Dr Saleem Badat holds Bachelors and Honours degrees in the Social Sciences from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, a Certificate in Higher Education and Science Policy from Boston University (United States), and the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology from the University of York (United Kingdom).

As an eighteen-year-old Dr. Saleem Badat’s political awakening came with the 1976 Soweto uprising, developing into activism during his student days – serving on the student wages commission, joining the Release Mandela Committee. Then during the 1980s becoming even more deeply involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, at considerable personal cost. At first aligned to the Black Consciousness Movement, and then joined the United Democratic Front (UDF) following its founding in 1983. Following this, Dr Badat then edited a Western Cape community newspaper, Grassroots.

Since 1 August 2014 he has been Program Director: International Higher Education & Strategic Projects at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York. His portfolio encompasses grant making in the arts and humanities to research universities in South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Egypt, and Lebanon and to pan-African and pan-Arab institutions working in higher education.  

After a decade at the University of Western Cape, where he was the Director of the Education Policy Unit, in 1999 he became the first Chief Executive Officer of the newly created Council on Higher Education, which advises the South African Minister of Higher Education & Training on higher education policy issues.

In June 2006, Dr Badat was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, the first black South African to hold this post in 102 years.

In 2004 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Free State for ‘outstanding achievements in the shaping of policies and practices of the higher education environment’. In 2008 he received another honorary doctorate, from the University of York, his alma mater. In the same year he also received the Inyathelo Exceptional Philanthropy Award in recognition of excellence and leadership in Personal South African Philanthropy. Rhodes University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2015.

He is the author of Black Man, You are on Your Own (2010) and Black Student Politics, Higher Education and Apartheid (2002); co-author of National Policy and a Regional Response in South African Higher Education (2004), and co-editor of Apartheid Education and Popular Struggles in South Africa (1990). In 2012/2013 Jacana Press and Brill published his latest book, The Forgotten People: Political Banishment under Apartheid.

Dr Badat’s writings are concerned especially with questions of equity, redress, and social justice in and through universities, and the decolonization and transformation of universities in societies that were colonized. He has delivered keynote and other addresses at conferences and seminars around the world.

His current research and writing encompass an invited monograph by the Center for Social Solutions at the University of Michigan on difference, equity, diversity, and inclusion, a history of universities in South Africa that clarifies contemporary challenges, and a memoir on his time as the first black vice-chancellor of the historically white Rhodes University. He is also aspiring to produce a series of children’s books that raise social justice issues.

He serves on the board of the Centre for Higher Education Trust, was a trustee of the Mandela Initiative Think Tank on Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality, and was chairperson of Higher Education South Africa and of the Association of African Universities Scientific Committee on Higher Education.


Badat, S. (2018). Email to Omar Badsha, South African History Online (SAHO), dated 14 December 2018

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