A Wellington born and raised, inspirational role model’s life is testament to how a disability does not have to derail your destiny and her latest achievement to add to her impressive list, is an honorary doctorate.
Stellenbosch University (SU) awarded Dr Marlene le Roux with a honorary degree of Education (DEd) at their graduation ceremony on Monday December 13, 2021.
In a press release issued by the university, the degree to Dr Le Roux, was awarded, “for her commitment to the development of the performing arts; for her dedication to ensure access to the performing arts for young people from marginalized communities; for using the arts to educate, empower and to create community and as a tool of expression for the oppressed.”
In answer to how she feels about receiving this doctorate, Dr Le Roux told Bolander: “I was extremely honoured and overwhelmed for it to be bestowed upon me.
“Especially from Stellenbosch University who was a university previously only for historically White Afrikaners, and me being a proud Afrikaans speaking woman from Wellington, who experienced the brunt of apartheid on so many levels, this was a ceremony for me about reconciliation and action towards making the university accessible to everybody especially for persons with disabilities.”
Besides the privilege of being awarded the honorary doctorate, the person she received it from, made the moment even more meaningful. “But the biggest honour was for me to get this from retired Judge Edwin Cameron, who tirelessly fights for the voiceless and who is the embodiment of dedicating your life to others.”
She did not expect to receive the degree, and humorously shared how upon receiving the call on Heritage Day on Friday September 24, last year, she initially perceived it to be a prank call.
“I never work to get recognition. It is always a surprise for me. When the Rector called me about the honour, I put the phone down as I thought it was one of my comrades to check whether I am at home.”
Education and its accessibility to all, is very important to her and in her acceptance speech she recalled how through her family’s belief system, she was alerted to the importance of education.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I, the daughter of Christine Le Roux (Tietie) and the parents who brought me up, Ouma and Oupa Christina and Frank Abrahams, think that I would stand here. They experienced the hardship of our apartheid past first-hand, but despite this they understood the provision and the importance of education,” she said and thanked them as part of her speech, at the graduation ceremony.
She dedicated the degree to those of importance in her formative years. “I dedicate this honour to my grandparents who were seasonal farm workers, factory workers (people with integrity) and my beloved teachers, my beloved community in Wellington specifically Die Kloof, Polonie Dorp, my family.”
Dr Le Roux, an educationist, highlighted the significance of getting a degree in this field. “My profession is a teacher and to get the D in Education is important. I was a big supporter of Professor Russel Botman who has put hope into action to make tertiary education accessible to all with the HOPE Project at Stellenbosch University.”
Her wish is to continue contributing to his legacy in promoting equal access to education. “Professor Russel Botman is my icon and I hope that I can live up to his expectations that every girl child and boy child from the most rural areas must get an education.”
In her acceptance speech she further expressed this hope. “Now is the time for us to inspire through action. We are, however, still trapped in the ego of our privileged humanity. I plead for equal education and for breaking down our geographical past.”
Although, the awarding of the degree brought with it a great sense of excitement and joy, Dr Le Roux said the moment also brought with it a level of sadness.
“My biggest sadness was that my beloved Mother could not be with me as she passed on, on Christmas Day 2020.” She credits her mother for modelling a life of serving and helping the poor and recalls how her mother would daily give people something to eat.
Dr Le Roux has a list of academic achievements and accolades, but it’s often her exceptional life story of pursuing success amidst a challenging life brought on by contracting polio as a child and consequently resulting in her living with a disability, which often dominates as a source of great inspiration.
She has not been hampered by this disability and today it serves as a catalyst to fight for, and represent those living with disabilities, and in her role as Artscape CEO she does just that.
A recent favourable development at the Artscape, she shared had been the signing of lease agreement between the Provincial Government and Artscape for 50 years.
This included the formation of a task team for persons with disabilities. This team, of which she forms part of, she proudly stated is tasked with working towards making the theatre more accessible to those with disabilities and the elderly.
With a purposeful and passionate drive for life, what is she motivated by? “People are my motivation. Ordinary people who try their level best to do good without recognition. I am privileged to witness this daily.”
She lives her life with the mindset that, “Life owes you nothing” and in addition to the responsibilities in her role as Artscape CEO, she commits her time volunteering.
She encourages the act. “Not everything costs money, give your time and your skills and share your networks with others. I believe in creating opportunities for others.”
As a message of encouragement to the people of Wellington and beyond she said: “Live with gratitude. And don’t let your circumstances determine your future. Hard work and dedication with kindness is a life worthwhile.”