VC Newsletter 11-09-2020


Dear UJ Community

While I was doing my daily walks on campus this week, a group of students approached me, wanting to know my views about the ‘hair storm’ that has been raging across the country. “Hello, Prof. let’s talk about the politics of hair!” said one student, to which another interjected: “4IR is cool but it can wait – not today!” The students’ sentiments came in the wake of a Clicks TRESemmé advert with pictures labelling the hair of a black model as “dry and damaged” and “frizzy and dull”, which was contrasted with blonde hair described as “fine and flat” and “normal”. I could say a lot about this, as I did when I spoke to the students, but for the sake of space constraints on this platform, I will sum up my view as follows:

It was an advert horribly gone wrong, distasteful, deplorable and an irresponsible, reckless marketing and publicity stunt that should be condemned with the contempt it deserves. Small wonder, it became a public relations nightmare for the firm, as it was left scrambling for damage (no pun intended) control in the face of a groundswell of backlash from across all fronts. One would have thought that Clicks or TRESemmé would have learnt from other corporations that have in recent years suffered the same fate of reputation damage and loss of revenue, after similar spectacular blunders. The advert reopened the wounds of our not-so-distant past that continue to bedevil our democratic state. Sadly, it came as we are supposed to be celebrating Heritage Month, underpinned by the spirit of unity in diversity. While the advert was offensive, it is important, even in the face of such provocative acts, to remain level-headed and engage in constructive and robust debates that are solution-driven, without resorting to acts of violence, threats and intimidation.

As if that was not enough to highlight the damaging events of the week, Statistics South Africa released its results for the second quarter of this year on Wednesday, showing that the economy suffered a significant contraction or shrinkage in the first quarter of this year. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by just over 16% between the first and second quarters of 2020, giving an annualised growth rate of ‑51%. As expected, this was attributed to the COVID-19 national lockdown restrictions to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, as Wits University Economics Professor Imraan Valodia explained, “In instances where the quarterly data may fluctuate in a dramatic fashion, as has been the case with the Covid-19 and the lockdown, this calculation, to annualise the estimate, is highly misleading, because it assumes that the economic effects of a lockdown will continue as it did for the second quarter, for four consecutive quarters.” We are unlikely to see a dip of this magnitude for the rest of the year.

Our economy, however, has been stagnant for a number of years. When faced with difficult times like these, we need to distinguish between illusion and reality and embark on practical measures or policies that will enable the economy to recover. As a media report warned yesterday, South Africa faces the grim prospect of economic and political collapse by 2030, unless it changes its economic model and implements growth-friendly policies. We need to avoid a situation where we live in politicism, which is a concept of politics dominating all spheres of our lives at the expense of all other vital factors such as the economy and technology. I recently wrote an article in the Sunday Times about this, click here to read more.

The weekend saw the loss of the former CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Achmat Dangor, a prolific writer and activist who has left an indelible mark in our society. We extend our condolences to his family, friends and know that we have learned from his valuable contributions.

We are deeply saddened that this week we also lost a giant in our struggle for democracy and human rights with the passing of anti-apartheid lawyer, Advocate George Bizos. Adv. Bizos fought for justice for all, and at great personal sacrifices, represented freedom fighters and Rivonia Treason trialists such as Govan Mbeki, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. He also represented the families of Steve Biko and Chris Hani, among others, as well as ordinary South Africans during and after apartheid. Adv. Bizos’s legacy is a moving symbol of hope from which the South African nation can draw guidance and strength. A life-long servant of the people, Adv. Bizos’s contribution to South African political and cultural life has captured the imagination of the world. At 91 he continued to stand for the rights of the families of Marikana, opposing corruption and urged us to revere our Constitution. His activism and resilience demonstrated his commitment to the struggle against inequalities, unemployment and poverty, among others. Condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and comrades, may their souls rest in peace.

Despite the onslaught of grim news, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for us. I am pleased to announce that the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition has approved a 3-year, R15 million grant renewal for the Industrial Development Think Tank (IDTT) which is hosted at CBE’s Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development (CCRED) in partnership with the SARChI Chair in Industrial Development. The IDTT programme focuses on research, capacity building and knowledge dissemination on industrial development, competition policy and structural transformation in the South African economy. Congratulations to Dr Thando Vilakazi, Head: CCRED, CBE.

