Dear UJ Community
In recent days, a combination of factors seemed to contrive to remind us that “now is the winter of our discontent”, as William Shakespeare would have put it. Indeed, we are in the grip of the “wrathful nipping cold”. With the cold snap striking back with vengeance this winter, so has the dreaded spectre of load shedding. The rolling blackouts have made their unwelcome return to our homes and workplaces. This time around, the power outages were accompanied by water shedding in some areas of Johannesburg.
As if that were not enough, Statistics South Africa came with another chilling reminder that many of our people remain jobless. The entity released the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QFLS) for the first quarter of 2021 this week, which shows an increase in the number of unemployed people in the country. The increase, although marginal from 32.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021, is the highest since the start of the QLFS in 2008. Prof Leila Patel, the South African Research Chair in Welfare and Social Development at UJ shared more insights into youth unemployment, which is considered one of South Africa’s most intractable challenges, made worse by COVID-19, in her research released recently. Prior to the pandemic, the unemployment rate (including people who had given up looking for work) was just under 70% for people aged 15 to 24.
More disheartening, all of these came against the backdrop of a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 infections, with Gauteng among the four provinces confirmed to have hit the coronavirus turbulence (third wave). Unsurprisingly, this has prompted the State President, H.E Cyril Ramaphosa to move the country to an Adjusted Level 2 of the COVID-19 restrictions. While the reasons for this decision, and the implications thereof, are seemingly too obvious to repeat, a few salient points are worth highlighting.
The recent surge in new infections is due to the increasing number of social gatherings where people are not observing essential health protocols, according to health experts. The protocols include the wearing of masks, social distancing, ensuring adequate ventilation and limits on the number of people who attend gatherings and crowded places.
It is also important to note that under Alert Level 2,
- The hours of curfew now start at 11pm and end at 4am. (This is relevant for our students in residences, but also matters to us all).
- All gatherings are now limited to a maximum of 100 people indoors and 250 people outdoors.
- It remains mandatory for every person to wear a face mask that covers their nose and mouth at all times when in public spaces. It is a criminal offence not to do so.
- The owners and managers of public buildings, centres, shops, restaurants, taxis and buses all have a responsibility to ensure that people on their premises or in their vehicles wear masks, and that the appropriate social distancing measures are in place.
- If you test positive for COVID-19 or came into contact with a person who has the virus, you must self-isolate at home for a period of 10 days.
We have in the past repeatedly reminded you about this. As a University, we have a legal obligation to ensure compliance with national health and safety regulations. Should any of our employees or students continue to be in non-compliance according to the required and legislative requirements, the University will take corrective action.
As I outlined last week, the University management has decided that UJ will for the remainder of 2021 Academic Year continue with a blended learning approach. Particularly now, as we move into the examination period, we are mindful of the stress that comes with learning and assessments, especially in the midst of a pandemic. If you are feeling overwhelmed, contact our many support services, including PsyCAD. Click here for more information on this, including a list of helpful resources for support.
We also remind our students that UJ now has a virtual support resource to assist them to overcome challenges related to managing their time and preparing for online examinations. The Academic Development Centre (ADC) has developed a new application in Blackboard, called On the Go: SOS (Student Online Success). This platform publishes byte sized support resources to navigate challenges such as time management, staying motivated and preparing for online examination, among others.
On a more positive note, this week our University secured a grant to advance the improvement of audit outcomes. The Education, Training and Development (ETD) sector SETA and the Financial Services SETA awarded our School of Accounting within the College of Business and Economics (CBE) R11 million to invest specifically in the TVET Colleges. The faculty will also use the grant to enhance its short learning programme offerings and training opportunities in the public sector. Congratulations to Professor Tankiso Moloi, Department of Accountancy, for securing this much-needed funding.
More good news is that the Faculty of Education’s bid to participate in the Scratch Education Collaboration, involving Prof Sarah Gravett, Mr Linford Molaodi, Mr Kenneth Baloyi and Ms Michelle Khumalo, has been successful. The bid was based on the work that is being done via the platform Scratch to teach creative computing to student teachers through coding. The Scratch Education Collaboration is a two-year programme that will enable the UJ team to collaborate with members of the Scratch Foundation, MIT, and other global leaders in creative computing. The acceptance notification noted the inspiring work that is being done by the UJ team.
Please also join me in welcoming two members to our professorship. During his professorial inauguration this week, Professor Rafael Winkler, explored matters of the mind in pursuit of happiness. Part of his inaugural presentation recently appeared in the Mail & Guardian, which can be read here. Additionally, Professor Yanxia Sun, in her professorial address, explored how many problems can better be solved with different optimisation algorithms. Congratulations and we look forward to further contributions from you both!
Lastly, I remind you 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. Please 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/news/corona-virus//. 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