”Universities have had to deal with the reality of unstable, disruptive and unpredictable environments, universally. And the pandemic is one such environment that universities have shared with other societal institutions.”
These were the views of Mr Saki Macozoma, one of South Africa’s most decorated businesspeople, as he reflected on how universities, like many entities, have navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Macozoma, who was guest speaker at the University of Johannesburg’s 2020 Stakeholder Report launch on Thursday, 12 August 2021, said the role and influence of leaders was magnified in times of crisis. The webinar was held under the topic, Leadership in a time of crisis and beyond: Through the lens of UJ’s stakeholder report.
“What role do universities serve in the context of a pandemic?” asked Mr
Macozoma in his opening remarks, before he explained that “universities have had to deal with the reality of unstable, disruptive and unpredictable environments, universally, and the pandemic is one such environment that universities have shared with other societal institutions.”
Mr Macozoma, who has held leadership positions in various entities is currently the chairman of Safika Holdings and Tshipi é Ntle and Ntsimbintle Mining. He said: “Disruptive and unpredictable winds of change have led to an international pursuit that seeks to understand what it means for managing times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Like all new things of intellectual curiosity and potential consultancy reaching in the future, there are a lot of flag lighting ideas in this landscape which have not been earthed.”
Mr Macozoma explained that there were insights that could help leaders of all enterprises, including universities such as UJ, to organise their leadership processes and strategies. He made reference to the Black Death (the plague) where some universities were “wiped out” in the 1300’s while others recreated and thrived in the new normal after the Black Death. He said the response to Covid-19, a life-threatening event to universities in some jurisdictions in the world, might lead to permanent closure, merges or development of micro campuses.
“Well-resourced universities in the United Kingdom faced bankruptcy as a result of the pandemic, showing that even well-resourced institutions also had challenges.”
Macozoma believes that universities must respond to the pandemic with the three R’s – Resilience, Resources and Responsiveness – principles he sees being applied in the UJ report.
“Leaders, in a crisis like Covid-19, should be focusing on strategic key points to prepare the organisation for the new normal. Perhaps we have to reimagine the concept of what is normal and how we relate to it.”
Mr Macozoma concluded that the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) should enable all the people of the world. “On the base that the university has created for leadership in 4IR, there needs to be a built ecosystem that reinforces behaviours in commerce, in research and other societal activities to provide a bridge for our people from other worlds into the digital world. In our excitement of the possibilities the new brave world offers us, we have to continuously remind ourselves that technologies must service human beings and the entire creation.”
He commended UJ for the way the University has managed the COVID-19 pandemic. “Upon this rock shall we build a resilient, inclusive society. A university cannot have better objectives than that.”
UJ’s Chairperson of Council Mr Mike Teke broadly discussed where the university came from and where it was headed to during these turbulent times and beyond. “The University of Johannesburg is attracting young people; students who we want to advance as a country. It’s representative of the demographics of South Africa. The most important thing in this university is not only the enrolment that we have, but the university has to be managed and lead to remain healthy from a financial point of view.”
He said there were three critical points to running a university – vigilance, prudence and frugality – how the financials are looked after and the decision-making process to ensure the university is financially viable for the future. “We call ourselves a university of the 4IR. I look forward to us driving the agenda into the future. We want us to remain the orange heartbeat of this country and continent.”
UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala echoed Mr Teke’s views.
“We continue to drive financial prudence in our management of our affairs. We continue to pursue a robust investment strategy and identify investment opportunities.”
Prof. Marwala added that the university was the one to watch in the global rankings as it continued to do far better than other universities. He added that while rankings were important, what was more important was the impact of what the university did for society.