Njabulo Simakahle Ndebele was born on 4 July 1948 in Johannesburg to Nimrod Njabulo Ndebele and Makhosazana Regina Tshabangu. Ndebele completed his matric at St Christopher’s High School in Luyengo, Swaziland in 1966. Ndebele began studying at the Roma Campus in Lesotho of the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS). He obtained a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy from the University in 1973. By the time he received his Bachelors degree some of Ndebele’s poetry had been published in Classic, Contrast and Purple Renoster. During his time at UBLS Ndebele was involved in the Black Consciousness Movement at the University. As Ndebele states, “My involvement in the Black Consciousness student movement at the time provided strong psychological moorings. In both my poetry and fiction I attempted to explore the particularities of township life in such a way that they could resonate with a self-confidence that was as local as it was universal.”

In 1975 he received a Master of Arts in English Literature from Cambridge University, where he was the first recipient of the South African Bursary to study at Churchill College at Cambridge. He then received a Doctorate in Philosophy in Creative Writing from the University of Denver in 1983. He served as President of the Congress of South African Writers from 1987 to 1997.

Much of Ndebele’ working life has been spent in academia. In 1988 Ndebele became the Pro Vice-Chancellor at the National University of Lesotho, a position he held for two years. In 1991 he became the Head of the Department of African Literature at the University of Witwatersrand. Ndebele joined the English Academy of South Africa in 1991 and has remained a member since then. Ndebele then took a position as Vice-Rector of the University of the Western Cape between 1992 and 1993. This was followed by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the North between 1993 and 1998. During this time he was also the Chair of the Human Sciences Research Council from 1995 and 1998. He was also the Chair of the TeleComms division at the South African Broadcasting Corporation in 1997. From 1998 to 2000 Ndebele was a resident scholar with the Ford Foundation and served has served as the President of the Congress of South African Writers for many years. In July 2000 Ndebele was appointed Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Cape Town, a position he held until June 2008.

Ndebele has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates from universities in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, United States of America (USA), Japan and South Africa. In 2006 Cambridge University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in Law and he was made an honorary fellow of Churchill College in 2007. In 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Michigan. Between 2006 and 2008 Ndebele represented the University of Cape Town at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.In 2009 the National Research Foundation (NRF) awarded Ndebele the President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement.

◾Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Research Foundation, 2009;
◾Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, 2007;
◾Fellow of the University of Cape Town;
◾Cape 300 Foundation Molteno Gold Medal for services to literature and education, 2015.

Honorary doctorates:
◾University of Pretoria, RSA, 2013;
◾Durban University of Technology, RSA, 2012;
◾University of Witwatersrand, RSA, 2009;
◾University of Stellenbosch, RSA, 2008;
◾University of Michigan, USA, 2008;
◾University of Cambridge, UK, 2006;
◾University College London, UK, 2006;
◾Wesleyan University, USA, 2005;
◾Denver University, USA, 2005;
◾University of Natal, RSA, 1999;
◾Chicago State University, USA, 1996;
◾Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1995;
◾Soka University, Japan, 1994.

Written Works

Fine Lines from the Box: Further Thoughts About Our Country, 2007
Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture, 1991, Reissued 2006
Fools and Other Stories, 1983, reissued 2006
The Cry of Winnie Mandela, 2003
Umpropheti/The Prophetess, 1999
Death of a Son, 1996
Bonolo and the Peach Tree, 1994
Sarah, Rings, and I, 1993


Republished from South African History Online

More information on Prof Njabulo on his personal website

**- Prof. Winston Wole Soboyejo

  • Wole Soyinka**

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