More heartening news is that the UJ law team was announced as the semi-finalists in the Final International Association of Law Schools (IALS) After Jessup International Moot Court Competition. The team members are students Nyiko Chauke, Bongumusa Xaba, Sidrah Suliman and Muhammad Khamisa, and are mentored by Louis Koen (mentor and LLD student) and Kgomotso Mokoena (lecturer). The judges noted that the UJ Team’s oral arguments and memorials were remarkable! The IALS will be announcing this to its membership in its next bulletin! A certificate will be mailed to the Faculty, and an award of USD 250 will be made to the Faculty’s Jessup Programme. These funds are to support UJ’s moot court programme. We wish the UJ Team only the very best with the next stage of the competition. Law@UJ™ means business.

As usual, there are no dull moments at our University, and we continue to host important events on various topics that demonstrate our tenacity in influencing public debate on current affairs and shaping society. Yesterday, in partnership with the Academy of Sciences of South Africa (ASSAf), UJ hosted a virtual public lecture entitled Science Policy, Science Literacy: post-COVID education for the developing world during the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The distinguished speaker was Prof Murenzi, the Executive Director of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), a leading institution in capacity building for the developing world through South-South cooperation.

The lecture shared areas for the developing world and Africa to focus on becoming better-equipped for a post-COVID-19 world based on innovative learning mechanisms and STI systems, alongside resilient and environmentally friendly economies. Governments are urged to increase emphasis on major transnational areas of capacity building in science and technology, scientific knowledge and preparedness, science literacy, restructuring school curricula integrating skills and technologies provided by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), as well as the role of science academies, women and gender-based perspectives, and international scientific cooperation in a world where major crisis, such as the current pandemic.

Last night’s M&G Top 200 Young South Africans event recognised Stephanie Baker from the Palaeo Research Institute and a host of other persons associated with our University. More information regarding the rest of the winners will be communicated soon. Congratulations to all! If you missed the ceremony, please see: (Science and Technology recipients) for the full event.)

Next week on Wednesday, 16 September 2020, (18:00), our University Relations Marketing and Brand team will host the fourth episode of its series of Cloudebates™ on “Women in 4IR”. The debate will tackle issues of fairness, opportunity and the role of women in 4IR. This event will feature an all-women panel of experts such as Juanita Clark (Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Digital Council Africa), Dr Stella Bvuma (Head of Department: Applied Information Systems, UJ), Njideka Harry (Founder of Youth for Technology Foundation [YTF], an international education technology non-profit) and Karen Nadasen (PayU South Africa’s Country Manager). To tune in, please register here.

We have extended an invitation to all the USA alumni to a Virtual Alumni Engagement with me on Thursday, 17 September 2020 at 16:00 (ZA). With this engagement, our aim is to raise awareness about the different platforms, opportunities and benefits offered by our University’s Alumni Office, and share our current activities and projects. We are looking forward to hosting influential speakers from the University, such as the President of the UJ Convocation, Prof Tumi Diale, and other illustrious alumni such as Mr Len Wolman, the CEO of the Waterford Group and Board Member of our School of Tourism and Hospitality.

Talking of alumni, our University will, as part of our Spring Graduation Season in the next two months, continue to award qualifications to our qualified students via the Virtual Graduation Ceremonies. This alternative virtual measure is caused, as you know, by the COVID-19 national lockdown restrictions. As previously communicated, a graduation is a momentous occasion in a student’s life, and I trust that the virtual ceremonies will afford you and your loved ones the opportunity to experience some elements of a graduation ceremony. When conditions allow, the University plans to organise an in-person celebration ceremony at a later stage, provided government restrictions are lifted on public gatherings.

At midday today, our VC Campus Engagement Sessions with staff continue, this time at the Auckland Park Bunting Road (APB) – Please click here to participate (recording available through the same link). It is important to participate in the conversations because they are organised to help both the University employees and the management to engage on important issues that may not otherwise be addressed speedily. The last session is scheduled for the Auckland Park Kingsway Campus next Friday, 18 September 2020, starting at noon.

Yesterday, I had an exciting discussion with members of our staff and students in my monthly Reading Group session on the book, “Americanah by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.” These monthly reading sessions are meant to inculcate a reading culture among staff and students. Since the sessions have moved online due to the national lockdown, there has been a tremendous increase in attendance, and I think it is fantastic!

Lastly, today marks a sad moment in the history of US citizens, with the September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001. Almost two decades later, Americans face a different dilemma with the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, a racial issue that continues to bedevil the US and many countries across the world. I hope that each one of us is doing our best to make the world a better place for all. Enjoy your weekend! And to those of us who celebrate the New Year today (Ethiopian New Year/Enkutatash) – Happy New Year!

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg

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