Dear UJ Community
I have been following with keen interest the public debate on the government’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out plan since State President, H.E Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country had spent R327 million to secure vaccines. Opinion has been varied, with some casting doubt on the effectiveness of the drug. Others have resorted to conspiracy theories, in what echoes sentiments that led to the destruction of 5G towers in KwaZulu-Natal – a move that bordered on superstition. However, superstition and science are a different kettle of fish, as the old adage goes. As a University, we are uniquely poised to be at the forefront of understanding this pandemic and providing answers where great public uncertainty lies.
It was thus pleasing to see the UJ’s Centre for Social Change release a research briefing on the public’s willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine. The research, which was undertaken in partnership with the Developmental, Capable and Ethical State (DCES) research division of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), found that a third of adults (67%) would definitely or probably take a vaccine. Some 18% of adults said they would definitely or probably not take the vaccine, while 15% said they did not know. To read more about this, click here.
Also pleasing was the announcement by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Hon. Dr Blade Nzimande, that he was in talks with the Department of Health to ensure that health sciences students and campus healthcare staff be vaccinated along with healthcare workers in the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination programme. As he explained, this will mitigate the challenges of a highly transmittable new COVID-19 variant and increased infection among all age groups, especially the youth. “Having more than two million students and staff, they become a very important sector, given the vaccination campaign,” said Minister Nzimande. He was addressing a panel of specialists and various stakeholders in the Higher Education sector in a webinar on managing the second wave of COVID-19 within institutions on Wednesday, 27 January 2021. To read more about this, click here.
Against this backdrop of the pandemic, which has gripped the world, a tropical cyclone named Eloise lashed some regions of Mozambique, causing torrential rains in some parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and Kwa-Zulu Natal. It has left a trail of destruction in its wake, damaging people’s homes and infrastructure. It was encouraging to see one of our own involved in the rescue mission. Mr Connor Hartnady, a lecturer in the Department of Emergency Medical Care, was part of the SA Rescue team that was based in White River (Mpumalanga). His work did not go unnoticed, as demonstrated by the wide media interviews that he did throughout this week. Thank you, Mr Hartnady for flying the UJ flag high in a time of need!
As we celebrate some of the UJ community, we also welcome some new appointments. Please join me in congratulating staff that have either been promoted or appointed to new positions. Following a rigorous and extensive recruitment and selection process, the University Council has approved the appointment of Professor Bettine van Vuuren as the Senior Director: Strategic Initiatives and Administration. Until recently, she was the Head of the Zoology Department in the Faculty of Science and has held numerous other senior roles within the Faculty, including Director of the Research Centre: Ecological Genomics and Wildlife Conservation since 2017.
I am also pleased to announce that Professor Annah Moteetee has been appointed as the Senior Director: Postgraduate School (PGS). She holds a PhD in Botany from the former Rand Afrikaanse Universiteit (now UJ), and an MPhil (Botany) from the Queen Mary and Westfield College, at the University of London. She has served as the Executive Dean (Acting) and Vice Dean: Teaching and Learning, in the Faculty of Science, and most recently, as Head of the Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology. With experience at all levels of academia, she is well versed in postgraduate matters, the importance of postgraduate studies, in relation to research, innovation and internationalisation. Please read about these two appointments here.
Other appointments and staff movements are as follows:
- Prof Patrick O’Brien has moved back to his previous role in the Faculty of Law, after serving one term in the position of General Counsel.
- Prof Derek van der Merwe has been appointed as interim Legal Advisor to MEC from 1 January. The advert for this position will be going out in the next few weeks.
- Prof Letlhokwa Mpedi: DVC: Academic Designate from 1 January 2021 (until Prof Parekh’s retirement in August 2021, when he will be the new DVC: Academic)
- Prof Wesahl Domingo: Executive Dean, Faculty of Law, effective from 1 March 2021 (takes over from Prof Mpedi Executive Dean. In the interim Prof Sarel du Toit has been appointed Acting Executive Dean)
- Prof Thea de Wet: Senior Director of Academic Development & Support.
We congratulate everyone on their appointments and look forward to their continued contributions to the University. I also wish to thank Prof O’Brien for his wise legal counsel.
I am thrilled to announce that the University received a further funding of R16.5 million from Sibanye-Stillwater for a three-year period. The funding is to provide world-class education, learning and development of graduates to play a leading role in the mining industry, as well as increased research and innovation to stay abreast of emerging technology themes and trends. The money is also to assist in the expansion and maintenance of facilities to create infrastructure that is aligned to learning objectives. The initial funding, in August 2017, was used by the Department of Mining Engineering and Mine Surveying for the development of a world-class undergraduate mine simulation on the Doornfontein campus to enhance the exposure of students in the mining industry. The construction is now two weeks away from completion and a handover would be done next week. Not only does this funding help to provide a more realistic teaching and learning environment but it also demonstrates how our industries are adapting to the 4IR!
As we gear up to begin the academic year, it is encouraging to see that registrations for our returning students are progressing quite well. So far, more than 30% of our students have registered for the 2021 academic year. Since Monday, 18 January 2021, student registration numbers have been steadily increasing. This means we are on course to start our academic activities on Monday, 15 February 2021. We also look forward to welcoming first-year students, after the release of the matric results on 23 February. For more information about this as well as details for students’ return to residences, click here.
Our staff would have noticed an icon that appears on their email each time they open their inbox. This is the new automated Performance Management system, which has been designed and developed in-house by our Human Resource Division in collaboration with other key strategic stakeholders. It has been introduced to contract and review staff performances. It makes it easier and faster for our staff to track their performance progress and challenges, with regards to their contributions to our University’s Strategic Objectives. We encourage staff to familiarise themselves with this system and support our efforts to use an efficient performance management contracting process.
Our Johannesburg Business School (JBS) will host a webinar titled, “Family Office Trends in 2021 and the Impact of COVID-19”, next week on Tuesday, 2 February 2021. As the economic impact of COVID-19 worsens, no sector has been left unscathed by the global economic downturn. Among other crucial matters, the event explores Family Office trends for 2021 and how these have evolved through the pandemic. Some of the speakers will include Bonang Mohale (Chairperson: Bidvest, and Professor of Practice at the JBS), Puso Fisher (Head: Business Development and Family Office at ABSA), Chris Welthagen (Co-Head: Family Office Group Solutions at RMB), and Nic Arnold (Private Office Director: PwC, United Kingdom). To participate, register here.
Lastly, it was with a profound sense of sadness that I learnt of the passing away of world-renowned singer and composer, Ms Sibongile Khumalo. She succumbed to stroke-related complications yesterday, at the age of 63. Ms Khumalo transcended traditional music to the international stage and used her artistic prowess to advocate for the performing arts and the rights of women and the rest of humanity. Condolences to the family, friends, colleagues, and fans, and may her soul rest in peace.
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: https://www.uj.ac.za/news/corona-virus//. We appeal to all to adhere to the recommended precautionary measures, hygiene and social distancing (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public) at all times.
Thank you and take care!
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg