Dear UJ Community,
Many of you will be aware of the United Kingdom (UK) government’s recent decision to keep South Africa on the COVID-19 red list countries. This decision means that travellers from South Africa are still required to quarantine up to ten days before they are allowed entry into the UK. The UK cited concerns over South Africa’s COVID-19 infection rate and dominance of the Beta variant in the country.
Unsurprisingly, the move has sparked controversy and widespread criticism locally. Some have even argued that South Africa should also put the UK on a red list. Amid the uproar, the Chief Executive of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), Busi Mavuso, has succinctly put matters into perspective regarding how dire the consequences are for South Africa. As she said, the move has a severe impact on the lives of millions who depend on travel for business, education, sports and cultural exchange, among other mutual relationships.
I couldn’t agree more because our University has a variety of student exchange programmes with international institutions. Often, within the context of these partnerships, students are encouraged to spend part of their studies and/or research abroad. This affords them an opportunity to experience a new academic environment while immersing themselves in different cultural and social surroundings. Nonetheless, I am encouraged by the latest news that South African scientists have met UK experts to provide up-to-date data and facts on our government’s response to the virus, with the aim of reviewing the decision.
On the topic of exchange programmes and research, you might recall that a few weeks ago, I announced that three of our academics were finalists in the 23rd national 2020/2021 National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF-South32 Awards), the premier research awards in South Africa. These academics are Prof Philiswa Nosizo Nomngongo (DSI/NRF South African Research Chair Initiative, Nanotechnology for Water), Prof Nnamdi Nwulu, (Director at the Centre for Cyber-Physical Food, Energy and Water Systems, Professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Science), and Prof Saurabh Sinha (Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation).
I am thrilled to announce that Prof Nomngongo was an award recipient in the Engineering Research Capacity Development Award category for her research on organic and inorganic pollutants in environmental, biological and other matrices, at the awards ceremony last night. Congratulations Prof Nomngongo and well done! Click here to watch as Prof Nomngongo receives her prestigious award.
Congratulations to Prof Sinha and Prof Nwulu as well. To be a finalist is a feat in itself, given the increasing competitive nature of the annual NSTF awards. As the panel of judges always reminds us, it gets more and more difficult each year.
I am also pleased that the women at our University continue to play a leading role in various organisations. Congratulations to Dr Stella Bvuma (HoD: Department of Applied Information Systems) and Dr Mpho Raborife (Senior Lecturer: Department of Applied Information Systems) on their appointment as members of the City of Johannesburg Group Advisory Committee: Smart City/4IR. They will be advising the Executive Mayor and City Manager on paths for an economic recovery and guidance for the creation of a smart city characterised by the 4IR. Dr Bvuma and Dr Mpho, well done on this achievement, I have confidence that both of you will use this opportunity to advance our 4IR drive.
This past weekend, our Director of Sport, Ms Nomsa Mahlangu was honoured with a Legendary Sport Administrator award during the Mpumalanga Province Sports Awards (MPSA). This was in recognition of her outstanding contribution to sport in the country and on an international level. The event was hosted in collaboration with the national Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation, which highlights the significance of these awards. Congratulations, Nomsa and thank you for continuing to fly the UJ flag high! To read more about this, click here.
I also take this opportunity to congratulate Prof Refilwe Phaswana-Mafuya, Faculty of Health Sciences, on launching her book on “Vision Never Dies: Learning Curves from my Non-Linear Career Journey.” The launch and book was supported by a number of organisations and formidable leaders, including Prof Sarah Mbi Enow Anyang, Commissioner: Human Resources, Science and Technology, African Union Commission.
Yesterday, the government announced its decision to move the country to a COVID-19 Adjusted Alert Level 1 from Level 3, which has implications for our University and its operations. As such, it has been decided that all staff should return to their workstations on campus and other University sites from Monday, 4 October 2021. However, the status quo remains with regard to the academic programme delivery: all students will continue to be supported through remote teaching, learning and assessment for the remainder of the second semester. Only students enrolled for modules that require in person contact provision, such as laboratory or clinical work, experiential learning, etc., will be done on campus in contact mode. A more detailed communication on this will follow later today.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank many of you who made time to attend our ongoing virtual VC Campus Engagement sessions. Your contributions are valuable in helping us chart the way forward for our University, especially during these challenging times. Our next session will be at the Auckland Park Bunting Road Campus on Wednesday, 06 October 2021, from 12:00 to 13:30. To join, please click this URL https://bit.ly/2XID3Ja. Staff members who are unable to attend the online live event can come to venue Block F Red 5 on Auckland Park Bunting Road Campus.
