Dear UJ Community,
The Chair of UJ Council, Mr Mike Teke often likes to remind us about the importance of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students, especially on campuses and residences. It is something he is so passionate about that he brings it up at every opportunity. Earlier this year, for instance, he said, “while our students have a level of responsibility, they look to the universities for their safety as well as their wellbeing”.
I was disturbed when I was informed that three of our students were injured in a bus accident in Soweto on Monday this week. As communicated earlier, the injured (two females and a male) were among the 27 students who were on the bus travelling from the Soweto Campus (SWC) to the Kingsway Auckland Park Campus (APK). The bus is part of the fleet contracted by the University to ferry students between its various campuses. UJ will continue to work closely with the management of the bus company, with the view to ensure the safe transportation services of our students across various campuses for teaching and learning purposes.
I wish to thank our Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development (PsyCaD) and Campus Health for providing the affected students with trauma counselling and other forms of support. I also wish to thank our Student Affairs and Protection Services divisions for their swift reaction and assistance to our students, upon learning of the accident.
On a slightly different note, the Council of Higher Education (CHE) audit panel has been conducting a virtual/physical site visit this week. We appreciate the response from the UJ community who have attended interviews in large numbers. The panel undertook tours of all four of our campuses, reviewing our facilities and resources. Based on informal feedback from staff, I do hope and believe that the vibrancy of our University, our commitment to excellence across all domains and the pulsating energy that permeates our campuses has been communicated. We will now await the report from the CHE. I thank all involved with the audit for their sterling work and for rallying to the challenge.
Talking of this, I am pleased to inform you that in an effort to encourage our University’s campus communities to live our values, the International University Sports Federation (FISU) has certified UJ as a healthy campus institution. This is quite the feat considering that our University is among the top 40 certified universities out of 92 participating institutions. UJ has achieved a bronze status alongside Murdoch University in Australia; University of Santiago in Chile, University of St. Gallen – University Sports in Switzerland, and UNLaM – Universidad Nacional de La Matanza in Argentina.
To this end, on 27 May 2022, a UJ delegation led by Dr Nolitha Vukuza (Senior Executive Director: University Relations, Student Affairs & UJ Sport) will receive a qualification certificate during the Healthy Campus Programme Ceremony. The event will be held at Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Brussels, Belgium. At this ceremony, attendees will be able to network with delegates made up of university rectors and coordinators from more than 50 universities. UJ will also be featured in the “Healthy Campus Best Practices – Edition 2022”, an eBook with the best university initiatives in the programme. Although the Healthy Campus Programme comprises university-wide initiatives, it is managed through the UJ Sport division.
Still on sporting matters, please join me in congratulating one of our student-athletes and hockey player, Kristen Paton, on her national selection to represent South Africa in the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup in Spain and Netherlands from 1 to 17 July 2022. Additionally, Paton will be flanked by three UJ alumni Lisa Deetlefs, Bernadette Coston, and Robyn Johnson who have also been selected for the national hockey squad. We are sure you will raise the UJ and SA flags with pride!
I recently mentioned that Professor Nic Beukes has been elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences (NAS) as an International Member. This week, I watched with keen interest an interview he had on one of the leading TV stations on this achievement. As I reflected on this, I was reminded of the high number of our staff who sit on various national and international boards and committees. This attests to our University’s growing stature as a place of research and academic repute, and in its contribution to efforts to solve societal problems.
On this point, I am pleased to see that the University continues to set the news agenda through impactful research, thought leadership articles and expert commentary, nationally and globally. Most recently, Professors Jan Kramers, Hartmut Winkler, and Dr Georgy Belyanin made international headlines with their research of unusual chemistry clues in a small fragment of the Hypatia Stone that reveals details on events that lead to supernova explosions. In the new research, they eliminate ‘cosmic suspects’ for the origin of the stone in a painstaking process. They have pieced together a timeline stretching back to the early stages of the formation of Earth, our Sun, and the other planets in our solar system.
Likewise, Professors Habib Noorbhai, Dustin van der Haar, and Mr Tevin Moodley, garnered lot of interest of global media outlets when they built the first deep learning computer vision Artificial Intelligence model that enables cricket coaches to give detailed feedback to players.
Other research that continues that has been attracting local media interest is that of Professor Luke Sinwell and Dr Trevor Ngwane, which examines SA’s electricity crisis and the effect on the working class in townships. These are just a few recent examples of the strides made by our researchers, which has been featured in the media sphere.
In this regard, I wish to acknowledge our Strategic Communications Unit within University Relations that is on the forefront of positioning UJ across various national and global media platforms. This is vital in elevating academic excellence and enhancing our reputation in the public sphere. Appreciation to Dr Vukuza and her team; these efforts have not gone unnoticed.
This week, I was part of the speakers at the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour in Durban. I highlighted the fact that South Africa should start taking the training of individuals on new technology seriously if the country is to overcome this century-old problem. I made the point that investing in education; making this technology accessible and the increasing level of competitiveness are some of the key steps to eliminate child employment while growing the labour force.
The UJ Soweto Campus has again been without electricity for several days. As previously communicated, the power outage is as a result of cable theft and the intimidation on the City of Johannesburg staff during repairs to the stolen cable sites. This has rendered the campus fully dependent on backup generator power. At present, five generators are being run for the maximum times per day that is safe for the equipment to provide power to academic venues, student residences, support staff, and infrastructure needs. UJ students and staff are asked to remain patient while the COJ attempts to replace the stolen cable and UJ attempts to keep the maximum possible power being generated on campus.
On COVID-19 matters, I am pleased to announce that we have completed the revision of our COVID-19 workplace risk assessment study. The results of this study are being analysed and will inform us in dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 related challenges going forward. However, I have been informed that there are a few staff and students who are still not compliant with the UJ Mandatory Vaccination Policy. We rely on the leadership of the line managers to ensure compliance within their domains, including the recording of the weekly negative PCR test results where applicable.
We thus reiterate our call for employees and students who are yet to be compliant with our University’s Mandatory Vaccination Policy to do so. If you have been vaccinated and have not uploaded your vaccination certificate, please do so on https://ulink.uj.ac.za/ujvac. To read more about this, as well as information on assistance for students and postdoctoral research fellows with difficulty in submitting their vaccination certificates, click http://www.uj.ac.za/covid-19. You may also visit the UJ website www.uj.ac.za.
Lastly, I wish to join many South Africans in expressing my condolences to the family and friends of former mayor of Johannesburg, Mr Mpho Moerane, who passed away on Wednesday. He was involved in a car accident and admitted to hospital early last week. Mr Moerane is the third Johannesburg mayor to die in a year. His predecessor Mr Jolidee Matongo was also killed in a car accident. Mr Matongo had replaced Geoff Makhubo, who died from Covid-19 complications. May Mr Moerane’s soul rest in peace.
As usual, we appeal to all to adhere to other 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, thank you!
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg
Times mentioned in this newsletter refer to the South African time-zone.