Vice-Chancellor Message – 21 April 2023

Dear UJ Community,

There is something inherently powerful about sculptures as representational art and an expression of culture, emotions and ideas. Today, many African sculptures are in danger of being lost because they have not been well preserved. Often, these sculptures are expropriated by those who have created a marketplace for themselves, giving these cultural artefacts a Western outlook for monetary gain.

It is within this context, and in line with our UJ’s Pan-Africanism objective that we conferred an honorary doctoral degree in Art and Design earlier this week on renowned South African sculptor Ms Noria Mabasa. Mam Noria, as Ms Mabasa is affectionately known, is the first Venda woman to work with wood as a medium. She uses wood to break cultural and gender stereotypes, as the material had always been the preserve of male sculptors. Her carvings depict Venda mythology and spirituality, as well as traditional ceremonies and the people’s daily lives in her community. Some of her art is currently on display in the (FADA (Faculty of  Art, Design and Architecture) Gallery at UJ.

Ms Mabsa is a recipient of the 2002 Silver category of the Order of the Baobab and several other national and international accolades and awards. To read more about this, click here. Other recipients of honorary degrees during this series of Graduation Ceremonies include:

  • Prof Chris Brink – a distinguished scholar and the former Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Stellenbosch and Newcastle universities.
  • Prof Ibrahim Gambari – the former United Nations Under-Secretary General and first Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa.
  • Sir Hillary Beckles – a Barbados native and a giant in academia in the region. He is the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of The West Indies.

UJ Choir spreads its wings 

Some news came my way that was music to my ears this week. The UJ Choir Alumni Affinity Group was officially launched this past weekend. Prof. Adri Drotskie, Director of the School of Management and a UJ alumnus, is leading this initiative. The UJ Choir Alumni Affinity Group was launched by UJ Arts & Culture in partnership with UJ Alumni. Former RAU/UJ Choir members dedicated to the continued success of the UJ Choir have offered financial support to foster the growth of current choir members.

In addition, the UJ Choir is planning international tours for 2024. As some of you might know, the choir – which the renowned choirmaster Renette Bouwer leads – has a strong legacy. I hope that the launch of the UJ Alumni Affinity Group will encourage more UJ alums and many interested parties to reconnect, support and continue the legacy of the UJ Choir for future generations.

Model AU Summit for impactful leadership 

Yesterday, our University hosted two high-profile events to positively impact society. We hosted the first-ever official Model AU Summit, which sought to enhance leadership skills, policy knowledge, youth empowerment and the values of Pan-Africanism among participating students. The Department of Politics and International Relations, in the Faculty of Humanities, hosted the Summit.

One of the event’s highlights was when nearly 300 students had the opportunity to simulate the African Union Assembly and interact with delegates from the African Union. The delegates included the President of the Pan-African Parliament and the Head of the African Union Southern Africa Regional Office. Congratulations to the Head of the Department, Professor Bhaso Ndzendze, and his team for organising this important event.

First Lady of Namibia at UJ

Almost simultaneously yesterday, I had the honour to address the UJ Women’s Forum, which hosted the First Lady of the Republic of Namibia, HE Mrs Monica Geingos. As part of the official visit, the University engaged in dialogue with the First Lady on how our practices inculcate equitable spaces for women. The dialogue presented an opportunity for delegates to deliberate on gender-based violence (GBV), our stance as a University in responding to GBV and the interventions and support measures available in higher education. The Women’s Forum extended an invitation to staff and students and took part in the discussion surrounding finding solutions to this scourge. Well done to everyone involved in organising this event!

More accolades for UJ academics

On a slightly different note, please join me in congratulating Prof Ashwin Desai of the Sociology Department, Faculty of Humanities, who has won the prestigious 2022-2023 HSRC-USAf Award for the Social Sciences and Humanities in the Established Researcher category. The awards acknowledge scholars who have made outstanding contributions to the social sciences and humanities through their research. This year, these prestigious academic awards aimed to recognise research excellence under the ‘Social Justice’ theme.

Under this theme, the adjudication panel identified innovative research projects centred on analysing social justice inquiry, theories and practice and aimed at achieving transformative impact in communities – socially, scientifically and otherwise. Following a rigorous selection process on 13 April 2023, Prof Desai was named as the winner. Prof Desai’s research was deemed as substantive and meaningful and as such, highly influential with considerable impact. Well done, Prof Desai. We are immensely proud of you!

Professorial Inauguration

This week we welcomed Prof Habib Noorbhai from the Health and Sports Sciences Department to our Professorship. In his inaugural address, Prof. Noorbhai explored the role of AI in sports science and health education. Congratulations on your achievement, Prof Noorbhai. We wish you all the best on this new journey.

High Tea with the VC

Lastly, and as previously indicated, I am grateful for the overwhelming interest shown in the ‘High Tea with the VC’ book discussions following last month’s inaugural session. Once again, I remind you to join me for today’s session at 14h00 (CAT). We will discuss the book, The Future of Leadership is Collegiality by Mr Mike Teke, the former Chair of UJ Council and the CEO of Seriti Resources Holdings. I am pleased that he will join us as a special guest. To join in the conversation virtually via Zoom, please click here. For in-person attendance, kindly RSVP here. We will again meet at the Chinua Achebe Auditorium, Level 6, Auckland Park Kingsway (APK) Campus.

Ke a leboha, Ngiyabonga, baie dankie, thank you!

Prof Letlhokwa Mpedi: Vice-Chancellor and Principal

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