Dear UJ Community,
I want to start by thanking all the staff who turned up for the VC Campus Engagement at our Auckland Park Bunting (ABP) campus on Wednesday. This was the first of four such events scheduled across all our campuses for this semester. It was particularly heartwarming to see many colleagues from other campuses also in attendance; I appreciate that you took some time out of your days to attend my maiden VC Campus Engagement.
That was unsurprising, given that the event was not only my first public appearance as the Vice-Chancellor and Principal but also coincided with my first day in my new role. Understandably, the air was filled with great anticipation even before I stepped onto the podium. The mood in the venue was a continuation of what was a surreal day for me, which began early in the morning when I arrived at my new office to chants of “VC” from my colleagues in the Management Executive Committee (MEC) along the foyer on the first floor of the Madibeng Building.
I was so moved by the day’s events that, when I started with my VC Campus Engagement address, I deviated from my prepared speech and spoke off the cuff. I regaled colleagues with tales of my early life as a young boy at a village near Pienaarsrivier in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria. Without realising, it turned out to be a nostalgic journey into my childhood, my early schooling years, my family history, as well as my career aspirations and adventures into the world of adulthood.
I wanted my colleagues and the rest of the UJ Community to get a sense of the person that I am, and to see me as a human being before seeing me as the Vice-Chancellor. As indicated in my special newsletter to staff and students on Wednesday, it is important that alongside our commitment to excellence and innovation, we have a responsibility to ensure that we emphasise humanity in our approach. I believe that many of our staff and students share a similar background, and have risen above our more humble beginnings. As Nelson Mandela said when he wrote to cricketer Makhaya Ntini in 2009, “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to, and passionate about, what they do.”
Importantly, as we rise, we should remain committed to our duties and embrace a good work ethic. As I indicated on Wednesday, we must be accountable for what we do in the workplace. By this I mean that we should maintain an uncompromising high-performance culture and remain committed to our tasks. It is only through this culture that we can sustain and further grow the gains we have made over the past few years, and position UJ amongst the leading universities in the world. As we do this, we should not ignore our transformation and decoloniality objectives. I will outline my vision for the University at the Vice-Chancellor Inauguration Ceremony on 10 March 2023.
As the University leadership, we appreciate your inputs at the VC Engagements, as well as through other platforms. In particular, we acknowledge the frustration and challenges around the disruptions in the supply of water and electricity. As you are aware, these are challenges that do not emanate from the University, but from the City of Johannesburg and Eskom. We will nevertheless continue to look for possible solutions, including increasing our backup generators while we engage with the relevant authorities.
As I mentioned last week, UJ launched the 4IR Experience Lab in collaboration with Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management and automation. As I reflected on this event during the week, I was again reminded of the power of academic-industry partnerships and the good that can come from such collaborations. UJ and researchers in FEBE first worked with Schneider Electric through their Life is On project, and BICSA (Bakery & Food Technology Incubator) in 2013 on a project in Gwakwani. This quiet village in northern Limpopo was completely transformed through the provision of solar power. Gwakwani is an inspirational story and shows what can be accomplished when partners work together and deploy technology for societal impact. For more on this inspirational story, see here.
Still on collaborations, we hosted a delegation from the Caucasus University in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Monday, February 27. The visit was part of our efforts to strengthen ties with universities from across the world. Last year, Prof Marwala led a UJ delegation to Caucasus University. At Monday’s ceremony, UJ presented the 2023 Global Excellence and Stature (GES) Award to the President of Caucasus University, Dr Kakha Shengelia. Dr Shengelia was acknowledged and celebrated at the annual Vice-Chancellor’s Awards in 2022 for contributing to the world-wide vision of global higher education as a figure who promotes peace and international understanding through education and exemplary leadership. The GES award is not awarded every year but only where there are exceptional nominations.
In other news, we continue to celebrate our staff and students’ achievements as they fly the UJ flag high. Michelle Moganedi, a Bachelor of Engineering Technology in Extraction Metallurgy student, was recently crowned the 2023 Disabled Sportswoman of the year at the Gauteng Sports Awards. Coincidently, Michelle was also crowned the 2022 UJ Sportswoman of the Year. Well done Michelle!
I reiterate my appreciation to those of you who have responded to our ‘Double our Future Impact’ campaign aimed at financially supporting the Missing Middle students to register for their degrees and diplomas in 2023. As you will recall, this is our initiative to ensure that at least 10 000 students are assisted. We have already received donations of more than R3.5 million from major donors, including a donation from the Motsepe Foundation. Donate Now!
Finally, I remind you that we will have two VC Campus Engagement events next week. The first one will take place on Monday, 6 March 2023, at the Soweto Campus, at the VIP Lounge, Imbizo Hall. The second event is scheduled for Wednesday, 8 March 2023, at the Doornfontein Campus (DFC), in Room 2120 Exam Centre, John Orr Building. Both events will start at 12:00. If there are any specific issues you would like to have addressed, or if you have a question for me, please send these to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to engaging with you on matters that are important to our university.
Kea leboha, Ngiyabonga, baie dankie, ndia livhuwa, thank you!
Prof Letlhokwa Mpedi: Vice-Chancellor and Principal
Times mentioned in this newsletter refer to the South African time-zone.