On Wednesday, 29 September 2021, the University successfully held the Gauteng Alumni Chapter Launch. These engagements are crucial as our alumni continue to play an active role in helping us achieve our strategic vision. Without their support, we would not be able to continuously innovate and reimagine the future.
During this time of change heralded by the COVID-19 pandemic, a strong institutional culture is essential to the University’s long-term success and to sound stakeholder relationships. Our approach to strengthening the University’s culture has been multipronged, focused on actively engaging employees during this very difficult time. To learn more about the 2021 Culture Survey coming up in October, click here.
We have made significant progress with the upcoming elections of our Student Representative Council (SRC). Voting will open officially this coming Monday, 04 October 2021 at 09:00 to 06 October 2021 at 17:00 via a secure online voting system. The SRC Constitution provides for elections of both Central SRC and Campus SRC by students registered for formal subsidised qualifications. Today, the candidates are due to give it their final push as they will be presenting their manifestos to their constituencies. This will be carried live on library Facebook page from 14:00. Please visit this link (https://tinyurl.com/SRC2021Info) to watch my message on the importance of voting for your SRC.
An unfortunate incident happened this week on Monday, 27 September 2021, when a fire broke out at one of our buildings that houses students at our Kingsway Auckland Park Campus, following a power outage in the area. Our team comprising Protection Services, Occupational Health Services and Student Affairs, assisted by local emergency services, quickly responded to the fire and the blaze was extinguished immediately. There were no other injuries to report barring one student who was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation. The University has made alternative accommodation arrangements to assist affected students. The cause of the fire seems to be from a bar heater that remained on and unattended. These heaters and movable stoves are not allowed in our residences and we are in the process of going to each room to remove them. We would like to once again remind all our students about this regulation so that we can avoid future incidents.
I am sure you will have noticed our Don’t Wait. Vaccinate. campaign that kicked off this week and I would like to once again urge everyone to get vaccinated if they have not done so yet. This is crucial for us to get back to life as we once knew it. We again remind you to please inform us about your vaccination status via the link: https://ulink.uj.ac.za/ujvac. Enter the information after your first vaccination, and where relevant, update it after your second vaccination. The survey takes less than one minute. We use the numbers (and not your personal details), to inform us of the vaccination statistics of the UJ community. The statistics will guide our response to the COVID-19 situation and the implementation of our re-integration plans. You may also use this link to notify our campus clinics if you have tested positive for COVID-19, or if you know of a colleague or a student who has tested positive.
To understand the importance of vaccinations, take a look at this op-ed by Prof Kate Alexander and Bongani Xezwi; the researchers talk about the need for empowered community leadership in achieving the vaccination targets.
Lastly, on a sombre note, I wish to pay tribute to Vassi Naidoo, a Professor of Practice in the Department of Accountancy who died on the morning of 28 September 2021. Vassi, as he was affectionally known, held several executive and non-executive positions in various entities, including serving as a member of the Nedbank Group Directors’ Affairs Committee and the Group Related-party Transactions Committee, as well as the chairman of Nedbank Group Limited, Nedbank Limited and the WWF Nedbank Green Trust. He was an immensely talented and accomplished professional with a commensurate work ethic, and greatly contributed to the positioning of UJ as a leading institution of higher learning. UJ extends its sincere condolences to his family, friends and those he had an impact on. Rest in peace, Vassi.
The University leadership will continue to monitor the national and provincial COVID-19 outlook, and an update will be provided accordingly. This information may be verified by visiting: www.uj.ac.za/coronavirus. Should any of you experience symptoms of the coronavirus, please use the National Hotline of 0800 029 999 or WhatsApp line 0600 123456 or go to the following link for more information: https://sacoronavirus.co.za/.
Please also continue to visit our COVID-19 portal on the UJ website for valuable information, including health and wellbeing. Only information issued via the University’s official communication platforms is legitimate. This information may be verified by visiting: https://www.uj.ac.za/coronavirus/. We appeal to all to adhere to the recommended precautionary measures, hygiene and physical distancing (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public) at all times.
Kea leboga, enkosi, baie dankie, ndi a livhuwa!
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg
Times mentioned in this newsletter refer to the South African time-zone.