Awarded to Joseph Albert Mokoena (1919 - 1969 ) for
HIS EXCEPTIONAL CONTRIBUTION TO THE FIELD OF MATHEMATICS, AND DEDICATION TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF SOUTH AFRICA AND THE AFRICAN CONTINENT
Profile of Joseph Albert Mokoena
Joseph Albert Mashite Mokoena was born in Johannesburg on 25 November 1919. From an early age, he displayed a special affinity for the abstract
world of mathematics.
Mokoena passed the Junior Certificate and Matriculation examinations with flying colours at St. Peter’s Secondary School. When he graduated from
the Fort Hare University College in 1942 with a B.Sc. degree, he did so with a distinction in mathematics. While teaching at Fort Hare he was awarded
the B.Sc. Honours degree from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1944, after which he went on to achieve a first-class M.Sc. with distinction
from the University of South Africa in 1948. In 1950 he was awarded a research fellowship in mathematics at Brown University (Providence, Rhode
Island, USA). During this tenure he collaborated with colleagues at McGill University in Canada.
In common with many African intellectuals of the day, Mokoena was inspired by the wave of liberation politics sweeping the African continent. Even
while working towards his Ph.D. in mathematics, Mokoena was drawn to the challenge of contributing to the development of the continent and supporting
the liberation movements in recently liberated African countries.
His first port of call was Kumasi in the newly independent Ghana where, in 1957, he joined the mathematics department of the then Kumasi College
of Technology (now the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology). While in Kumasi, Mokoena was awarded his Ph.D. degree in
mathematics by the University of the Witwatersrand in April 1959. Thereafter, in 1960, he moved to Zaria in Northern Nigeria to teach at the Nigerian
College of Arts, Science and Technology (since renamed Ahmadu Bello University). After a short stint at Aston College of Technology (now Aston
University) in Birmingham, United Kingdom in 1963, Mokoena returned to his beloved home continent where he was employed as UNESCO
mathematics lecturer at the then University of Rhodesia in Salisbury (now the University of Zimbabwe in Harare). The impending Unilateral
Declaration of Independence saw Mokoena upping himself to neighbouring Zambia where he took up a position in 1965 at the fledgling School of
Natural Sciences at the University of Zambia, again as UNESCO lecturer, where he contributed to the development of the mathematics curriculum
of that new university.
In February 1969, at the age of 49, Mokoena passed away following injuries sustained in a car accident in Lusaka.
Fate prematurely robbed the African continent of one of its great mathematicians. Yet in his short life, Mokoena made an indelible mark in the field of
mathematics and mathematics education in Africa. Although a retiring and studious individual with a singular passion for mathematics, his humble beginnings
and deeply felt need to contribute to the development of his people drew him to dedicate himself to the ideal of freedom for his continent.