Embracing humanity in leadership: Lessons from an outgoing dean

30 June 2023 | Story Kamva Somdyala. Photos Lerato Maduna. Read time 4 min.
Prof Ramutsindela (left) and his wife, Takalani, at his farewell hosted at Glenara.
Prof Ramutsindela (left) and his wife, Takalani, at his farewell hosted at Glenara.

Four years after taking up a position as the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) dean of the Faculty of Science, Professor Maano Ramutsindela is stepping down to return to his first love: research and teaching.

Professor Ramutsindela reluctantly took on the role in 2019 since being dean was not something he had thought about as a career because of his interest in teaching and research.

Until then, he was with the Department of Environmental & Geographical Science, a position he took in 2001. His interest lies in human geography.

“Teaching has become part of me to the point that when I had to be dean it felt like I was leaving behind the students who I had been supervising and I felt very bad because it meant that I had compromised some of my own dedication and contribution to society,” he said.

“On the other hand, I needed to give service to something beyond myself, which is what made me take [on] the deanship. Colleagues in the office know that during my first interactions with them I said, ‘As long as I add to the humanity of the faculty, I will be satisfied’. That has been something important to me because I know I am not working with machines; we are human beings.”

Squeezing humanity

Ramutsindela believes people have been stretched in various ways, including rising stress levels.

“We have been overstretched by many processes that to some extent begin to empty our humanness. Our humanity is becoming thin because of the processes that are squeezing us.”

VC (Interim) Prof Reddy and Prof Ramutsindela share a long professional relationship
VC (Interim) Prof Reddy and Prof Ramutsindela share a long professional relationship.

Interestingly, it was Vice-Chancellor (Interim) Professor Daya Reddy who was part of the panel that rubber-stamped the decision to appoint Ramutsindela as dean.

“Needless to say, there was overwhelming support for his suitability for the position,” said Professor Reddy at a Leadership Lekgotla event held in honour of Ramutsindela.

“The Faculty of Science has been fortunate to be led by somebody with your leadership qualities. It is to your first love that you will be returning. We certainly look forward to further contributions from you in the domain of research and teaching,” said Reddy.

VC (Interim) Prof Reddy and Prof Ramutsindela share a long professional relationship
Prof Muthama Muasya spoke about Ramutsindela’s inclusive nature.

The next step for Ramutsindela – while also on academic sabbatical – will be to reflect on how the deanship has impacted him.

“On introspection in undertaking this role, I was confronted by what power would do to the values I hold; to my humanity, because I knew it was going to change me, but would it be for the better or the worst? And on reflection, I’ll have to go back to this question and say the position has improved or taken away from me and those are things I will have to rebuild.”

Ramutsindela’s daughter, Thihangwi, jokingly commented: “I am very happy to have my dad home. And to have family trips and holidays again.”

 

“Thank you for being our leader in that inclusive moment.”

Farhana Moodley, the finance manager of the faculty, said “[Prof Ramutsindela] created the finance committee and in that space we were able to look into areas where our day-to-day doesn’t allow us to foster good groundwork to take the faculty further by looking at investments and making certain decisions that will hold the faculty quite strongly going forward.”

The deputy dean in the faculty, Professor Muasya, said Ramutsindela was deliberate in hearing the voices of deputy deans during meetings.

“You don’t rush as a one-man leader, leading troops. You’re consultative and a listener. I’m sad to see you go, but I know we are releasing you into a space where you will make unique contributions that will benefit us at UCT but also humanity. Thank you for being our leader in that inclusive moment,” said Professor Muasya.

Ramutsindela is currently on academic sabbatical and wishes to reconnect with some of his past students. “We have a lot to publish together. I also have work that I need to publish,” he said.


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