Taking care of the powerful symbol for the conferring of degrees has been entrusted to one humble man for 16 years. 

The examinations and graduations office (EGO) at Wits University has conducted scores of graduation ceremonies in different venues. While these have taken different forms in the recent past with the covid-19 pandemic, a constant has remained – the ‘mace man’. 

The University Mace is a symbol for the chancellor to confer degrees. It carries tremendous weight (both literally and figuratively). This is well-known by the man with whom the mace is entrusted. Fifty-eight-year-old David Rambevha has proudly led the graduation procession since 2006, when he was given the opportunity to carry the seven-kilogram mace.  

Rambevha has spent 32 years as a Witsie, starting his career on October 1, 1990, as a cleaner. After eight months he applied for a position as an assistant printer in the examinations office. 

The experienced ‘mace man’, David Rambevha, leads the graduation procession during the April, 2022 graduation ceremonies, the first full, in-person ceremonies since the covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Colin Hugo 

He vividly recalls the 2006 merging of the examinations and graduations offices when he moved from basement one to the second floor of the then Senate House. He also assumed his current role as graduation and examination officer, coordinating the running of exams and graduation ceremonies.  

He also assumed the role of carrier of the 1 107mm tall and 180mm broad mace, following in the footsteps of Rob Sherman and the late Regina Diphoko. 

He recalls that his first day on the job “was not easy”, as he felt a lot of pressure and knew that it was “not something for play”. But Derek Swemmer, the former registrar, was supportive, correcting him and acknowledging his successes. 

“[Rambevha] is a firm believer in walking the extra mile”, arriving early for graduation ceremonies and leaving late “once all preparations for the next day have been completed”, according to Abé Pieterse, head of EGO.  He also proudly knows the attire required for each member of the procession and his own regalia which includes white gloves to avoid transferring fingerprints to the gold- and silver-plated mace, which he cleans. 

Rambevha does not take carrying the mace lightly. “When you pass the audience, you can feel that you are holding the name of Wits in your hands. It has got a great name, Wits University,” he says. The mace, which was dedicated in 1977, is a symbol of the mandate given by Parliament for the chancellor to confer degrees and represents the international acclamation of a degree from Wits University. 

He practises focus while carrying the mace and ensures he is not distracted. He concentrates on the mace and the chancellor, since part of the mace’s symbolic meaning is to “guard” the chancellor, and the original use of a mace was as a weapon of defence. 

Elizabeth Mogotsi, also a part of EGO, is currently being trained by Rambevha to be his successor as he jokingly considers his age to be “no longer on [the] university’s side”. Mogotsi concurs that Rambevha is “patient, responsible and serious at all times”. He has taught her to put jokes aside while carrying the mace, among lessons to “focus” and “be serious”. 

When the covid-19 pandemic moved graduation ceremonies online in 2020 Rambevha found this disappointing, not so much about the mace, but because of the lost power of face-to-face graduations. 

The mace man, although carrying the weight of the university symbol in his hands, has remained humble. 

“I’m one of the lucky people to work at Wits University and [to be] given a task to carry this powerful mace, and it’s the main reason why I don’t take this task for granted. It’s not about me as a person. It’s not about exams and graduations as a unit. It’s about Wits University as an institution in general,” Rambevha says. 

FEATURED IMAGE: The University Mace boasts an amber stone (meaning “Bernstein” in German) as a tribute to former chancellor, Bertrand Bernstein. Photo: Wits University