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.

In 1971 Ndebele married Mpho Kathleen Malebo. They have one son and two daughters.

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. Between 2001 and 2002 Ndebele was the Chair of the History Panel in the Department of Education. He was also a Board Member and Chair of the Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa). Ndebele was elected Chair of the Southern African Regional Universities Association and served on the board of the Association of African Universities since 2001.

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. Between November 2009 and May 2010 Ndebele sat on the Council for External Review at the Durban University of Technology. Ndebele was a consultant with Artscape between January and August 2011. Since 2009 he has been a member of the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town.  

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

Honorary Doctorates

·         Durban University of Technology, Republic of South Africa, 2012

·         University of Stellenbosch, Republic of South Africa, 2008

·         University of Michigan, United States of America, 2008

·         University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2006

·         University College London, United Kingdom, 2006

·         Wesleyan University, United States of America, 2005

·         Denver University, United States of America, 2005

·         University of Natal, Republic of South Africa, 1999

·         Chicago State University, United States of America, 1996

·         Free university of Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1995

·         Soka University, Japan, 1994

Awards and Fellows

·         Fellow: Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, April - June 2011

·         Fellow: Stellenbosch Institute for Advance Study, February – May 2010

·         National Research Foundation, Life-Time Achievement Award 2009

·         Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, 2008

·         K. Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award for Fine Lines from the Box, 2008

·         Academy of English of South Africa Gold Medal for Distinguished Service to English, 2005

·         Fellow of the University of Cape Town, 2003

·         The Fiftieth Anniversary Distinguished Service Award by the National University of Lesotho in Recognition of Outstanding Achievements as an Alumnus of the University, 1995

·         President’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Literature and University Administration: Lincoln University, 1994

·         Thomas Pringle Award for “Turkish Tales: Thoughts of South African Literature”, 1986

·         Mofolo-Plomer Awards, Fools and other stories, 1984

·         The Noma Award for the Best Book publish in Africa, Fools and other stories, 1983

Board of Trustees and Memberships

·         Chair, MTN (SA) Foundation, 2009 – Current

·         Chair, Institute for Democracy in South Africa, Idasa, 2004 – Current

·         Member of the Council of Advisors, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, 2010 – Current

·         Member of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, 2009 – Current

·         Member of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, 2003 – Current

·         Member of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 1998 – Current

·         Member of the Executive Committee Academy of Sciences of South Africa, 2008 – 2010

·         President and Chair of the Board, Association of African Universities, 2006 – 2009

·         Founding Chair, Southern African Regional Universities’ Association (SARUA) 2005 – 2008

·         Higher Education South Africa (As Vice-chancellor and Principal of UCT) 2005 – 2008

·         Chair, South African Universities’ Vice-Chancellor’s Association (SAUVCA), 2002 – 2005

·         Live Life, National Advisory Board, 2001 – 2009

·         Chair, Human Sciences Research Council, 1995 – 1998

·         South African Broadcasting Corporation Board, 1993

Public Service

·         Chair, Ministerial Task Team on The Development of Indigenous African Languages as Mediums of Instruction in Higher Education in South Africa, 2003

·         Chair, Ministerial Panel on the Teaching of History in South African Schools, 2001 – 2002

·         Chair of the Jury to Select Africa’s 100 Best Books for the 20th Century, 2001

·         Chair, Ministerial Broadcasting Policy Task Team, 1997

·         Chair, National Arts Initiative, 1992

·         Panel of Judges for the Commonwealth Literature Prize for Africa 1989

·         Member of the South African Academy of Science, 1995

·         Member of the International Association of University Professors of English, 1991

·         Member of the English Academy of Southern Africa, since 1991 


Ndebele, N. 2012. “Ndjabulo S Ndebele CV” in Njabulo S Ndebele [online]. Available at www.njabulondebele.co.za[13 November 2012]|

Ndebele, N. 2012. “Ndjabulo S. Ndebele Narrative CV” in Njabulo S Ndebele [online]. Available at www.njabulondebele.co.za[13 November 2012]|

Who’s Who SA, 2011. “Ndjabulo Ndebele” in Who’s Who Southern Africa [online]. Available at www.whoswho.co.za[13 November 2012]|

Businessweek, 2012. “Executive Profile: Ndjabulo S Ndebele” in Bloomberg Businessweek [online]. Available at www.businessweek.com/[13 November 2012]

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