Dube, taking his two little girls to a theatre in Durban where they watched a stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. This, on the occasion of the very first admittance of black people to theatres and cinemas in Durban. Until then, theatres and cinemas were the privilege of “whites only”.

Later, when Pamela read Lyman Frank Baum’s original children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, on which the play The Wizard of Oz was based, she was transported into a profound reverie about the yellow brick road that would take her beyond the confines of the KwaMaKhutha and its culture of violence. She started dreaming of the yellow brick road that would take her to a world devoid of patriarchy; a world beyond the apartheid glass ceiling, a world in which, as Martin Luther King Jnr once put it, Pamela “would not be judged by the colour of her skin, but by the content of her character”.

Escape through education 
From her time at KwaMakhutha’s Habiyana Lower Primary where she started school, and later at eGugwini Higher Primary, also at KwaMakhutha, Pamela Zibuyile Dube put on her travelling shoes, hopped onto the yellow brick road and never looked back. Her childhood role models were uMaam Madlala, her grade one teacher at Habiyana Lower Primary and the towering principal, Bab’ Dlamini, uGoba-Msenge, principal of eGugwini Higher Primary. 

Above all, she took inspiration from her parents. Pamela’s father, Sipho Dube, child of MaNgidi, was born and bred in kwaMaphumulo in Stanger. Although he was not highly educated, he loved reading and was very particular about the quality of isiZulu spoken in his house. Her mother Thembeni Beauty Ntuli, was a professional nurse born to the shoemaker Amon Ntuli from UMnini. She was a life-long learner.

The Dubes brought up their two girls to be strong, ambitious and assertive. The prevailing patriarchal milieu notwithstanding, Sipho Dube was a fully present father, walking the girls to school, helping with their homework and even cooking for them, while his wife worked shifts or pursued further qualifications as a nurse.

When her mother miraculously slipped young Pamela into the only book exchange facility in Amanzimtoti and its surrounds — a facility preserved for whites only at that time — the sharp mind of the hugely talented young woman was set on fire.  The old white lady in charge of the facility took a liking to the “strange and curious black girl”, a frequent visitor who read voraciously.

Thus was Pamela introduced to the likes of Enid Blyton (The Secret Seven), John Steinbeck (The Pearl), Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) and of course Layman Frank Baum (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), a book which was later turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, the girl destined for, and determined to reach, the land of Oz.

Despite all the hardships of the time, especially lack of access to funding and quality higher education, Pamela and her sister Penelope had a happy childhood, full of books and awe-inspiring stories. Later, Pamela’s own daughter Azande would join this nurturing world. Along the way, during Pamela Dube’s early years, she amassed many friends, but her best and most dependable friends were always, her late parents, her sister Penelope, her daughter Azande and her mountain of books.

Pamela Dube’s beautiful story really took a dramatic turn in 1980, with her admission to the famous Inanda Seminary, a school which, for the first time in her life, had a real library — the paradise of books she had been looking for.

During her time at the Seminary where she matriculated, Pamela, who was among the best in her class academically, was easily the most well-read pupil among her peers. At this time, she was well versed in, and had access to the growing African literature of the likes of Wole Soyinka (Death and the King’s Horseman), Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart), Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Weep not Child),  Nadine Gordimer (July’s People), Ayi Kwei Armah (The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born), Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eyes), Amos Tutuola (The Palm Wine Drinkard), Sol Plaatje (Mhudi), Miriam Tlali (Between Two Worlds), Es’kia Mphahlele (Down Second Avenue), Ama Atoo Aidoo (Our Sister Kiljoy), and Buchi Emecheta (Second Class Citizen), amongst many others.

In this world, she was protected from some of the worst of the political violence that erupted in her hometown during the upheavals of the apartheid era. Dube was lucky to have been in boarding school during the late 1980s, when horrendous killings occurred in KwaMakhuta —especially the KwaMakhutha massacre of 21 January 1987.

At Inanda Seminary, the young Pamela excelled academically and in terms of her leadership skills. One role about which she reminisces with pride and fondness, was that of being the timekeeper for Inanda Seminary. In terms of this role, she was the tower-bell ringer, first at 5am and for the last time at 9pm. From that experience she learnt that, like life itself, time was the most valuable gift at our disposal. The Inanda Seminary motto — “shine where you are” — has been deeply inscribed into the soul of Pamela Dube.

Journey of accomplishment
Fast-forward to 2010 and meet Pamela Zibuyile Dube, oozing with confidence, in her capacity as Executive Director, Human Resources, at the University of Johannesburg. Three years later (2013), Dube is Dean of Students at Wits University. By 2015, Pamela Dube is Deputy-Vice Chancellor, Student Development and Support at the University of the Western Cape.

Dube’s academic credentials are impeccable. Armed with a Summa Cum Laude PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Siegen, one of the top one thousand universities in the world, Pamela Dube has a breathtaking repertoire of academic publications. She also boasts a rich and diverse track record of academic leadership firsts, for which she has received many accolades.Fast forward again to January 2023 and come and meet Pamela Dube, the Vice-Chancellor Principal of the Central University of Technology, resplendent in the blue, red and yellow colours of the 42-year-old institution.

It is tempting to conclude that her role as Vice-Chancellor marks the pinnacle of her long journey along the yellow brick road. But maybe not yet. The magical land of Oz is still beckoning. Before that final destination, there are many “scarecrows”, “tin men” and “cowardly lions” (Wizard of Oz characters), waiting to be formed into a formidable team of pilgrims along the yellow brick road, through Dube’s unique brand of transformative leadership.

Dube says the most enduring lesson she learned from her parents is that it is important to lead a life of service and purpose. She also learned that in order to successfully negotiate one’s place in the world, one has to nurture and appreciate one’s own identity.

To attribute to Pamela Dube the somewhat irreverent words of Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire, I would like to suggest that “this girl is (still) on fire … she looks like a girl, but she’s a flame”, burning quietly, but burning furiously. The Central University of Technology is lucky to have at the helm someone as experienced, as talented and as capable as Professor Pamela Zibuyile Dube. 

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