Vice-Chancellor Message – 23 September 2022


Dear UJ Community,

The recent bout of load shedding has caused much frustration and has even stoked fears of a total collapse of the national power grid. Once again, the rolling electricity blackouts will put severe strain on an already ailing economy, with further devastating consequences for cash-strapped citizens reeling from rising interest rates, food and fuel prices. The anger that has been boiling over was succinctly captured by none other than our very own Wellbeing Economist, Professor Talita Greyling, and her counterpart from Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, Dr Stephanié Rossouw, in their latest ‘happiness’ index findings.

The ‘happiness’ index was launched in South Africa and New Zealand in 2019 to monitor real-time sentiments in the respective countries through an analysis of a live feed of Tweets drawn using Big Data. In their latest study, released this week, Prof Greyling and Prof Rossouw found that anger, disgust, and fear increased far above average levels while happiness dropped far below the average levels on Sunday, 18 September 2022, as a result of Stage 6 load shedding. The GNH (Gross National Happiness) index is currently at its lowest level since April 2022. To read more about this, click here.

Despite the anger and frustration that has gripped the country, this week provided some much needed relief for a UJ delegation. On Wednesday, the incoming Chancellor, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and I visited our Funda UJabule School in Soweto, where we were treated to an excellent rendition of the preamble of the Constitution in isiZulu by Grade R learners. It was a much needed escape from the pervasive gloom and doom and really stood out as a beacon of hope.

I wish to commend the educators at the school, which serves as a training site for future educators at the University, and boasts a cohort of teachers armed with at least an honours degree. It is the first of its kind in the country and was founded as a teacher education and research school in our Faculty of Education, in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE).

As Prof Nadine Petersen, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education, aptly put it, “we take seriously our efforts to provide educational justice and care for our children and the teachers we graduate so that they can make a meaningful contribution and difference in the country.” We are immensely proud of the school and the achievements of the team within the Faculty, especially from the departments of Childhood Education and Educational Psychology.

The rendition of the preamble of the Constitution was an apt celebration of Heritage Month. This is the month when we honour our nation’s diverse cultures and deep heritage, and it serves as a reminder for us to learn about our cultural history and also to examine the way in which these cultures are viewed within the South African discourse. In this regard, it was a valuable experience to read an opinion piece by Prof Natasha Erlank, titled What is the meaning of heritage on Heritage Day?

On a different note, it was pleasing to see the Institute for Intelligent Systems (IIS) representing the University at the AI Expo Africa on Monday and Tuesday this week. As you are aware, we are a University that is committed to working with government, industry and society to implement innovative 4IR solutions. The Expo, now its 5th iteration, is the largest business-focused artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and 4IR trade event on the continent. Attendees were treated to several augmented reality experiences in the exhibition stand, showcasing the work of UJ’s VARSTEME Hub and the Metaverse Research Unit.

Furthermore, UJ’s state-of-the-art SPOT Robot engaged with patrons at the event, resulting in big smiles and much-needed conversations on the future of AI and robotics in South Africa. “Amazing concepts”, “UJ is amazing” and “I want to join the team” were just a few of the comments left by visitors to our exhibition. I wish to congratulate Prof Babu Paul and his team for this outstanding project. You may watch the video of SPOT opening the official proceedings of the AI Expo Africa here.

On Wednesday, I had the honour of launching, on behalf of UJ, a unique collection of art for a Nimrod Ndebele and Gerard Sekoto exhibition that resonates with biographical, educational, social, economic, and political meanings which are not only encoded within them, but also resonate beyond them. The exhibition reflects on the intersection between these two artists through their friendship, through their creativity and through their commitment to politics. As Bridget Thompson wrote for the Art and Ubuntu Trust in 2006, as leading intellectuals they “laid the foundation of thought which led to democracy in 1994.”

Finally, yesterday evening, we held a farewell function for our outgoing University Chancellor, Prof Njabulo Ndebele, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the growth of UJ during his tenure. Prof Ndebele is a renowned academic whose leadership in South African higher education has seen him serve as Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Western Cape, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the North (now Limpopo) and two terms as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, among other roles. He is also an award winning author who has published an array of fiction and essays.

As the Chair of UJ Council Mr. Mike Teke put it, “Prof Ndebele is the epitome of a well educated and resourceful and selfless person. Let me add that Prof Ndebele epitomises people at the pinnacle of society, and his contribution to our University provides an ethical foundation to all of us, and we must take a leaf from his leadership style.” In Prof Ndebele’s own words, “Unfortunately what must start must end, but some endings are wonderful with fewer regrets”. We are immensely grateful for his leadership, and he will always remain part of the UJ family.

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.

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