Vice-Chancellor Message – 28 May 2021

vice chancellor message

Dear UJ Community

This week, I had another opportunity to listen to how our University continues to navigate the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic while ensuring that our academic programme is not severely impacted. During the two-day Executive Leadership Group (ELG) meeting, senior leaders from various faculties and divisions presented their 2020 annual reports and shared their future plans. I was reminded that even when the odds were heavily stacked against us, UJ became a model of innovative leadership, based on our response to what has arguably been the most challenging period in our lifetime.

The successes are too many to list on this platform but suffice to say that we have many unsung heroes and heroines across all our faculties and domains who immensely contributed in various ways. Our transition from the face-to-face learning to a remote online delivery of the academic programme has not gone unnoticed nationally and globally. Our research output has been phenomenal (and second to none), and we have exponentially improved in the areas of published journals and books. Most importantly, we have made significant strides in various global university ranking systems, while many of our staff members are now serving in national and international leadership roles (such as professional boards, associations and councils).

Our support and administrative staff have also led from the front by conducting an urgent review of our operations across all domains to ensure business continuity and containment of on-campus risk. Likewise, our students have still managed to excel in various academic competitions and sports. All of this was achieved even at the height of the perennial challenges of shrinking funding, a widening digital divide, load shedding and other disruptions we have overcome.

I was also impressed that the leaders of various faculties and domains remained modest and honest. None of them tried to exaggerate and embellish their reports. Many were sincere in acknowledging that there were things they were unable to do and targets they could not achieve, mainly because they were constrained by the COVID-19 restrictions. What I saw in their reports was a colony of ants that is able to build complicated anthills that are several thousand times taller than they are, as one of the greatest South African intellectuals, Eugène Marais, explains in his classic 1928 book, Die Siel van die Mier. This is also demonstrative of innovative and ethical leadership, especially during these turbulent times as our country cries out for that. Indeed, I feel proud to be part of this great institution that is UJ!

Back to matters of research, you might recall that a few weeks ago, I announced that several of our University academics were nominated in the 23rd national 2020/2021 National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF-South32 Awards), the premier research awards in South Africa. This week, I received the exciting news that following the completion of the NRF adjudication process, three of our members have been short-listed as a finalist in their respective categories.

I wish to congratulate Prof Philiswa Nosizo Nomngongo, our DSI/NRF South African Research Chair Initiative, Nanotechnology for Water, who is a finalist in category for the TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Researcher and in the Engineering Research Capacity Development Award category. Congratulations also to Prof Nnamdi Nwulu, the Director at the Centre for Cyber Physical Food, Energy and Water Systems, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Science. He is a finalist in the TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Researcher category. Lastly, compliments to Prof Saurabh Sinha, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation, who is a finalist in the Management Award category.

This year, the NSTF Awards Gala Event will take place as a hybrid event broadcast from two cities, Johannesburg and Cape Town, on Thursday, 29 July 2021 from 18:00 – 21:30. To Prof Sinha, Prof Nomngongo and Prof Nwulu, to be named as finalists in these rigorous area of research is an achievement. We wish you the best of luck in the finals!

Congratulations also to Prof Heidi Abrahamse, DSI/NRF SARChI Chair, Director of the Laser Research Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, and Council Member, “for being accepted to the Harvard Medical School Global Clinical Scholars Research Training 2022 Program among a competitive pool of international applicants.”

More exciting news is that 13 UJ athletes have been selected to represent our University in the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. The University received the news yesterday, when Team SA released its selected list of athletes and technical professionals who will represent the country in various sporting codes. The athletes will jet off to Japan in July. While there have been concerns that the Olympic Games may not go ahead, because of fears over the rising COVID-19 infections in Tokyo, the Olympics Committee said the games would continue. Congratulations to the UJ Sport team, and we wish them all the best! Click here to read the list of athletes.

As communicated last week, the Chair of UJ Council, Mr Mike Teke, will host another of his virtual Reading Group, from 14:30 this afternoon. His book of choice this time around is Character Building by Booker T Washington. Click here and join in the conversation. For the e-book link, click here.

Finally, this coming Monday, on 31 May 2021, our College of Business and Economics (CBE) Decolonisation Committee will also host a Reading Group, from 13:00 – 14:00. Their chosen book for discussion will be Decolonising the University in Africa by Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni. Please click here to join.

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: We appeal to all to adhere to the recommended precautionary measures, hygiene and physical distancing ( at all times.

Kea lebogga, enkosi, 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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