Vice-Chancellor Message – 31 March 2023

Dear UJ Community,

As I settled down yesterday to write this edition over a hot cup of tea, I found myself brimming with excitement. On my table was a copy of the book, The White-faced Huts: Witchcraft in the Transkei by H.F Sampson. I gingerly rotated my cup on the saucer, watching as the book kept reflecting back on the cup, providing me with plenty of food for thought. Having just finished reading the book, I now know that I chose wisely when I opted for something exciting and relevant for my inaugural High Tea with the VC.

I thought there was no better start to the reading sessions than this book, which delves into one of the century-old myths that bedevil our society. I hope that through it, we will help demystify some of the superstitious beliefs that have often been the source of delays in us progressing as a nation. As my predecessor Prof Tshilidzi Marwala liked to remind us, we need to turn superstitions into science.  

And, of course, we will have the irrepressible advocate, author and political activist Tembeka Ngcukaitobi gracing the occasion as a special guest. He is the author of two books, The Land Is Ours: South Africa’s First Black Lawyers and the birth of Constitutionalism, and Land Matters: South Africa’s Failed Land Reforms and the Road Ahead. The first hybrid session occurs at 14:00 (CAT) at the UJ Library, Chinua Achebe Auditorium, Level 6, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus. Click here and join in the conversation. For in-person attendance, kindly RSVP here.

AI Institute Hub

As indicated last week, I led a UJ team to the second leg of the launch of the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa (AIISA) at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) this past Friday. This follows the launch of this initiative at our Johannesburg Business School (JBS) in November last year. The institute, which aims to help the country become a digital technology powerhouse on the continent and worldwide, is one of the outcomes of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR). It was launched in partnership with TUT and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies.

At the launch event, I emphasised that this collaboration is a natural fit, primarily due to each institution’s dominance in the 4IR space. Some of the projects that the AI Hub partners are working on currently include a virtual marketplace, AI biometric systems, criminal justice system development and AI in Farming and Food production. Additionally, it was a pleasure to see our Electric Vehicle (EV) bus on site and have the newly appointed Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Hon. Mondli Gungubele, test drive it and give it a rave review.  To read more about this, click here.

I thank Dr Randall Carolissen, Dean of JBS and Prof Paul Babu, Director of the Institute for Intelligent Systems, and their teams for their sterling work in preparing for the launch. Special gratitude to Dr Nolitha Vukuza, a Management Executive Committee (MEC) member and her team in the University Relations Division for their outstanding work in ensuring maximum publicity for UJ at the launch.

UJ research in the spotlight

On a slightly different note, it was encouraging to see the President of South Africa, Hon. Cyril Ramaphosa, acknowledging a recent UJ interview-based study on the Social Relief of Distress Grant (CSDA) in his weekly newsletter, From the Desk of the President‘. The study, which was based on interviews with informal traders in the Johannesburg CBD, Orange Farm, Mthatha, Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape and Warwick Junction in Durban, found that the SRD Grant stimulated customer spending, provided capital to purchase stock, and enabled new businesses to be initiated. The SRD grant also positively impacted the businesses of grant recipients in Philippi in the Western Cape. Congratulations to the researchers and everyone involved in the project on this significant contribution.

‘Fare thee well’, Prof Kinta

With mixed emotions, I bid farewell to our University Registrar, Prof Kinta Burger. One can be forgiven for saying that UJ has been part of her DNA for her entire life. Not only did she study at the University long before the merger in 2005, but she also cut her teeth as a professional at this institution. She has served the university as an employee in various positions with pride and dignity whilst always being an active member of its community.

Prof Kinta, as we affectionally call her, has also been instrumental in the University’s growth and development, introducing new initiatives and driving UJ’s reputation in South Africa and beyond. She will be sorely missed. I have learnt a lot from her and wish her all the best with the next chapter in her life. Click here to watch a gallery of some of her memorable moments at UJ. I am, however, also thrilled to officially welcome Prof Bettine van Vuuren, who is taking over the reins as Registrar. Prof van Vuuren, I wish you all the best as you embark on this new journey.

Let me also take this opportunity to bid farewell to Prof Debra Meyer, Executive Dean: Faculty of Science, who is leaving UJ to join the Sol Plaatje University as Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning. Since joining UJ, she has played a vital role in driving the Faculty’s strategy to support the University’s objectives. Prof Meyer, we wish you only the very best in your new role and future endeavours. In the interim, Prof Reinout Meijboom will serve as the Acting Executive Dean, effective 01 April 2023.

Mid-semester recess

Tomorrow marks the start of the mid-Semester recess at our University. It has been an eventful start to the 2023 Academic Year, and I wish all our academic staff and students a restful break. For those of you who will be travelling for the Easter weekend, I wish you a safe trip and take care.

Lastly, and on a sad note, I learnt with a heavy heart this week that one of our alums and law graduates, Mr Euston Mnguni, was shot dead in Midrand this past Friday. According to a media report, Mnguni (28) drove on e-hailing platform Bolt as a side hustle while waiting to start doing his articles at a law firm. He was reportedly killed during a hijacking incident. It is devastating that such a bright young life ended in such a brutal manner, and I hope that his killers will be arrested and face the wrath of the law. Condolences to his family, friends and loved ones, and may his soul rest in eternal peace.

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

Prof Letlhokwa Mpedi: Vice-Chancellor and Principal

Times mentioned in this newsletter refer to the South African time-zone.

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