Dear UJ Community,
Earlier this week, I found myself feeling quite nostalgic about the high school I attended, Mbilwi High School in Limpopo, which prompted me to phone one of my former teachers. It turned out to be an interesting conversation, beginning with our time when Venda was one of the quasi-independent states along with Transkei, Bophuthatswana, and Ciskei bantustans. As we delved deeper into politics, I asked him about the ongoing campaigning for the local government elections. There was a marked change of tone in his response, and he sounded agitated and irritable. “Please, Tshilidzi, enough of politics now. I am sick and tired of that, the heck with it,” he said.
The nagging sense of hopelessness about the efficacy of political action was so palpable in his voice that I did not press on with the matter. I was reminded of a passage from a recent book I read, The A-Z of South African Politics, which one of our staff members, Mr Lebogang Seale, is the co-author. “(In South Africa), load shedding is politics. Poverty is politics. The Gucci bags of Cabinet ministers are politics…” Of course, I could not help but sympathise with my former teacher, because in the lead up to elections, most politicians tend to make grand promises without any substance. However, I once again urge you not to lose hope in our democratic system. Active and constructive participation in politics deepens our democracy, which lays the foundation for policies and good governance, which in turn lead to economic growth and social justice. If we stay away, our body politic will become sick.
Similarly, as the year winds down, it is possible that fatigue may be creeping in among some of you and you eagerly anticipate the end-of-year break. It has been another long and demanding year for many of you. As mentioned last week, our students may also be feeling anxious about the upcoming examinations/assessments. You have come a long way and can ill-afford to forgo the successes made at this critical juncture. A spirit of resilience and tenacity has kept the UJ community going in previous years, and it is important that you remain focused in order to reap the fruits of your hard labour.
I again remind our students who may feel overwhelmed with the preparations of exams/assessments that our Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development (PsyCaD) is on hand to offer assistance to students. This includes a walk-in service at all our offices on the different campuses, individual counselling sessions as well as our 24-hour Crisis Line (082 054 1137).
In rankings news, I am pleased to disclose that our University continues to receive global acknowledgement for its world-class subject offerings. Four of our subjects – Business & Economics, Education, Law, and Social Sciences – were ranked and published in the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings by Subject edition. Our Business & Economics Subject Ranking ranked in the Top 600 worldwide in the 501–600 band. Our Education subject is ranked in the Top 400 worldwide in the 301–400 band. UJ Law is ranked in the 151+ band, with our Social Sciences Subject ranked in the Top 300 worldwide in the 251–300 band. These results are yet another testament to the University’s ongoing efforts in positioning UJ as an international university of choice! I thank you all for playing a key role in UJ’s vision.
Recently, on this platform, I added my views to the national frustration with the United Kingdom (UK)’s decision to put South Africa on the so-called Red Alert list of COVID-19 countries, which requires travellers to quarantine in an approved hotel at their cost for 10 full days. The UK had cited concerns over South Africa’s COVID-19 infection rate and dominance of the Beta variant in the country. I am pleased by the latest development that South Africa has been removed from this list. This is a welcome move, particularly because our University has a variety of student exchange programmes with international institutions. The decision paves the way for our students who may qualify to spend part of their studies and/or research abroad and experience a new academic environment while immersing themselves in different cultural and social surroundings.
In the same vein, it was pleasing to see local football fans attending the match between the senior national team, Bafana Bafana against Ethiopia at the First National Stadium on Tuesday. As is the case in UK and other European countries, only vaccinated fans are now allowed to attend matches. I am also encouraged by the news that SA Rugby has advised its member unions that fully vaccinated supporters will be allowed to return to club and professional rugby matches. I hope this will serve as a motivation for those of you who are yet to vaccinate to do so. This will also increase our chances to return to normalcy at our University, with the anticipated resumption of face-to-face classes.
Many of you might be aware of the promulgation of the Department of Employment and Labour on the possibility of making vaccinations mandatory at the workplace. The University ‘s Management Executive Committee (MEC) has deliberated on this announcement. Central to the discussion is balancing health priorities, also considering the ethical and legal rights of individuals. The MEC has concluded that mandating vaccinations is a vital aspect to consider for the University requirements to protect staff, students, visitors and other stakeholders. To this end, the University is currently consulting with various internal and external stakeholders to take the process forward. Once the consultation process has been concluded, the University will announce its official position on the matter.
Not so long ago, I announced that Dr Stella Bvuma and Dr Mpho Raborife from our Applied Information Systems (College of Business and Economics), were appointed as members of the City of Johannesburg Group Advisory Committee: Smart City/4IR. I am happy to announce that Dr Bvuma has since been elected to another important body. She is now an EXCO member in the position of honorary secretary of the South African Institute for Computer Scientists and Information Technologists (SAICSIT). SAICSIT was Founded in 1982, is the Institute focuses on research and development in computing and information technology (IT). Congratulations Dr Bvuma, we wish you all the best in your latest role!
Please also join me in congratulating Leon Krige, a lecturer in the Department of Architecture, whose outstanding photographic work you may already know, was recently awarded the First Prize in the “PeriUrban Narratives” Photo Competition as a part of the International Conference: Reimaging Peri-Urban Futures. The event was organised by Anglia Ruskin University and funded by The Royal Academy of Engineering, UK.
Congratulations also goes out to Ayobola Kekere-Ekun (PhD candidate in Graphic Design Department and with the SARChI Chair in Art History and Visual Culture) who was announced among the winners of the Prestigious 2021 edition of the Absa L’Atelier. Absa hosted this event in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts. I am pleased to see that UJ is making waves in the creative arts space. To Ayobola, well done!
We welcomed two colleagues to our Professorship in the last two weeks. Prof Leila Kajee (Professor in Education and Curriculum Studies) addressed literacy inconsistencies among immigrant youth encounters in homes and schools when she delivered her professorial inauguration address, last week. Prof Erika Kraemer-Mbula (Professor of Economics) dissected the importance of putting innovation at the centre of Africa’s sustainable development agenda. She delivered her professorial address on Monday, 11 October 2021. Professors Kajee and Kraemer-Mbula, I trust that this new journey in your academic career will be fruitful.
On Wednesday, 13 October, UJ held the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Convocation. At the meeting, the President of the Executive Committee of the Convocation, the Vice-Chancellor, and other members of the MEC addressed convocants and shared important information on the current affairs and future strategies. We thank all the convocation members who attended the meeting and who are actively involved in contributing to the successes of UJ.
We again remind you to please inform us about your vaccinations 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 on the vaccination statistics of the UJ community. The statistics will guide us in 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.
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.