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Vice-Chancellor Message – 01 December 2023

Dear UJ Community

In the past few days, many of our staff, students, and alumni have been awarded honours in a wide range of categories, including academia, research, sports, arts, and culture. Their exceptional performance in their respective fields has been quite remarkable to behold. I am incredibly honoured to be at the helm of an institution that boasts such marvellous achievements!

Annual Council Awards

Last Friday, the UJ Council presented the annual Ellen Kuzwayo and Alumni Dignitas Awards (also known as the Council Awards).

The Ellen Kuzwayo Awards were presented to:
  • Yvonne Chaka Chaka: For her extraordinary impact as both a musical icon and a compassionate humanitarian.
  • Nomali Letta Mbulu Semenya: For her lifelong dedication to music and social justice.


The Alumni Dignitas Awards recipients are:
  • Lebogang Letsoalo: For her outstanding contributions to the supply chain industry and her advocacy for diversity and inclusion.
  • Thabisile Charity Phumo: For her distinguished career in communication and social performance, and her commitment to uplifting women.


As I said at the ceremony, “May the feats embolden the awardees to reimagine the future – with societal impact. Our world is crying out for it.” You can watch the video of the awards ceremony here.

Future Professors Programme

On Wednesday, we held the Future Professors Programme (FPP) Phase 2 Cohort 1 Dinner to celebrate the first cohort of professionals who completed a 24-month programme as the next generation of highly skilled future leaders in teaching, research and social impact. The empowering programme, which is funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and managed by UJ, is embedded in South Africa’s transformation agenda.

The programme’s dual focus on excellence and social justice resonates with UJ’s own strategy. The participants were selected for this programme through a highly competitive process, which saw more than 156 applications from 26 universities. My dream for all the professionals is that they will take on the mantle of professorship in their respective universities and work with zeal to achieve social impact.

One of South Africa’s most famous BMWs coming to home

More exciting news is that the 12th BMW Art Car painted by our Esther Mahlangu in 1991 is returning to South Africa after 32 years abroad. Mahlangu’s Art Car is one of only 20 ever made – the 20th of which will be unveiled in June 2024. It sits among good company, joined by the likes of other Art Cars painted by Andy Warhol, Ken Dones, César Manrique, and Jeff Koons, to name a few. With its striking Ndebele-influenced shapes and colours, the Mahlangu 525i stands out from the iconic series of vehicles as it is nothing like its peers.

The 1991 BMW 525i painted by Esther Mahlangu

Mahlangu was approached in 1991 to hand paint one of BMW’s most cutting-edge vehicles. The finished sedan was launched in Australia and made appearances at three exhibitions of Art Cars in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town in late 1991. Thereafter, it flew to Germany and travelled the globe together with the balance of the collection. Upon its arrival in early 2024, the car will be on show at the Iziko Museum in Cape Town for one year before it resumes its international travels to the UK and USA. The South African-inspired BMW will remain exclusively a work of art and will never be driven on the road. This is a particularly exciting moment for the UJ community as Mahlangu received an honorary doctorate from us in 2018. We consider her an important pillar of our community and we are extremely proud of this feat! To read more about this, click here.

UJ Alumni wins Mrs SA

Please join me in congratulating Mrs Tshegofatso Gaelae, our alumnus (Faculty of Law), for being crowned Mrs South Africa. Mrs South Africa, according to the organisers, offers married women an opportunity to take part in “an acclaimed self-discovery programme that aims to celebrate and further develop the skills of strong, talented and confident female leaders.” It prides itself on its commitment to diversity, uplifting and celebrating women of all creeds, race, religion, culture and abilities. Mrs. Gaelae’s beauty, brains and charisma captivated the judges and the general public alike. Congratulations on this award. We are proud of you!

11th annual Mapungubwe Lecture

Next week, our University will host the 11th annual Mapungubwe Lecture in partnership with the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA). The lecture is the institute’s flagship event and has been held annually since 2012. The lecture attracts a wide range of attendees, including academics, researchers, government officials, and business leaders.

Intriguingly, this year’s lecture will be delivered by our former Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UJ, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, who is currently the Rector of the United Nations (UN) University and UN Under-Secretary-General. Prof Marwala is a renowned academic and a fourth industrial revolution expert. His address will unpack the theme: The perils and welfare effects of Artificial Intelligence (AI): whither South Africa? The hybrid event will be held online and in person (at the Ubuntu Chambers, Kingsway Campus, Auckland Park) on Wednesday, 06 December 2023, from 18:30 pm to 20:30 pm. To confirm your attendance, please RSVP online here or email for more information.

World Aids Day

Lastly, today marks the World Aids Day. This year’s theme is ‘Remember and Commit’. This is an important message for South Africa as we have long battled this epidemic. While there has been significant progress in the fight against HIV, this event serves as a reminder of the global struggle to end HIV-related stigma, exists an opportunity to honour those we have lost, and is a clarion call to work towards a day when HIV is no longer a public health threat.

This week, the Sixth South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Surveys demonstrated that South Africa has made headway on the global 95-95-95 target, which states that by 2025, 95% of all people living with HIV should know their status, that 95% of those should be on antiretroviral treatment, and that 95% of those on treatment should be virally suppressed. Still, the fight must go on, and we must continue to make sure our voices are heard! We have a responsibility to each other to remain educated.

Ke a leboha, ngiyabonga, thank you, baie dankie!

Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi: Vice-Chancellor and Principal

Times mentioned in this newsletter refer to the South African time zone.

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