St John's College

St John’s College was proud to welcome Dr Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh (Nash 2006) as the special guest speaker at the 6th Hugh Lewin Human Rights Memorial Lecture on Tuesday, 26 March.

Welcome to the 6th Annual Hugh Lewin Memorial Lecture. A special welcome to our guests of honour, Ms Fiona Lloyd, Ms Thandi Lewin and friends of the Lewin family, to Ms Tessa Oakley-Smith and Dr Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, our speaker, a man of intellect, insight and empathy, an OJ and Council Member. Sir, I have enjoyed your leadership of the Transformation Committee, but I will leave other remarks to Hlobi Mthembu, who will formally and properly introduce you.

To Mr Stuart West, Executive Headmaster, Members of Council, Heads and Executives, our OJs present, and to Mr Lewis Manthata, who, with Dr Daniel Pretorius, birthed the idea of this annual lecture. To our staff, students, and parents with us, a warm welcome to today’s Hugh Lewin Memorial Human Rights Lecture.


In Hugh Lewin’s words: “Give us back the bones so we can know.”

Why a Human Rights Lecture? Because we so easily forget. Why a Human Rights Lecture? Because after much toil and struggle, we have emerged from a time when violence was used to fight violence. Hugh Lewin and his ARM Wing of the Liberal party eventually agreed that to achieve any progress against the violence of the Apartheid State and the largely indifferent, culpable ignorance of the white community, violence was needed, violence against the non-human property of the State, such as electric pylons and other infrastructure. And that violence was opposed by malicious and cruel violence from the State, as one of Hugh’s earlier torturers testified at the TRC hearings many years later. If violence begets violence, what must we do in relatively peaceful times? What must we do when we have a culture of human rights to celebrate? We must celebrate these rights so that peace can beget peace and grow this culture, not resting on past achievements but using our progress to launch further initiatives and to grow our understanding.

Why a Human Rights Lecture? So we can secure the bones and understand. We need to understand Sharpeville 1960, Soweto ‘76, the TRC of the late ‘90s, Marikane of 2012, the July riots of ‘21, and the strengths and weaknesses of today. We need to understand so that we can celebrate human rights so that peace can beget peace, and so that we can grow this culture.

And why a lecture in Hugh Lewin’s honour, in his name and memory? Not just because he was an OJ (Nash 1956) or an acclaimed journalist who wrote like a poet, or a poet who writes like a journalist, to paraphrase the late Archbishop Tutu’s musing on Hugh. It is not just because his writings have struggled over real contentions in human rights issues, including forgiveness and reconciliation. And it is not just because his writings have won numerous awards, including the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award and the International Human Rights Book Award for Stones against a Mirror and the Olive Schreiner Award for Bandiet. It is not just for his founding of Baobab Press, his work in the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, or even his work as a Commissioner at the TRC. It is so that we can have the bones back and know. It is for all of this mainly because of who Hugh was. In Bishop Tutu’s words: “In South Africa, we are blessed by some truly remarkable people of all races, and each one is a person of extraordinary nobility of spirit. Many were involved in the struggle against apartheid, and they paid a very heavy price for that involvement.

One such is Hugh Lewin, whose passionate commitment to justice and freedom led him to oppose injustice and oppression with every fibre of his being.”

Let us have the bones and know! Welcome to the 6th Annual Hugh Lewin Memorial Human Rights Lecture. I call on the Head of Hodgson, Hlobi Mthembu, to introduce our guest speaker. — Mr Peter Wright, Senior Deputy

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Picture: Travis Stewart (LIV Fleming)

Dr Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh is a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Wits University. He was SRC president at UCT in 2010. He holds a DPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford.

His first book, Democracy and Delusion: 10 Myths in South African Politics (2017), won the City Press-Tafelberg Nonfiction Award and was accompanied by a rap album of the same name. His second book, The New Apartheid (2021), was one of the bestselling books in South Africa that year. Author Mark Gevisser described him as ‘one of the finest writers of his generation’.

He hosts the prime-time current affairs show Unfiltered on SABC News and founded the popular current affairs YouTube channel SMWX.

He matriculated from St John’s College in 2006, where he was Second Prefect.

Dr Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh and Hugh Lewin share a commonality in using Literature as a form of activism. — Hlobi Mthembu (Head of Hodgson)

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Picture: Kamogelo Thobejane (LV Nash)

On behalf of the St John’s College community, thank you Dr Mpofu-Walsh for joining us today and giving us what was one of the most engaging and thought-provoking lectures.

As Johanians, I think we have a duty to use our privilege to make our community more equitable. It's inspiring to see how you have achieved this and shown us that there are so many ways we can make a difference.

The biggest takeaway from your speech was looking at how, while we live in a rather unstable political climate, we must engage with the concept of 'the true, the good, and the beautiful'. That boils down to us being able to speak honestly with our peers and others in the community and to be fully transparent in how we engage with difficult topics while maintaining a positive relationship with the person we are speaking with and a positive outlook on the situation. By engaging with challenges in this constructive dialogue, I am certain we will be better people and build a better community, school and even country. — An excerpt from Kabir Budlender (LVI Runge) thank you address.

Pictures: Kamogelo Thobejane (UV Nash) and Travis Stuart (UIV Fleming)