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Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela receives 2024 Templeton Prize

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Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela receives 2024 Templeton Prize

Tulani Ngwenya

PENNSYLVANIA, United States – Dr Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a distinguished scholar and psychologist, has been awarded the 2024 Templeton Prize.

Dr Gobodo-Madikizela is a professor and the South African National Research Foundation’s Chair in Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma. She also serves as the Director of the Centre for the Study of the Afterlife of Violence and the Reparative Quest at Stellenbosch University. Her groundbreaking work on trauma and forgiveness in post-apartheid South Africa has established a globally recognised model for social healing, which she calls “the reparative quest.”

Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, stated, “The 2024 Templeton Prize winner, Dr Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, has a remarkable grasp of the personal and social dynamics that allow for healing in societies wounded by violence. As a psychologist, scholar, and commentator, she has served as a guiding light within South Africa as it charts a course beyond apartheid, facilitating dialogue to help people overcome individual and collective trauma. Her work underscores the importance in contemporary life of cultivating the spiritual values of hope, compassion, and reconciliation.”

Dr Gobodo-Madikizela, 69, played a pivotal role as a member of the Human Rights Violations Committee of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which sought to address the injustices of apartheid. Her award-winning 2003 book, A Human Being Died That Night, details her conversations with Eugene de Kock, the former commander of state-sanctioned death squads, and explores themes of remorse, accountability, and forgiveness. Her efforts to mend the wounds left by previous abuse and to clear the path for recovery and restoration with her notion of “the reparative quest” have defined her career. In her lectures and writings, she demonstrates profound empathy and humanity towards both victims and perpetrators of trauma. “Her accomplishments establish her as a leading figure in comprehending and addressing the deeply ingrained psychological scars borne by those who experienced unfathomable loss,” Dill continued.

Reflecting on her recognition, Dr. Gobodo-Madikizela stated, “Through the many encounters I had in my work when I served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I learned that ordinary people, under certain circumstances, are capable of far greater evil than we could have imagined. But so are we capable of far greater virtue than we might have thought. My research is based on this possibility of human transformation, on probing deeper to understand the conditions necessary to restore the values of what it means to be human—to want to preserve the dignity and life of others. This is the essence of an accountable Ubuntu, a word from my language that is a foundational moral force that reaffirms our shared humanity. I feel a deep sense of gratitude for this prize. The great opportunity it opens for me to work with the next generation of future leaders who will pursue research on these urgent questions is a rare gift.”

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Born in 1955 in Langa, a township outside Cape Town, Dr. Gobodo-Madikizela grew up witnessing the harsh realities of apartheid. Her experiences fueled her commitment to understanding and addressing the emotional and psychological impact of segregation and violence. She attended Inanda Seminary in Durban, the only private school for black girls in South Africa at the time, and later pursued psychology degrees at the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University, culminating in a PhD from the University of Cape Town. In the 1990s, with the end of apartheid, she joined the TRC and served as Chair of the Human Rights Violations Committee in the Western Cape office. Working alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu, she confronted the challenges of extending forgiveness to those who had committed egregious crimes under apartheid. Her book, A Human Being Died That Night, based on her interviews with Eugene de Kock, delves into the complexities of forgiveness and human empathy. The book has won numerous awards, including the Alan Paton Award, and has been adapted into a stage play.

Dr. Gobodo-Madikizela’s academic journey includes prestigious positions at the University of Cape Town, the University of the Free State, and Stellenbosch University. Her research spans topics such as empathy, forgiveness, post-apartheid identity, post-Holocaust dialogue, transgenerational trauma, and memory. She has authored and edited numerous works, including Narrating Our Healing: Perspectives on Healing Trauma and Memory and Narrative and Forgiveness: Perspectives on the Unfinished Journeys of the Past.

Established in 1972, the Templeton Prize is one of the world’s largest annual individual awards. It honours individuals whose exemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s vision of harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it. Currently valued at £1.1 million GBP, the award is periodically adjusted to always exceed the value of the Nobel Prize. Recipients include Nobel Prize winners, philosophers, theoretical physicists, and one canonised saint. The Templeton Religion Trust, the Templeton World Charity Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation jointly grant the Templeton Prize.

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