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Vice-Chancellor Message – 16 April 2021

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Dear UJ Community

On Tuesday morning, like much of the nation, I woke up with profound sadness that has continued to weigh heavily on me. Vivid images of the video showing a schoolgirl at Mbilwi Secondary School in Limpopo being assaulted by a fellow learner keep flashing in and out of my mind. I am haunted by the sight of other girls watching with glee, and cheering, as Lufuno Mavhungo tries to protect herself from the bullying. As many of you are undoubtedly aware, Lufuno took her own life after the video went viral on social media.

As an alumnus of Mbilwi, I cannot begin to say how distressing this has been. The school has an impressive tradition of producing good results, despite being in a region bedeviled by poverty and deprivation. Yet, this is not an isolated incident. Bullying is not only prevalent across the country, but it is a worldwide phenomenon. It is not just a pain inflicted physically, it can happen quietly and covertly, through gossip or on the internet through cyberbullying and can cause lasting emotional damage.

Bullying is a microcosm of what happens in our communities and society at large. As educators, parents, and communities, we have to act swiftly when our children display traits of violence. We need to implement intensive, long-lasting public awareness programmes that can have consistent positive results, not just in schools but across every sphere. Without this, we are at risk of breeding a generation of bullies. My sincere condolences go out to Lufuno’s family, friends and those who have been impacted by her story. May she rest in peace.

Back to domestic affairs at our University, our academic programme resumed this week after a short mid-semester recess. I was encouraged to see that even during the break, many of our staff and students remained focused and used the time to catch up on their academic and research work. This spirit of self-motivation, even in the face of adversity, resonates with our University’s ethos of resilience and agility. Indeed, it is this attitude that contributes to our successes at the individual, team, and organisational levels.

It is not by any chance, therefore, that our University continues to receive recognition for its outstanding work and contribution to society through the sharing of knowledge and expertise. Firstly, I am pleased to announce that UJ is the second largest producer of research output. We overtook Wits, UCT, Stellenbosch and UP all at the same time! We boast 10.83% of the total sector units, just half a percentage point below UKZN. This is certainly a feat worth celebrating. Secondly, and in line with UJ’s social and gender transformation mission, you will recall that in 2019, the then Duchess of Sussex – as patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) – announced a gender grant. UJ used this grant to conceptualise the Research Leadership Programme (RLP) aimed at mid-career black women academics. I am pleased to announce that a new cohort of 15 participants will benefit from the RLP this year. Congratulations to all the participants, we are immensely proud of your contribution to research and the impact it has on the broader society. To read more about this, please click here. You may also view the “Reflections from the 2020 RLP cohort” and the list of 2021 participants.

In the same vein, please join me in congratulating Ms. Lulama Boyce, UJ College of Business and Economics (CBE) School of Accounting and HoD: Commercial Accounting, who has been appointed to the Board of the Bidvest Group as non-executive director. Ms. Boyce will oversee the Audit Committee, Nominations Committee and Remuneration Committee as well as the Social & Ethics Committee. The Bidvest group employs 132 870 people across six divisions in a diversified and innovative corporate portfolio. Congratulations Ms. Boyce, UJ takes pride in your accomplishments!

I also congratulate Prof. Shireen Motala, who has been nominated and accepted into the Board of Governors of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA). In announcing the nomination, MISTRA stated that the decision was based on Prof. Motala’s extensive experience, expertise and insights and that the institute would benefit greatly from having her serving as a member of the board. Since its inception in 2010, MISTRA has become a sought-after think tank institute, both domestically and globally. To date, the institute has produced 23 major research reports on strategic and policy debates in the areas of political economy, humanity, and application of natural sciences. Prof. Motala, congratulations and thanks for flying the UJ flag high!

I am pleased to announce that our University’s Graduate School of Architecture (GSA) has appointed top architect and educator Professor Mark Raymond (Trinidad and Tobago/UK) as the new Director of Africa’s largest dedicated postgraduate architectural school. Prof Raymond is a graduate of London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) and RMIT’s practice-based PhD programme. He is currently the Plym Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois. He has extensive international experience in both practice and architectural education. Prof. Raymond, welcome to the UJ family, we look forward to your contributions.

Later this month, from 28 to 30 April 2021, the Faculty of Humanities will host an online international conference to reflect on the experience of teaching and learning in the face of the pandemic. The conference, under the theme, Peak Performances: Covid-19 and the Transformation of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, will be hosted in association with the SARChI Chair: Teaching and Learning and the Department of Academic Planning, Quality Promotion and Professional Academic Staff Development (DAPQPASD). Click here to register for this event.

Lastly, I am pleased to announce that our University’s official sport mascot, Hoepie, was selected as among the eight world university mascots to compete in International University Sports Federation’s (FISU) Monday Mascot World Tournament. Hoepie will compete against Rambo, from Lincoln University in New Zealand, in the opening round of the competition on Monday, 19 April 2021. He will need the UJ community votes to progress to the finals. Please vote for Hoepie on FISU’s official social media accounts: Twitter: https://twitter.com/FISU/status/1381538772148490240,

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FISU,

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/CNj1lptDrRl/.

Please note that the total vote counts includes likes and comments on all social media. Read here for more information on Hoepie.

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, inkosi, baie dankie!

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg

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

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