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Vice-Chancellor Message – 17 March 2023

Dear UJ Community,

It is often said that Mondays are hard days, and people’s moods are typically at their lowest on this day because of the idea of starting the week all over again. Several songs have also been written about Mondays, with a somewhat melancholic tinge. Among the many songs are Monday, Monday by The Mamas & The Papas, Rainy Days and Mondays by the Carpenters, and I Don’t Like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats. Such are the sentiments about Monday that some people have even started ‘Monday motivation’ campaigns on social media to lift others’ spirits.

University Holiday and Human Rights Day

Those of you who subscribe to the idea of a ‘blue Monday’ will be happy to know that this coming Monday, 20 March, is special. It is a University Holiday, meaning that our staff and students can take a short break. And of course, Tuesday, 21 March, is Human Rights Day in South Africa. The day marks the commemoration of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. Lest we forget, it is one of the saddest episodes in our country’s history, when police shot and killed at least 69 people in Sharpeville, south of Johannesburg, and left hundreds injured in what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre.

As we commemorate this day, we should pause and reflect on the current state of our country. We need to think deeply about the socio-economic challenges, the problems of corruption, and the collapse of governance and ethics that bedevil our country, alongside deep poverty and deprivation. We need to think about how to lift ourselves out of the morass we find ourselves in. As we enjoy our freedom, we should never forget to do so responsibly, without infringing on the rights and dignity of others. And most importantly, we must remember that knowledge and skills development should be at the centre of our approach to human rights, especially in this modern age characterised by technological advancements.

World Down Syndrome Day

Tuesday also marks what is known as World Down Syndrome Day – a genetic disorder that causes mild to severe physical and developmental problems. On this day, the community speaks with a single global voice, advocating for the rights, inclusion and well-being of people with Down syndrome. In keeping with the tradition of raising awareness about Down syndrome, I hope that you will all wear colourful odd socks on the day.

Yesterday, Thursday, 16 March – just a day before the world observes the Irish luck on St. Patrick’s Day – we had a special delegation from Ireland. The Irish Minister of State (at the Department of Health and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth with Special Responsibility for Disability), Anne Rabbitte, visited our Centre for Neurodiversity at the Soweto Campus. The Centre is involved in community work in Soweto and surrounding communities to address the neurodevelopmental learning needs of children and youth in underprivileged communities. The purpose of the visit is to implement some of the Centre’s multi-pronged approaches towards neurodevelopmental learning, especially for children with disabilities, in Ireland.

UJ team on rescue mission in Malawi

As many of you might know, more than 200 people in Malawi have been killed, and many others have been either injured, trapped in landslides or unaccounted for after Tropical Cyclone Freddy tore through that country and parts of Mozambique. To this end, I am pleased that a UJ team from our Faculty of Health Sciences will join the Rescue South Africa – Disaster Response to support the humanitarian efforts in Malawi. This was at the request of the United Nations for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the government of Malawi for urgent additional search and rescue expertise. The UJ team will be led by Emergency Medical Care lecturers Connor Hartnady and Abrie Senekal. I wish them a safe journey and a successful search and rescue mission.

Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa

Our University launched the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa (AIISA) at the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) in November last year. The institute, which aims to help the country become a digital technology powerhouse on the continent and worldwide, is one of the outcomes of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR), and was launched in partnership with the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. Next week Friday, 24 March 2023, I will lead a UJ team at the second leg of the launch of this project at TUT.

Inauguration

On a different note, I would like to thank everyone who attended my Inauguration Ceremony this past Friday evening. A special thanks to our colleagues in the office of the Registrar, Professor Kinta Burger, University Relations under Dr Nolitha Vukuza, and our Chief Operating Officer Dr Mpoti Ralephata and his team who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the event was not only a success but that it received coverage in various media platforms. It was a great celebration to start the new year, and I am humbled by the support I have received across the University Community.

Tribute to Gloria Bosman

Lastly, and on a sad note, I wish to pay my tributes to jazz musician Gloria Bosman, who died on Tuesday this week after a short illness. Not only did Gloria belong to the genre of music that I love most, but she was also a unique stylist who could explore a plethora of themes about real-life issues in South Africa and beyond. Not so long ago, our award-winning UJ Choir had the honour of performing alongside her. It is by no accident that her music, which epitomised the African soul, transcended local borders to other countries far away. May her soul rest in eternal peace.

Ke a 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.

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