Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela named 2024 Templeton Prize Laureate

Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. Photo: Supplied

Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. Photo: Supplied

Published Jun 10, 2024


The 2024 Templeton Prize has been awarded to Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela for her exemplary contributions to scholarship and advancing knowledge in the field of forgiveness and processes of repair in the aftermath of trauma violence.

Professor Gobodo-Madikizela is the SARChI Chair for Violent Histories and Historical Trauma and the founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Afterlife of Violence and the Reparative Quest (AVReQ).

The Templeton Prize is awarded annually and honours individuals whose work draws from the scholarly disciplines to explore the deepest questions about humanity and the universe - making it “the world's most interesting prize”.

In its press release, the Templeton Prize said about Gobodo-Madikizela: “Her career as a scholar and a public figure is distinguished by her effort to repair ruptures created by past violence and to build a path toward healing and restoration in an ongoing process she calls ‘the reparative quest’.”

The president of the John Templeton Foundation, Heather Dill, added: “Her achievements mark her as a leading figure in understanding and confronting the deeply rooted psychological scars borne by those who experienced unimaginable loss.’

Gobodo-Madikizela said she felt a deep sense of gratitude to receive the prize. She referred to it as a “rare gift" that offers an opportunity to fund new research projects at AVReQ, especially on questions of violent histories and repair. “I am interested in how violent histories so often play out transgenerationally in new forms, and on deepening our understanding of complex processes of repair. In my work, I have always pursued new avenues of inquiry, seeking ways of contributing to new frontiers of knowledge. I am hoping that as a team of scholars, researchers, and our network of partners affiliated with AVReQ, we will continue to rise to this critical intellectual challenge in these challenging times,” Gobodo-Madikizela said.

“I am excited that I can use the Templeton Prize to help fund our postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows at a time of reduced funding all-round.”

Gobodo-Madikizela has pledged to donate a total of R8 million to Stellenbosch University, which will be allocated as follows: R5m toward an endowment scholarship in the name of her parents, Nobantu and Tukela Gobodo; R1m to the SUNRISE (Stellenbosch University Research and Innovation Strategic Excellence) programme to support future professors; and R2m to AVReQ. She said that her hope is that the donation to AVReQ will attract additional co-funding to help postdoctoral fellows to advance to leadership in the knowledge economy, and to support postgraduate students so that they do not have to take on additional work and can graduate within the funding period of their scholarships.

Gobodo-Madikizela explained that at its core her work is guided by humanist values and aims to address in new ways the fundamental questions about the transgenerational impact of historical trauma, and “what are the conditions of psychological and moral imagination for repair that might open the possibility for social solidarity and building new futures”.

Her first book, A Human Being Died that Night, was recently reprinted as a Mariner Books classic. “This book has played a big part in the trajectory my work has followed," she said. “It has certainly contributed to my winning this prize. In it I grapple with the tension between of the horror and the humanity, and I try to explain what's going on in a way that deepens the complexity."

Gobodo-Madikizela works with a global interdisciplinary network of scholars, some of whom she has collaborated with as co-author, editor and co-editor of several books on trauma narratives, transgenerational repercussions of historical trauma, and the conditions for interrupting these traumatic repetitions of history.

The Templeton Prize is the second prestigious award that Gobodo-Madikizela has won. In 2020, she was awarded the Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship award, which at the time was the most prestigious award of the Oppenheimer Trust.

Prof Wim de Villiers, SU's Rector and Vice-Chancellor, warmly congratulated Prof Gobodo-Madikizela on this exceptional award and expressed his sincere appreciation to her and the Templeton Foundation for the profound gesture of generosity towards SU which he described as deeply affirming and humbling.

“Stellenbosch University has again shown how it can be an enabling environment and how it can contribute to world leaders in many fields," said Prof De Villiers.

Prof Sibu Moyo, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Study said about Gobodo-Madikizela's prize: “I am delighted that Prof Gobodo-Madikizela's contribution has been recognised in this special way. Her plan to donate some of her prize to Stellenbosch University is really humbling and shows her passion for the work she does and dedication to support the next generation of scholars. I hope that her winning the award will inspire the next generation of scholars and set a high bar for excellence in research with the full set of values that she espouses – excellence, compassion, accountability, respect and ethics."

“I am absolutely delighted to personally, and on behalf of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, offer my heartiest congratulations to Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela," added Prof Anthony Leysens, Dean of the SU Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “The Templeton Price is on the level of the Nobel Prize awards, but in the sphere of significant humanist contributions at the intersection of spirituality, religion and science. The list of recipients is impressive. Prof Gobodo-Madikizela's work has inspired and continues to inspire those who, through their research, believe in the power of the humanities to bring about change with the emphasis on mutual understanding, caring, forgiveness and reconciliation. This award recognises her achievements and her contribution to the humanist ideal. As South Africans we should all be proud.”