H. Vilakazi 2

One of South Africa’s leading sociologists, a foremost scholar in Marxism /Leninism and prolific public intellectual, Professor Herbert Vilakazi passed away in the afternoon of 26 January 2016, a few months short of his 73rd birthday. Professor Vilakazi was born in Nongoma, Zululand in 1943.

Vilakazi who was surrounded by his mother, siblings, his children and other members of his family succumbed to prostate cancer and related complications at Die Wilgers Life Hospital, Pretoria East, after an extended period of illness. The illness had clearly taken its toll, for he lay there motionless. His mother, daughter, sister and sister-in-law had just arrived from Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, to be by his side and had hoped to find a recovering Vilakazi.  Indeed, only the week before he had shown signs of recovery, responding with wide smiles to his favourite topics, one of them being his favourite soccer club, Arsenal, which was top in the league then.

Professor Vilakazi was 86 days in intensive care before he succumbed, after spending a full life as a son, devoted father, eminent scholar, a charismatic teacher, author, publicist and healer.  As a father he raised, single-handedly, three children virtually from infanthood to a beautiful young man and women.  Yet, he found time to write, speak at community gatherings, present papers at scholarly conferences and receive friends and acquaintances at home showering them with warmth and that infectious laughter characteristic of him. Professor Vilakazi produced no less than 400 papers, articles, chapter contributions to books and tributes to luminaries, often travelling the breadth of the world to do so.  He appeared numerous times on radio and TV to speak about issues of development.  He was very concerned about the current trajectory of South Africa, especially what he considered the neglect of the rural poor.

Former students will remember him as a formidable, charismatic lecturer who attracted overflowing halls with students, never sitting down as he mesmerised students with solid knowledge.  Professor Vilakazi believed that every student who emerged with a bachelor’s degree from any of the South African universities, especially those from the former black universities, ought to compete equally with students from the Ivy Leagues of this world. Many of them have gone on to become eminent citizens of this country, and abroad.

Vilakazi achieved this feat as tenured professor at Essex County College, Newark, New Jersey USA until 1980; Transkei University in former Transkei, as Professor of Sociology (1980-1984) from where he was bundled and deported with others for alleged subversive activities; Wits University (1987 Academic Year); University of Cape Town (1985-1986) and University of Zululand (1988-1998).  He left the latter to join the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for seven years (1997-2004) as Deputy Chair Person, when he retired to focus on writing and commentary on important topics of South Africa.  Before he entered hospital, weak and ravaged by these ailments, Professor Vilakazi was writing a book, a compendium of his ideas on what must change in this country if we are to be prosperous.

Professor Vilakazi obtained his BA in Sociology and Anthropology from Columbia College, Columbia University in New York in 1966.  Two years later, he received his MA in Sociology and Education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.  Thereafter, he embarked on his scholarly journey of teaching, research and writing, including doing research for the Anti-Poverty Programmes in Harlem, New York in those early days, work he was to incorporate in his writings and community work in South Africa.

Professor Vilakazi, the oldest son of the late Professor Absalom Vilakazi, a prominent anthropologist, will be laid to rest at the Pretoria East Cemetery on 6th February, 2016, at Wapadrant Church, Plot 3 Olympus, Garsfontein; GPS coordinates: 25֠  48̊  10̊ S  28̊ 19̊ 34̊  E. This will be preceded by a memorial service to be held on the 3rd February, 2016 at Unisa, Enoch Sontonga Conference Hall, Cnr Steve Biko & Justice Mahomed Streets, Sunnyside Campus from 16:00 to 20:00.