for tomorrow



Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) mourns the passing of Dr Tembeka Nkamba van Wyk, a woman who will be remembered for many things, not least her drive to restore both the dignity of people and the African culture.

Dr Nkamba van Wyk received an honorary doctorate in Philosophy from the university in 2011 for her contribution towards literary and cultural development and her dedication to community development.

“She had that special ability to marry her passion for people with her love for South Africa’s cultural heritage as a catalyst in creating employment,” said NMMU Director of Marketing and Corporate Relations Pieter Swart.

He added that even today, Dr Nkamba van Wyk’s contribution was evident at every turn thanks to the beaded bags that every staff member received as a gift at the end of 2014 from her company Ngezandla Zethu (Talking Beads).

Raised in the former Transkei, Dr Nkamba van Wyk attained a BA degree in Xhosa and English from the University of Fort Hare before completing an honours degree in Xhosa literature in 1976. In 1977 she enrolled for a master’s degree in Xhosa poetry, but when her parents and baby sister were tragically killed in a road accident she had to leave university and seek work to support her five sisters who were all still at school.

Moving to Johannesburg in 1978, she was employed by the Chamber of Mines for a short stint before working as a volunteer in rural villages of Transkei teaching women to read and write. This “daughter of Africa” as she was colloquially known, was spotted by the Department of Education in Umtata who sent her on a literacy teacher training course. With time, her project expanded into art production including beadwork and grass work.

Taking up her studies again in 1981, she enrolled for a master’s degree in English Literature and African Studies and later an MA in Film and Video at UCLA in Los Angeles, graduating with a dual degree in 1984.

Returning home, she joined the South African Department of Education in Umtata as a planner for Cultural Affairs – organising traditional music competitions and encouraging artists to produce beadwork and grass work products for the major centres. She also encouraged budding writers to write books in both Xhosa and English.

In 1988 she enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand to study for a Higher Diploma for Educators of Adults for which she attained two distinctions. In 1989 Professor Russell of Wits University recruited Tembeka to conduct research on the use of radio for a participatory democracy in South Africa and her report “Listening to Learn, Learning to Listen” prompted the SABC to offer Tembeka a position at the national broadcaster to produce educational and career guidance programmes. In 1992 she was promoted to Manager of Corporate Services and by 1995 to 1995 to National Chief Director for Communications.

She left in 1997 to start the Talking Beads Academy, focusing on job creation and the promotion and preservation of the arts and cultural heritage. In 2000, she started Blue Sky Investments – the social upliftment arm of Talking Beads – providing counselling and education on aids awareness. 

She has received numerous awards throughout her illustrious career, including the Absa Top Award for Innovation in 2006, the SABC Checkers Business Woman of The Year in 2000 and the National Department of Arts and Culture Award for Developing the Arts in 1998. Tembeka was married to Sirk Bernadus Van Wyk for ten years, until his death following a stroke. Together they wrote and performed poetry at reading sessions.

Dr Tembeka Nkamba van Wyk