The Nobel Prize is regarded by many as one of the most illustrious prizes given to individuals for exceptional achievements in various fields and South Africa has managed to provide its fair share of winners.
Not only was the first African-born Nobel Prize winner from South Africa, but the country also holds the record for having the most Nobel Laureates in Africa.
Below is a list of those South Africans whose impact on the world was deemed worthy of a Nobel Prize. The list is in chronological order.
Max Theiler – Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
South African-American virologist and physician was the first African born Nobel Laureate in 1951. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1951 for developing a vaccine against yellow fever in 1937.
He was born in Pretoria and was educated in South Africa until he graduated from medical school. He then went to England for further education before emigrating to the United States.
Albert Luthuli – Nobel Prize In Peace
South African politician and activist Albert Luthuli was the first black African to win a Nobel Prize. Luthuli was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1960 for his leading role in the non-violent struggle against apartheid.
Luthuli advocated for non-violent opposition to the white minority government in South Africa in his role as the president of the African National Congress (ANC).
Allan M Cormack – Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
South African physicist Allan MacLeod Cormak won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1979 for his role in inventing the computerized axial tomography scan or CAT scanner. The scanner which is now called the CT scan or computed tomography scan is one of the most powerful devices in medicine as it allows physicians to see inside the body without having to cut the body open first.
Aaron Klug – Nobel Prize in Chemistry
British-South African biophysicist Aaron Klug won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his development of crystallographic electron microscopy in 1982.
Klug was born in Lithuania but moved to South Africa at the age of 2. He was educated in South Africa and graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Cape Town before moving to England.
Desmond Tutu – Nobel Prize In Peace
South African Anglican cleric and theologian Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his anti-apartheid activism. Tutu has his passport confiscated several times by the apartheid government after he travelled around the world rallying for support against apartheid and even had a showdown with United States president Ronald Reagan.
Nadine Gordimer – Nobel Prize In Literature
South African writer and political activist Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991 for her epic writing. Gordimer tackled moral and racial issues at a time when this was taboo due to the Apartheid government in South Africa. As a result, some of her works were banned.
She was also a rabid critic of the apartheid system and joined the African National Congress (ANC) at a time when the organisation was banned. She was also a confidante of Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela – Nobel Prize In Peace
South African revolutionary and political leader Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1993. Madiba, as Mandela is affectionately called, won the Nobel Prize for negotiating the end of the apartheid system and ushering in democratic elections in South Africa.
Mandela was awarded the Nobel Prize together with his former foe, F.W. de Klerk
F.W. De Klerk – Nobel Prize In Peace
South African politician Frederik Willem de Klerk was the last head of state under Apartheid South Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Price In Peace in 1993 after he worked to dismantle the apartheid system to bring democracy in South Africa.
He shared the prize with the revolutionary South African icon, Nelson Mandela.
Sydney Brenner – Nobel Prize In Physiology or Medicine
South African biologist Sydney Brenner won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1992 for his significant contributions to work on the genetic code. He shared the prize with ith H. Robert Horvitz and Sir John E. Sulston.
The Germiston-born scientist helped map the fabric of human DNA.
J. M. Coetzee – Nobel Prize In Literature
South African-born novelist, writer John Maxwell Coetzee won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. In announcing the award, the Swedish Academy noted that Coetzee “in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider” and “well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue and analytical brilliance”.
Coetzee holds a number of honorary doctorates and is one of the most acclaimed and decorated authors in the English language.
Michael Levitt – Nobel Prize In Chemistry
South African-born biophysicist Michael Levitt won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013 for “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.” He shared the prize with Martin Karplus and Arieh Warshel.