Steady hands steer varsity while SA falters

Former deputy president Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was this week inaugurated as chancellor of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) at a pensive ceremony that juxtaposed how the varsity is handling its biggest leadership transition with how the country is managing its own.

The former executive director for United Nations Women takes over from Professor Njabulo Ndebele, who served the university for a decade, to become its third chancellor.

The university recently appointed a new vice-chancellor, Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi, who will succeed Professor Tshilidzi Marwala in March when the latter assumes his role as rector of the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan.

Professor Bettine van Vuuren has been promoted to registrar, taking over from Professor Kinta Burger in April.

Marwala said UJ will in “the not-so-distant” future announce the new chair of council, who will take over the reigns from Mike Teke.

The varsity must also replace Mpedi, who is the deputy vice-chancellor: academic.

Noting the parallels between the leadership transition of the university and that of the country, Ndebele said looking to the general elections in 2024, South Africans are wondering what it is that will bring us together.

“I believe a country is the biggest of institutions; we have given ourselves to the constitution, when that constitution is flouted, in some cases at
the highest levels, everything goes wrong. We lose hope and a sense of perspective.

“We will feel we are successful once we know what to expect out of the behaviour of a single individual in a particular set of circumstance because we have shared among ourselves the proper perspectives on decorum, on rules and regulations, on laws that have to be obeyed and followed because we know when they are not [followed] everything collapses.”

In her speech, Mlambo-Ngcuka also bemoaned the state of affairs in the country. “At this point, we do not have even a single political party in South Africa that stands ready to govern and deliver services for the people. We are now at risk of allowing our hard-won freedom to go to waste.

“We are on a slippery slope and sleepwalking ourselves to a failed state, which would hurt all the good work done by our universities. If our state fails, it affects all of us, so we cannot be bystanders. We have to use what we have to defend our democracy in the same way universities fought apartheid,” she said.

How ironic that UJ – previously the Rand Afrikaans University, an institution the Broederbond was instrumental in developing – is now a symbol of what is good about our democracy, which we are called to defend the same way we fought apartheid.

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