Deane Yates was born in the United Kingdom in 1922. After serving in the Second World War, he read Latin and Greek at Oxford University. He taught at Mill Hill in London and, at that time, still thought that he might become a priest. Through his contact with the Community of the Resurrection, he came to know Father Trevor Huddleston, who was later to become famous in South Africa for his resistance to apartheid and forced removals. As a result of these interactions, Yates and his wife, Dot, were encouraged to go to South Africa in 1956, where he became the Headmaster of St. John's College in Johannesburg.
During his 15 years at St. John's, Yates struck a fine balance between traditional academic excellence and a greater involvement in society. He launched a fund-raising appeal that gained sufficient support to allow for the establishment of a pre-preparatory school and, by increasing student numbers and introducing a four-stream structure; he almost certainly saved the school from a slow decline caused by insufficient resources. At the same time, he encouraged a spiritual and social awareness in each pupil. He was acutely aware of the need for young people to meet across the racial divide and frequently arranged for boys from St. John's to attend services at the community church in the then Sophiatown. Despite his successes at St. John's, Yates experienced significant obstacles in working towards his goal of a non-racial, multi-cultural school. By 1970, it was clear that the South African political framework significantly curtailed the possibility of further progress, and he therefore became instrumental in the establishment of Maru-a-Pula, a multi-cultural, non-racial school in Gaborone, Botswana, in 1972.
Maru-a-Pula, where Yates worked form 1972 to 1981, was a bold experiment for its time; a school that was intended to demonstrate that pupils from a variety of backgrounds could live and work together in harmony and be enriched by doing so. Maintaining high academic achievement, the school provided Botswana with an alternative to state education. Community service was always a part of the curriculum at Maru-a-Pula, as was the requirement that pupils assist with the day-to-day tasks of running the school. In many respects, the school was decades ahead of its time, and much of the credit for this must go to Yates. The school also had a profound effect on other independent schools in Southern Africa, as it provided a bold example to other heads of school by including community services in the curriculum and integrating students across cultural and racial boundaries. Maru-a-Pula initially met with considerable official resistance, but eventually received the stamp of approval of the Botswana government. In 1977, Yates was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his work there.
In 1981, Yates returned to South Africa, intending to draw on his Botswana experiences to develop new models of independent education in this country. From 1981 to 1991, he was a driving force behind the creation and growth of the New Era Schools Trust (NEST), an initiative supported by the Anglo-American Chairman's Fund that led to the establishment of a series of multi-racial schools. Yates sought in NEST to allow each learner the opportunity to embrace his or her cultural heritage in a diverse environment without prejudice. The NEST project proved to be controversial, and once again demonstrated Yates's preparedness to challenge established practice and go against the grain. Although today few NEST schools still remain, the role they played in the de-racialisation of South African education was significant.
For several decades, Yates has been intimately involved with education in Alexandra, where he worshiped at the Church of St. Michael's prior to taking up residency at Waverly House. He is the founder of the Alexandra Education Committee, a voluntary association that raises funds to enable about sixty children from Alexandra primary schools to attend high schools outside the township that will provide them with quality education. The committee has had excellent results, and it is not unusual for the students it supports to achieve a 100% pass rate. In addition to his involvement with the Alexandra Education Committee, Yates spearheaded the very successful St. Michael's Community Project, which used donations and local expertise to build a new St. Michael's church, as well as convert the old church into a community centre. He and his wife we also involved in establishing successful feeding schemes for children in the township. In 2000 he was awarded the Bishop's Medal of the Diocese of Johannesburg for his contribution to Alexandra, and in 2001 he received the Paul Harris Medal of International Rotary.
Deane Yates has dedicated his life to pursuing the ideal of a non-racial and multi-cultural education, and has inspired people across Southern Africa both by his ideals and by his decisive action in a variety of situations. As the University of Witwatersrand has a proud record of supporting and implementing non-racial education, it is fitting that it should bestow its highest honour on someone who has worked so tirelessly to establish non-racial practices in schooling. It is with great pride and pleasure that the University confers on Deane Yates the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.