Cynthia Hugo 2005


Cynthia Dawn Hugo was born on 8 January 1934 in Johannesburg. She was educated at Springs High School in Gauteng and later at the Johannesburg College of Education.  From 1970 to 1975, with her education and passion for teaching, she taught at all levels in South African and overseas in both private and state schools.  One of her highlights during this time was the establishment of a unique library at Waterkloof Primary in Pretoria, run by parents and used by the school community.

In 1976, she broke away from teaching to work for a publisher as an editor with a special brief to find South African authors and textbook writers.  During this time, she also worked as a freelance writer for various publishers.  In 1978 she joined St. John’s College in Johannesburg as a librarian and subsequently had occasion to visit a number of Soweto high schools finding that not one of the schools had a functioning library.  She then undertook single handedly to raise sufficient money to provide core reference libraries for each of the 54 Soweto high schools then in existence.  With help from friends and supporters, R150 000 was raised, together with an undertaking from World books to donate a set of encyclopaedias to each school.  In response to community concern over the lack of reading and library facilities in disadvantaged communities and with Ms Hugo’s dedicated commitment, READ (Read Educate & Develop) came into being in 1979.

Cynthia responded with fervour and diligence and introduced school-based activities in 1980 when READ implemented a high school programme aimed at establishing central libraries.  READ has since established more than two thousand libraries throughout the country and provides a teacher development and resource provision programme for all levels of the formal education system as well as training for School Managers, District Managers, Subject Advisors and School Governing Bodies.

In 1983 Cynthia Hugo became the National Director of READ when it was formally constituted.  Under her tireless leadership, READ’s activities have been extended to include programmes in primary schools, teacher training colleges, community structures, industry and mining as well as the extensive development of resources and materials. 

People from countries as far afield as New Zealand, the British Isles, West; East and Central Africa, from a diversity of disciplines have come to South Africa at her invitation to discuss common issues relating to reading and literacy.

She has welded together an extraordinary team of dedicated professionals supported by a highly efficient infra structure.  She has, from the inception of the programmes involved supporters and funders in the building up of the organisation’s management skills and involves experts from all over the world in assisting with READ’s mission.

Included in her list of accolades are her awards as “Unsung Heroine of the Star” newspaper in 1981 and “Star of the Community” in 1987.

Besides being motivated to improve the lives of learners countrywide, Cynthia is also personally motivated by what she does.  Cynthia is a committed student of the art and discipline of language studies.  She constantly reads texts on language teaching and interacts with leading experts in language studies to ensure that her own intellectual development and understanding of her profession are constantly evolving.

While Cynthia’s early motivation was borne from the necessity to oppose the educational dispensation of the day to provide black children with the same opportunities as white children, her motivation today is as a result of her commitment to the effective implementation of the national curriculum which strives to provide equal opportunities for all learners.

Cynthia Hugo’s motivation to start READ and to take it to the level it is today is as a result of her genuine commitment to children and the power literacy has to transform lives.

The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University wishes to accord recognition for her outstanding and selfless contribution to education in South Africa.  It is an honour for NMMU to confer the degree DOCTOR IN TECHNOLOGY (HONORIS CAUSA) on CYNTHIA DAWN HUGO.