Student, University College of Fort Hare. Bachelor in English, Political science and Private Law, University South Africa, 1975. BProc, University South Africa, 1976.
Honours Bachelor's Degree, Kings College, London, 1981. Trainee, Anglican ministry, Ripon Cuddesdon College, Oxford. Doctor of Philosophy in religious studies, University of Cape Town, 1995.
Doctor of Divinity (honorary), Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, 1996. Doctor of Laws (honorary), University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1999.
He is an exponent of Black theology. Pityana received a degree from the University of South Africa in 1976 but was barred from practicing law in Port Elizabeth by the apartheid government. He was banned by the apartheid government from public activity.
Pityana went into exile in 1978, studying theology at King's College London and training for the ministry Ripon College Cuddesdon in Oxford. Thereafter he served as an Anglican curate in Milton Keynes and as a vicar in Birmingham. Pityana returned to South Africa in 1993, following the end of apartheid.
He continued working in theology and human rights, completing a PhD in Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town in 1995. Professor Pityana became Vice-Chancellor and Principal for the University of South Africa in 2001 and held the position for nine years. He was the rector of the College of the Transfiguration (Anglican) in Grahamstown (from 2011 until 2014),
He is the President of Convocation of the University of Cape Town.
He is a vocal critic of the present ANC leadership under Jacob Zuma - has called for the resignation of Zuma - and has links with grassroots movements opposed to the ANC.
He was also a member of the African National Congress Youth League, and was suspended for challenging the authority of the Afrikaans teachers and the apartheid principles of "Bantu education".
He was one of the founding members of the South African Students' Organisation of the Black Consciousness Movement with Steve Biko. He was appointed a member of the South African Human Rights Commission in 1995, and served as chairman of the commission from 1995 to 2001.